In an interview with the Pittsburgh City Paper last week, Dick Dale made a seemingly hyperbolic statement: “I can’t stop touring because I will die.” It’s the sort of thing you hear often from an active man disregarding his suggested retirement age, but Dale followed it up with, “Physically and literally, I will die”: the 78-year-old is literally playing shows to stay alive.
Dale has extreme health problems—painfully damaged vertebrae, diabetes, renal failure, and rectal cancer that has left him with a colostomy bag. Dale has insurance, but it doesn’t cover everything, and little luxuries like changing a colostomy bag more frequently require him to work through the pain and discomfort. The hospital has advised him to stay thrifty, despite the risk of infection that has left him incredibly ill in the past:
“The hospital says change your patch once a week. No! If you don’t change that patch two times a day, the fecal matter eats through your flesh and causes the nerves to rot and they turn black, and the pain is so excruciating that you can’t let anything touch it. That has happened to me because I was following the orders of the hospital.
Once, his colostomy bag broke before a show, leaving his wife Donna (also very ill, with multiple sclerosis) to do the last-minute work of a nurse:
I had diarrhea coming all down my legs into my clothes and my pants, and my shirt. m supposed to be up on stage and I had to call [my wife] Lana and go into the bathroom. Lana washed my clothes out in the sink, I wrung them out and put them back on and did an hour-and-a-half show soaking wet, and then I signed autographs for five-and-a-half hours after.
Dale is currently on a 25-city, three-month tour across this godforsaken country, so if you’re able, check out Dick’s tour schedule and try to catch a show. Not only will you be seeing an absolutely brilliant legend, you’ll be helping a man raise the $3,000 a month he requires to stay alive and live with a reasonable amount of dignity. God bless America, land of the greatest health care on earth… if you got the money.