James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones attends the “The Gin Game” Broadway opening night after party at Sardi’s on October 14, 2015 in New York City. ( Source: Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America)

*A veteran of the stage and screen, James Earl Jones is opening up about the moment he learned he had Type II Diabetes, and how the disease nearly crippled his career. He was diagnosed after he joined a health and weight loss program, and later turned the bad news into an inspiring journey that he hopes encourages others who are living with the disease.

“I joined a program for exercise and diet, trying to lose some weight which is a problem actors always have to confront and I was sitting on a bench in a gymnasium and fell asleep,” he tells JET. “That’s an odd place to have a nap.”

An onsite doctor encouraged him to pay a visit to his physician and have a test taken. He followed the advice only to be given the startling news.

“And there it was…Type II Diabetes,” the performer recounts.

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According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 14 million Americans are diagnosed with Diabetes every five minutes. Those at higher risk of obtaining type 2 diabetes are African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian-Pacific Islanders. In addition to ethnicity, factors such as age, weight and family history play a role in the chances of having diabetes.

“There was diabetes in the family. I guess, perhaps, I’d have to say that at that age, not that I was detached from my body, but I was less aware of the signals that every human being gets from the body,” he shares. “I’ve been in the army and the body goes through significant bounds and when you carry that civilian life, that can be a problem and it was for me. I wasn’t sensitive to my own body signals.”

Jones also admits he struggled with accepting the seriousness of his diagnosis.

“My thing was the tendency of denial. Denial that one little cookie wasn’t going to hurt me,” he conceded. “And what I’ve realized is that the biggest problem I have as a diabetic is the blood sugar. How am I going to keep my blood sugar balanced so that it’s not too low or too high?”

Dealing with diabetes has motivated Jones to use his celebrity status to raise awareness about the severity of the issue. He has joined forces with Janssen Pharmaceuticals as the spokesperson for their “I Can Imagine” campaign, which encourages people to take control of their diabetes by learning more about their lifestyle choices. The goal is also to encourage people to take seriously any diagnosis and warning signs.