We know him as the lead singer for legendary rock band Poison who captured international attention a couple of years ago with his Celebrity Apprentice win.
On Saturday, Bret came to Indianapolis to rock the 15th annual Promise Gala and help bring in about $1 million from an estimated 800 people who attended.
Being a child of the '80s, I grew up listening to Poison. So, it was pretty cool to meet a celebrity rocker who happens to have type 1 diabetes. Plus, my wife Suzi thinks he's a pretty good-looking fellow, so she was thrilled to get a photo and hug from Bret!
While there were no personal photos or video allowed and I wasn't able to snag an interview as planned, I did have the chance to shake Bret's hand and talk with him face-to-face for a few seconds before a professional photo was snapped and I had to move on. Then, Suzi and I hung out and mingled at the "Get Your Cure On" after-party held in a private room at the JW Marriott in downtown Indy, talking with a roster of local high-rollers and some pretty influential people in the Indiana diabetes community. Honestly, I also thought it was pretty cool just to have access to unlimited Diet Snapple Trop-A-Rocka teas (that Bret helped create) while his music played overhead.
Plus, there was some live-tweeting using the hashtag #JDRFINGala.
Bret's story is now pretty well-known, having echoed across the media the past few years. Diagnosed at age 6, Bret is now in his 43rd year of living with type 1. He wasn't always public about his illness, and it only came to light after an incident on stage at a concert. Most widely known for his role as the lead singer for Poison, Bret's also starred in VH1 hits like Rock of Love and Life as I Know It before signing on with Donald Trump for Celebrity Apprentice. Lately, he's been quite active telling his story as a PWD, musician, philanthropist and father — doing some great interviews with DiabetesHealth and Parent magazines — while continuing to rock the world.
Before this year, Bret had minimal involvement with the JDRF, compared to his ADA activity. One reason for this was probably his own diabetes camp experience, as his mom was one of the founders of the Camp Harrisburg Diabetic Youth Camp in Pennsylvania, affiliated with the then-JDF before the organization's national name change in the '90s. When it turned to focusing on research and put the R into its name, the new JDRF stopped non-research activities such as D-Camp. So Bret's mom's Pennsylvania camp hooked up with the ADA-run Camp Setebaid (diabetes spelled backwards) and is now run independently by the non-profit Setebaid Services, Inc.
Personally, I know that shift got under the skin of many in the diabetes community and made us feel that the organization's focus wasn't on us PWDs any longer, but rather on the vague promise of a cure that we had long been skeptical of. I can only imagine what it might have felt like for someone who had been intimately involved in creating a camp and then having "the rug pulled out from under them."
Fast forward about a decade: we see Bret stepping into the spotlight on Celebrity Apprentice, winning the contest, creating the Diet Snapple Trop-A-Rocka, and winning $390,000 for the ADA to help send children with diabetes to camp.
You can only imagine how this might have played out differently had the JDRF not closed its doors to camps back in the '90s... (there's a lesson in there, folks).
But now, Bret's manager, who was also in Indy, told me there's been a "change in thinking" at JDRF nationally and that is filtering down to more local chapters, so that they're "more receptive to working with" the rocker to fund-raise and raise awareness. Bret has appeared at galas and events in Phoenix (where he lives) and in Texas in recent years. But the May 19 appearance in Indy was his first JDRF appearance outside of those western-U.S. spots. More are hopefully on tap as different chapters reach out and sign Bret on.
In Indy, Bret received a Celebrity Trailblazer Award from the local JDRF chapter for "blazing a trail for diabetes awareness," so to speak. Walking onto stage to accompaniment of his hit song Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Bret gave an intro speech sharing his story and thanking those who are working hard to raise money for diabetes research and awareness. On the fundraising note, he auctioned off a signature acoustic guitar (named the Jorja Raine) that he'd played Every Rose Has Its Thorn on, with Joe Perry from Aerosmith and some Bon Jovi members. The prize guitar, spruce-topped and mahogany C-shaped body with pink flames, went for $12,000 (!) Also auctioned off was a four-person VIP concert experience with backstage passes and photo opp with Bret for his tour with Def Leppard in Cincinnati this summer, and that went for $7,000.
Bret "pumped up" the auction by standing on stage holding the guitar, adding comments and extra bonuses to bump up the bids and get the crowd riled up! It worked!
Combined with a Walk to Cure Diabetes event held that same day in southern Indiana at the Holiday World amusement park (whose owner passed away from complications of diabetes at age 48 in 2010), the JDRF Indiana chapter raised a total of about $130,000 that day! Combined with last year's gala fundraising, that comes out to roughly $5.3 million "for curing, treating and preventing" diabetes.
Bret Michaels on stage, with event WTHR Channel 13 anchor Julia Moffitt
As expected, Bret wore his signature cowboy hat and bandana to the gala and was certainly in true rocker form! Although we only got to chat for a few seconds for a photo opp at the after-party, and were not able to share personal D-stories, or talk about the Blue Circle pin I was wearing, or chat about his favorite Jelly Belly to treat a low, the experience was still pretty sweet (diabetes pun intended)! I was also able to give him a You Can Do This project flyer, which isn't exactly the same as getting him on video saying those four words but it's certainly a start!
Personally, I'm excited to see Bret becoming more involved with other diabetes organizations, and using his celebrity status to reach even more people and spread awareness — at a truly rock-star level for once! Not to mention my being excited about getting to actually meet the rock singer I grew up to listening to. Bret, thanks for everything you're doing!