Stevie Wonder is battling a serious but manageable health issue as he continues to perform and make music, people close to the singer say.
Indeed, the iconic Motown star is “doing better now than he was a couple of months ago,” one friend told the USA TODAY Network, as Wonder prepares to head overseas for a pair of concerts.
Wonder has been traveling with a medical team, the source said.
Multiple people spoke with the USA TODAY Network Free Press about the situation, and most asked not to be named, citing sensitivity about Wonder’s circumstances.
“He’s got some health challenges, but he doesn’t want a big PR thing out of this,” said musician Joan Belgrave, a longtime friend of the singer. Her late husband, Detroit jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, met Wonder when the latter was a 13-year-old Motown prodigy, she said.
“He knows what he has to do to get himself together, and he’s doing it,” Belgrave said. “He’s got a team around him — that’s what he needs. He’s got people around him who love him.”
Wonder was “joking and laughing” when they spoke by phone earlier this week, she said.
“He’s in great spirits. You would never know anything is going on. That’s how he wants it, and that’s how he wants to keep it,” Belgrave said. “He’s making music and doing what he does, and that’s what he wants to focus on.”
Rumors and speculation about Wonder’s health have been percolating on social media for several days. The chatter was fueled in part by a June 25 video in which a Philadelphia radio personality claimed that Wonder is suffering kidney failure and has begun dialysis.
Wonder’s publicist, Shelley Selover, declined to comment beyond saying: “Please know that nothing is verified unless it comes directly from us.”
Wonder played a full show June 26 at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and he’s still on track for concerts in London and Dublin in coming days. The 69-year-old star has performed at several high-profile events during the past year, including Aretha Franklin’s funeral, the Grammys’ Motown tribute show in Los Angeles, and rapper Nipsey Hussle’s memorial service in L.A.
“At this point, I don’t think there’s any intention of canceling anything,” said a friend.
Still, Wonder did bow out of tentative plans to attend last week’s Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame ceremony in Detroit, according to someone involved with the event. Wonder was inducted as a songwriter at the June 23 ceremony, held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
“Things started happening health-wise, and he wasn’t going to push himself to be there,” the source said.
Wonder has sought to keep his health matters private, those close to the singer said, but he’s aware that speculation and well-wishes have hit social media.
“He said, ‘I love prayers, but tell them not to make a big deal about it,’ ” said Belgrave.
One friend said the online rumor-mongering is “turning into exactly what he didn’t want. He’s not too thrilled about it.”
Music Hall president Vince Paul said the Internet chatter prompted some fans to head to the downtown Detroit venue, where a massive Wonder mural is being completed by London artist Richard Wilson.
”We started noticing people were dropping by (on Tuesday),” Paul said. “They were yelling up to Richard — ‘Why are you painting this now?’ — as if he knew something is going on.”
Friends said they are hopeful about Wonder’s ultimate prognosis. One said it is “not dire,” and veteran Motown songwriter and producer Mickey Stevenson called it “a little problem.”
“The bottom line is, everything is going as it should. I’m not feeling anxious or afraid,” a friend said. “It’s the same way for any of us: You get a challenge, you have to set a mark, you get the best medical care you can, and you keep on trucking. He’s handling this, and I think he’s going to be OK. Stevie is in good hands.”
Said Belgrave: “Let him be Stevie. Let him be magical and share the love he shares.”
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