Musician Jason Becker refuses to let ALS silence him

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by Aidin Vaziri

September 16, 2013

SFGate

Jason Becker pictured in his home in front of five of his large guitar collection, two album covers painted by his father Gary.

Jason Becker isn’t supposed to be here.

More than two decades ago, just after the Richmond resident got his big break as the guitarist for former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth’s band, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the incurable motor-neuron disease better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Doctors gave Becker three to five years to live. He was 20.

Even as he lost his ability to walk and talk, the baby-faced musical prodigy refused to accept his terminal prognosis.

“At the time, I didn’t believe that I couldn’t cure it,” Becker, now 44, said in an e-mail interview – which he is able to use through a system of blinking his eyes. “I was too young, and I had too much to do. I was living my dream and just kept on.”

Becker had to leave Roth’s band as his symptoms worsened to the point where he could no longer even hold his guitar. That’s when his story really began.

ALS is a rapidly progressive neurological disease that destroys the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord responsible for controlling muscles in the arms, legs, diaphragm and chest wall. It is always terminal, even for those who decide to go on life support.

“Jason’s doctor at the time he got his tracheostomy and stomach tube told me he would probably not make it past six months,” said Becker’s mother, Pat. “That was in 1997.”

The disease doesn’t affect Becker’s senses – the ability to see, hear, smell, taste and feel someone’s touch.

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