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Time to Rage Against The Prostate Cancer Machine

Scientific fact: One member in two rock bands will be diagnosed with prostate cancer

(Rage Against The Machine’s Tim Commerford latest rocker to be diagnosed with PCRA)

By Howard Wolinsky

Another day. Another rocker diagnosed with prostate cancer.

So the world turns, as our generation (per paraphrase of The Who) gets old and prostate cancer gets told. Over and over again. No doubt more to come.

Bassist and backup vocalist Tim Commerford, 54, of “Rage Against the Machine (RATM),” announced in Spin magazine on Dec. 14 that he has prostate cancer.

“I’ve been dealing with some pretty serious shit,” he told Spin’s Daniel Kohn.

The Machine is a political band founded in the early 1990s. They sang songs of liberation, rebellion, and anti-capitalism. Commerfield’s latest contribution is an upbeat single entitled “Capitalism.” He says he wants to write nonpolitical songs, but can’t help himself.

History: RATM were vocal supporters of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Remember them? The band took several trips to the Mexican state of Chiapas to support the armed rebels.

More history: On April 10, 1996, the band was scheduled to perform two songs on the NBC show Saturday Night Live. The show was hosted that night by Republican ex-presidential candidate and multi-millionaire Steve Forbes. According to band guitarist Tom Morello, “RATM wanted to stand in sharp juxtaposition to a billionaire telling jokes and promoting his flat tax by making our own statement.”

They suspended two upside-down American flags from their amplifiers—a symbol of distress—-seconds before they took the stage to perform “Bulls on Parade,” SNL and NBC sent stagehands in to pull the flags down. No sense of irony–or rebellion on a satiric show?

After filming a video, RATM and 300 hunded their fans stormed the New York Stock Exchange, shutting down the seat of capitalism during the middle of a trading day. Viva la revolution, right?

Now RATM story focuses on prostate cancer of all things. Maybe some good will come of this. Commerford hopes so.

I admire their strong expression against the tyranny and wrongdoings of the establishment and their support of freedom and change. I hope they will use their energy and spirit to Rage Against The Prostate Cancer Machine to get more funding for research on prostate cancer, more support for patients and push for laws to make prostate screening available to any who wants it.

(And, Machine, please don’t overlook Active Surveillance for lower-risk patients. We’ll call it Activist Surveillance, if that helps.)

We’ll see. They have a lot of “shit” to process first.

“Psychologically, the damage is severe. It’s very hard for me to not break down and get emotional,” Commerford said in a revealing interview just published.

The musician told Spin that he had his prostate removed two months before a fall 2022 tour kicked off. It was the band’s first tour in a decade.


Doctors said I wasn’t going to be ready. That was brutal. I would be on stage looking at my amp in tears. Then you just… turn round and suck it up,” Commerford said.

Powerful stuff. Honest. Revealing. Not the typical image of the virile, in-your-face rocker.

Commerford wasn’t a candidate for AS.

We don’t know many of the details of his cancer. Maybe we don’t need to.

The media typically shines a bright light on celebs diagnosed with prostate cancer but does a piss poor job of reporting (See below) the details such as Gleason scores, PSAs, PIRADS, and the like that are bread-and-butter for patients like us to understand what is going on.

But Spin’s Kohn did a first-rate good job. with a very open interview subject.

Kohn even talked PSA talk with Commerford, who brought the subject up. Reporters, especially entertainment, sports, and political reporters may not know to ask about.

Commerford told Kohn “I just got my six-month ( postsurgery PSA) test, and it came back at zero. I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ That’s the best I can feel for the rest of my life. Every day I get closer to that test is like, ‘Fuck man, is this going to be the time when the number is going to go up and I’m going to the next thing, whatever that is?’ I already went through some pain and shit. And I’m continuing to go through like, some crazy shit,” he raged.

Lots of rage and shit.

Insurance is an important part of an entertainer’s life. They and their financial backers and insurance companies. live and breathe medical tests. Typically, when entertainers take on a major project, like a tour, they have to pass an insurance exam before backers, fearful of tour disasters, give them a green light.

[Insurance is a problem for us regular people, too. Read my story, “Lies, dirty lies, and insurance discrimination,” about how I lost a $500,000 term insurance policy because I had been diagnosed with wimpy, Gleason 6 “cancer.” I’m not the only one.)

Commerford said, “I went to get life insurance but my PSA numbers were up. … They wouldn’t insure me. At first, the number was very low — like one-point-something. I watched it over the course of a year and a half, and it kept elevating further.

“Eventually, they did a biopsy and found out I had cancer, so they took my prostate out. I had been thinking, well, because they’re watching it and let it get to this point, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. I blame myself. I should have said, ‘My numbers are elevated and what does that really mean?’”

RATM officially canceled their first tour in a decade because bandmate Zack de la Rocha tore his Achilles tendon during a show. They didn’t disclose Commerford’s struggle with prostate cancer issues.

Alta rockers. Who said it was easy getting old, rocker or not? Certainly not The Who, whose anthem, “My Generation,” says they hope they die before they got old.

I recently updated their song:

Commerford told Spin that he has had several surgeries to repair the toll he’s done to his body over the years from mountain biking and other sports. He has had metal plates put in his head and cadaver parts put in his body, but he said, nothing could compare to the pain he has felt after having his prostate removed.

Socially conscious Commerford said he wanted to raise awareness by doing the Spin interview, having kept his diagnosis private. He succeeded.

“I hope there’s one person who reads this and is like, ‘I need to get checked out’ when they find out about it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Commerford says he has been struggling to find a support group. “It was hard to talk about.” Tim, it’s not hard. I’d suggest you check out They have groups across the spectrum.

I prefer an egalitarian approach. But maybe AnCan or someone else could start a special group for privacy-seeking celebs? Rage Against Prostate Cancer. There would sem to be enough business with prostate cancer epidemic.

Part II: Prostate cancer doesn’t just strike rockers

By Howard Wolinsky

Let’s be clear: Prostate cancer is not an occupational hazard arising from the Rock ‘N Roll lifestyle. It doesn’t get you into the Rock And Hall of Fame—but maybe they could do an exhibit on this.

Andy Taylor of Duran Duran had to skip his induction into the Hall recently because he has been sidelined by Stage 4 prostate cancer. No doubt that was a first.

Prostate cancer is just part of aging. Alte rockers certainly are not immune to prostate cancer or other conditions.

Nothing special about the lot of us. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Rockers included.

Assume a minimum of four male musicians in a rock band. So one member in two band members will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Scientific fact. You heard it here first.

Tim Commerford is the latest of a long list of rockers, including Elton “Candle In The Wind” John and Rod “Forever Young” Stewart, who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. They won’t be the last.

Lately, it seems like a prostate cancer diagnosis is becoming a rite of passage for aging rockers, politicians, athletes, and movie stars: the rich, famous, and powerful.

But paraphrasing William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” their flesh is heir to prostate cancer—as much as that of the tinker, the tailor, the spy (I actually read a spy novel about a spy with prostate cancer), the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, along with the carpenter, garbage collector, plumber, cop, mailman, accountant, and physician. And news reporters like me. I know a bunch.

Rockers have big megaphones and loads of followers. So they make headlines when something bad happens, like tossing a hotel room, going into rehab, or being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Check out my story “Hope I die before I get prostate cancer”– Who’s ‘My Generation’ anthem revised/Rockin’ prostate cancer in the real world” about Taylor’s advanced prostate cancer:

Blaring PCa headlines, presumably, are a good thing because they increase awareness. But, unfortunately, many of these media reports are written by rock reporters and entertainment reporters focused on the famous newly diagnosed patient, not on the disease. The news story in Spin about Commerford is the exception.

The same poor reporting is common for political reporters and sports reporters, who typically know what they’re doing until they run up against complicated health issues. They usually gloss over them to cover “the real news.”

When prostate cancer is reported where are all the health reporters? Sometimes they do a great job of reporting, such as on Angelina Jolie’s genes and prophylactic surgery for risks from cancer.


But often, health reporters are not assigned to doing the fast-breaking story of celebrities and their cancers.

Check out my critique on the media and coverage of prostate cancer in particular though the same is true for coverage other cancers: “Extra! Extra! ‘Detected early’: Why news coverage of prostate cancer and AS usually (not always) sucks”

I offer a bit of a primer there on what reporters should ask about prostate cancer whether their subjects are regular Joes or celebs.

Here’s a prime example of inept reporting and misdirection by a baseball team: The strange case of the San Diego Padre’s coach and the mysterious disappearance of prostate cancer and the disservice of the local media and the team in not informing the San Diego and national audience about prostate cancer.

I have written about this many times. We almost never learn the specifics about the cancer.

“Celebs who are quick to say their life was saved rarely reveal the grade, Gleason score, or anything that would tell you whether they were high, low, or no risk,” said my pal Gary Schwitzer, former head of CNN’s Health Unit,  retired journalist and professor, who often has told cautionary tales about celebrity medicine.

In my opinion, actor Ben Stiller was the best-informed celeb prostate cancer patient. He revealed why he decided to undergo surgery on his Gleason 3+4 rather than go on AS.

Read my story in MedPage: “Celebrity Revelation Stirs the Pot— Ben Stiller says PSA testing saved his life. Did it really?”

Articles typically say the cancer was detected early, and the doctor saved the day with aggressive treatment.

When Hollywood legend Robert De Niro was diagnosed in 2003, his publicist issued a statement: “The condition [prostate cancer] was detected at an early stage because of regular check-ups, a result of his proactive personal healthcare program.”

Ok, let’s go on to the next movie project.

We know that celebrities get a different brand of medical treatment. It’s not always the best care because they are attending to health issues but also other things like insurance and image.

We may not know the details because of the sleight of hand by the celebrity image control teams.

A celebrity manager told me how his colleagues manipulate the facts to put the best spin on seemingly bad situations. Even low-risk prostate cancer can be cast as a bad situation in this world.

I know of only two actors who have fessed up to be being on AS.

The heroic Nill Duke, a director and star in some action movies, hits such as “Predator” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has been on AS since 1994 and is an outstanding advocate for Black men with prostate cancer and has been outspoken about his experience with AS.

Duke’s star power comes across in this great YouTube video with Dr. Mark Scholz from the Prostate Cancer Research Institute:


The cowardly Sir Ian McEllen is the other. He has been less than honest about being on AS.

(Gandalf the Grey is on AS.)

Actor Ben Stiller, unlike most stars, shared specifics such as his Gleason 3+4=7 score and his mental and emotional process in coming to grips with being diagnosed with a serious disease at a young age and his decision to be treated. (Check out my MedPage Today article: “Celebrity Revelation Stirs the Pot— Ben Stiller says PSA testing saved his life. Did it really?”

(Ben Stiller was very open in sharing his PCa story.)

Projecting a healthful and youthful image is important to managers and the celebrities they manage. So a manager I interviewed once told me quick surgery just helps some celebrities overcome a PR/image nightmare like having an “old man’s disease” like prostate cancer.

Articles about celebs with PCa often are misleading and uninformative.

Typically, they say the cancer was detected early, and a doctor saved the day.

When Hollywood legend Robert De Niro was diagnosed in 2003, his publicist issued a statement: “The condition [prostate cancer] was detected at an early stage because of regular check-ups, a result of his proactive personal healthcare program.”

(Hollywood legend Robert De Niro and his prostate cancer.)

Was he maybe a candidate for AS? We don’t know.

We do know his insurer accused him of lying about his health and tried to recover nearly $2 million in damages.

Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. insured the horror film “Hide and Seek.”

The company claimed the actor hid his health issues when he signed a paper stating he had never been diagnosed with or treated for prostate cancer.

That’s the stigma of PCa. We’re not very open about it on the job or even with our families. Cancer affecting sexuality can lead to some lies, shame and stigma.

According to court documents, De Niro was diagnosed with prostate cancer on Oct. 15, 2003, two days after he signed the medical certificate. De Niro underwent a prostate-gland biopsy on Oct. 10, 2003.

De Niro’s diagnosis and resulting treatment delayed the movie production. Fireman’s Fund paid Fox more than $1.8 million to cover the cost of the delay.

Like I said, insurers take this stuff seriously,

A judge eventually tossed the case.

“This ruling vindicates what we’ve said all along,” De Niro’s attorney Robyn Crowther said. “We are pleased that the court has found that Fireman’s Fund can’t sue Mr. De Niro for getting cancer.”

Many of the entertainers like John and Stewart have opened up about their cancers and worked to raise not only awareness but funds for research.

The iconic John revealed in “Elton John: Uncensored,” a 57-minute long interview between John, 72, and Irish television personality Graham Norton, 56, published exclusively by BBC1 that he peed in his diaper while performing a gig in Vegas.

No glamor there, but a heaping dose of reality.

(Could Elton be pissing himself?)

In 2017, John performed a show in Las Vegas just two weeks after having a prostate cancer operation that caused incontinence, As a result, he wore a diaper on stage,

“If only they knew,” he says of his audience during that gig, “at that moment I was pissing myself.” Now we know. Talk about a yellow brick road.

Here’s to Ben Stiller, Bill Duke, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Tim Commerford. Their openness and honesty helps other patients along the way on their their so-called cancer journeys by sharing their own stories and also helps reduce the stigma of prostate cancer.

Viva la cause. Rage against the cancer.

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