'I was suicidal:' Huey Lewis opens up about hearing loss diagnosis

In a candid interview with the Whitefish Review, the musician talked about his diagnosis, how he's doing now, and the new work he's still creating.
2018 So The World May Hear Awards Gala Benefitting Starkey Hearing Foundation
Singer and songwriter Huey Lewis said he thought about suicide after his diagnosis of Ménière’s disease.Adam Bettcher / Getty Images
By Kerry Breen

In a candid interview, musician Huey Lewis opened up about his struggle and depression after being diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, a condition that causes hearing loss and dizzy spells.

The frontman of "Huey Lewis & the News" spoke with editors of the Whitefish Review, a Montana literary journal, in mid-September. In the interview, published earlier this week, he revealed that he was suicidal when he first received the diagnosis in 2018, which he said "ruined everything."

"In the first two months of this, I was suicidal," he said. "I can honestly share that with you. I thought, s—, I’m just going to commit suicide. I actually contemplated my demise. You know, like pills. I figured pills were the easiest way to go. I mean, would I have? I don’t know."

According to Erin Bean, an audiologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Otolarynoglogy at New York University, Ménière’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes hearing loss, severe dizziness or vertigo, ringing in the ears or tinnitus and a feeling of "fullness" or congestion in the ear.

"The hearing loss can vary, and typically it will happen in recurrent episodes, with, over time, the hearing getting worse and worse," Bean said. "In the beginning, it can fluctuate and get much worse and return to normal, but typically, over time, the return to normal is much less, and people are left with longer periods of sensory-neural hearing loss."

Huey Lewis and his band, "Huey Lewis & The News" haven't performed since he was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease in 2018. Tibrina Hobson / Getty Images

Lewis said that because of the condition, he is unable to continue his music career. Initially, it only affected his ability to hear music, but he revealed in the interview that it has since become more prevalent.

"This is now a year and eight months, and it's awful," he explained. "I can't hear music. It's hard enough to hear speech. But music is impossible ... I can actually get better sometimes, where I think 'Oh my gosh, I can almost sing.' And I have sung twice in the last two years, when my hearing was better. And I sang one song acoustically. But I couldn't do it for a set."

In May 2018, Lewis told Jenna Bush Hager that he feared he "may never sing again."

Bean said that since Ménière’s disease can also lead to a significant distortion of speech or a high level of sensitivity to louder sounds, being in a concert setting might be difficult.

"I think it would be harder to hear clearly and feel comfortable with what an individual would be hearing," she said.

A 2014 study found that musicians are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, and are 57% more likely to suffer from tinnitus as a result of their jobs.

However, Ménière’s disease is not noise-induced, according to Bean. While there's no known cause for it, theories include constrictions in blood vessels, a consequence of infections or allergies, or genetic variations, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Diseases (NIDCD).

While the band hasn't toured since cancelling all upcoming tour dates in April 2018, and Lewis said he is unable to do more concerts, fans can still expect new music from an upcoming album, which was recorded before Lewis's diagnosis.

One of the songs, a single called "Her Love is Killing Me" has already been released, but the rest of the album likely won't be released until "mid-February of next year," Lewis told the Whitefish Review. Lewis has also been writing songs for his new musical, titled "The Heart of Rock & Roll," which he said has its sights set on Broadway after opening to rave reviews in San Diego.

Bean said that with Ménière’s disease, side effects like vertigo and tinnitus might lessen, but the hearing loss typically remains.

"Typically, over time, after years and years, a lot of times the episodes of vertigo will stop. The tinnitus can be constant, or it can come and go," she said. "But oftentimes, over many years, the vertigo can, at some point, burn out or no longer be the prevalent symptom, but typically people are still left with a substantial degree of hearing loss."

Lewis said that while he's still creating new work, the diagnosis has "changed things" for him.

"People say, well, it doesn't affect your golf game or it doesn't affect your whatever... but it really does," he said. "It affects everything. And when my hearing is good, it feels so good to have good hearing. I just thank my lucky stars and just hope and pray that it stabilizes, which it never does."