Zac Brown Band bassist/vocalist John Driskell Hopkins is opening up about his recent ALS diagnosis. Hopkins tells People in a new interview that he first noticed symptoms in 2019, when Zac Brown Band was playing shows on The Owl tour. He realized he wasn’t able to play bass guitar quite the way he always had.
“It wasn’t that I couldn’t play anymore, it was that I couldn’t play as fast,” he tells the publication. “My guitar hand was failing me.”
His speech was also occasionally slurred and he had trouble moving around the stage.
In December 2021, he underwent an electromyography (EMG) test, which resulted in the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) diagnosis. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, impacts the muscles that control eating, walking, speaking and more. Approximately 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS each year.
“In my life, I’ve been scared, I’ve been angry, I’ve been stressed,” Hopkins says. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever truly felt anxiety until that day.”
Hopkins and his wife, Jennifer, decided to wait until after the Christmas holidays to tell their three daughters — Sarah Grace, 13, and twins Lily Faith and Margaret Hope, 10 — the news.
“Grace asked, ‘Could you die?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Faith said, ‘Could you be in a wheelchair?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Hope started crying,” Hopkins recalls of the conversation. “They didn’t quite understand it, and they still don’t, really. But neither do we.”
On May 20, Hopkins stood beside his Zac Brown Band bandmates to reveal to fans his diagnosis via a video message. They also announced the launch of Hop on a Cure, a foundation aimed at raising money to help find a cure for ALS.
“Our vision is clear,” Hopkins says. “We need to do everything we can to generate funds to cure ALS.”
Hopkins says he is making the most of his energy and abilities to continue touring and recording with Zac Brown Band, as well as other projects, including an upcoming fourth holiday album. In April, Zac Brown Band embarked on their Out in the Middle tour.
“One of the beautiful things about my condition, if God willing it remains the way it is for a couple of years, is I have the energy and the presence to make a big impact,” Hopkins says. “I’m ready to go. I can still play, I can still sing, I can still make records — and I want to do all that. I’m trying to record everything I can in the event that one day I might not be able to.”
He also said he is moving forward with hope, faith and determination.
“I’m ready to fight this disease,” Hopkins says. “I want to show my girls what a warrior their dad is.”