Dick Wagner is back onstage after a heart attack and stroke in 2007 put his entire career, one that’s seen the guitarist perform with Kiss, Alice Cooper and Frank Sinatra, in jeopardy. Wagner was working through his rehabilitation when new symptoms began to appear, eventually pointing his doctors to a form of “curable dementia.”
He had spent 30 years collaborating with a virtual who’s who of eventual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, a list including Aerosmith, Etta James, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Guns & Roses, even Ringo Starr.
Wagner is best known for co-writing Alice Cooper’s hit “Welcome to My Nightmare” and performing the guitar solo on Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” a feat good enough to rank at No. 25 on Gibson’s list of best solos ever.
All of that looked to be in doubt, though, when Wagner was recovering from his heart attack and stroke, a one-two punch that put him in a coma for two weeks. Wagner told ABC News he woke up with a paralyzed left arm and a lot of questions about his fate as a musician.
The road to recovery was cut short when he started noticing signs of mental fuzziness and an odd gait. Eventually a fall near his swimming pool proved evidence of a blood clot, necessitating surgery.
"I couldn't turn to the left as I walked, only to the right, and I would do a spiral and fall," he said to ABC. "I fell completely flat on my face in the driveway on the concrete. I didn't know what had happened to me."
Then, in 2011, Wagner was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus, or NPH, a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain that affects about 5 percent of dementia patients. The malady is curable, which is good news to the 70-year-old rock star who is already back on tour in Denmark after a shunt was put into his head.
"I am like a new man almost overnight," Wagner said. "For five years, I couldn't even pick up a guitar -- I didn't have the strength or the coordination."
NPH is described as a scary combination of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease with the motor skills failure that comes with Parkinson’s. For Wagner, correcting the NPH was the critical factor in fixing his coordination and timing. There are currently an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Americans suffering from NPH, a disease that targets people over 55.
Below is an interview with Wagner from 2012 in which he discusses his time with Alice Cooper, recording a live album with Lou Reed, and the state of the music industry.