Cyndi Lauper was trying to act like nothing was wrong.
She would go on TV and sing and talk to hosts, “and at the end of the night, I couldn’t even sit in the restaurant with my husband and my friends and have like a little dinner or anything because I was so cold. So I went upstairs by myself, and you know, a lot of the time you end up by yourself.”
Lauper was living with psoriasis, a disease that creates scaly, inflamed, itchy patches on the skin. For some patients, it comes and goes. But for Lauper, like many others, it was an ever-present challenge causing pain and making her unable to regulate her body temperature due to the inflammation.
She carried on with projects such as touring with Cher and writing the music for the Broadway hit “Kinky Boots,” for which she won a Tony Award for best original score. But she was putting on a brave face while her illness made the simplest tasks excruciating.
It was no fun.
“I was very sick with it, and I found something that worked for me,” Lauper, 65, says. “I took me a long time.
“I speak for, I think, the patients that I met. I remember when I first started working with Novartis, they told me how excited they were that I’d be representing them. I kind of took that to heart, because when I was sick with this illness, I felt very much alone. The irony of that is that there are 7.5 million people in this country with psoriasis, who are suffering.
“It is important to stress that they are not alone, that there are solutions to their problem, and it is not just a rash.”
Lauper says that after connecting with Novartis and meeting other psoriasis patients, she was comforted hearing their stories and talking to them.
And Lauper’s recovery and advocacy have extended to her music, which will be on stage in Kentucky Sunday night when she opens for Rod Stewart, 73, at Louisville’s KFC Yum Center.
“When I wrote the song called ‘Hope’ — I swore I wasn’t going to write a song called ‘Hope’ ... — as I was writing and thinking about all the different people that I met that had such wonderful personality, yet they were kinda hiding themselves when they were ill,” Lauper says. “It’s a great thing to feel better. I was listening to them and the one thing I came away with was they didn’t give up. They had hope.”
Sharing the stage with Stewart, who was already a legend when Lauper achieved fame in the mid-1980s with enduring hits such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “True Colors,” takes her back to a time when the struggles were more career oriented.
“When I first performed with him in ‘85, I was still struggling with, honestly, being famous, being a woman trying to make my own path and have my own brain. And I had a big voice, and mostly women with big voices just sang, and you did what you were supposed to do because they wanted you to be successful. And I wanted to be successful, but I also had my own brain. I didn’t want to have a lobotomy.”
She credits executives at her first label, Portrait Records, with giving her the freedom to express herself the way she wanted and speak up for issues like women’s rights. A lot has happened since that first time touring with Stewart, and now she says it’s a different experience.
“Now I pinch myself when I’m singing with him, because I’ve had a couple great moments in my life,” Lauper says. “I was in cover bands when I started. I did a Rod Stewart set. I am now singing with him, and I never would have sung the way I sang on ‘She’s So Unusual,’ had I not been doing his songs and been in the shower trying to squeeze my voice together to make that sound.
“There are just a couple of moments, and you’ve got to pinch yourself and remind yourself that you did this. I owe a lot to what he did.”
“I’m a lucky person. I really am. I came out the other side of this thing, this illness, I am working, and I am singing.”
IF YOU GO
Rod Stewart with special guest Cyndi Lauper
When: 7:30 p.m. July 29
Where: KFC Yum Center, 1 Arena Plaza, Louisville