Country Singer Joe Nichols on His Father's Death and Campaigning for Awareness About a Fatal Lung Disease

Joe Nichols 2013
Courtesy Photo

Joe Nichols

Country star Joe Nichols is using his celebrity to make the public aware of a dangerous disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Unfortunately, the maker of such hits as “The Impossible” and “Freaks Like Me” has had a first-hand experience with the condition after watching his father Michael die from complications surrounding it.

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“Dad passed away from it in 2002,” Nichols told Billboard about IPF, in which tissue deep in the lungs becomes thick and stiff over time, leading to the lungs not properly supplying oxygen to the bloodstream, brain and organs. “Since then, as a family, we’ve been looking for a lot of answers, and really there hasn’t been many. It’s a very scary disease that winds up leading to a lot of hurt because there’s no known cause or a cure. It just leaves you asking a lot of questions. My family and I wanted to be involved with something that would help people not to go through what we went through. Then, this educational campaign called Breathless: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at IPF approached me, and asked me to tell my story, and I gladly accepted their invitation.”

According to the numbers presented by the Breathless campaign, IPF causes permanent scarring of the lungs and difficulty breathing, affects as many as 132,000 Americans, and  leads to approximately 40,000 deaths each year -- on par with breast cancer and ALS.

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“I remember him being short of breath a lot," Nichols recalls about his father. "He couldn’t walk 20 or 30 steps without gasping for air. He would also have these violent coughing spells -- maybe two or three minutes at a time. It was very scary watching him.”

The singer says that it’s very much a silent killer, because it can strike without little warning. “It’s a very scary thing because it comes from out of nowhere. There’s no cause nor a cure. There are treatments, however. If you have symptoms or the signs, go to their website (, because that will help you out -- in addition to early detection. That’s really the key. Had my father’s doctors caught it earlier, it might have prolonged his life and improved the quality of it.”

Nichols said that watching his father’s descent was truly one of the most heartbreaking things he has ever witnessed. “We thought it was something of a lung infection, some kind of sickness that he would eventually kick," explains the singer sadly. "For sure, we didn’t think it was terminal. He was diagnosed properly in 2000 after four years of misdiagnosis. It was very hollowing to hear that it was IPF, and that there was no cure whatsoever. There wasn’t even treatments back then. He went from being a big guy who was very active to being bed-ridden at the end, and passing away from the disease. All told, it was about five years."

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Understandably, Nichols admitted that he nor any of his family were familiar with the dangers when the diagnosis was delivered. “I hadn’t heard of it. I had to look it up when he was diagnosed. It didn’t raise awareness or money like a lot of the other diseases -- through no fault of theirs," he explains. "This was just a cause that has been under-publicized that we didn’t know a lot about. I think when I first heard about it, I was surprised that it was as fatal as it is. It’s 100 percent lethal. I thought that was something we definitely needed to get involved with and make people aware of.”

In addition to participating in interviews with media outlets concerning Breathless, Nichols is also taking part in a video campaign along with other survivors of those that have passed away from the disease. “It feels comforting to hear someone else say the words that you want to say, but you’re not sure how people are going to react to it," Nichols says. "To hear that there are other families out there that are living through the hopelessness that the disease causes offers you a little bit of light. I think there’s an amount of fellowship to it that is very helpful.”

Watch the video below: