Roberta Flack Has ALS, Making It 'Impossible to Sing'


Paul Zimmerman/WireImage Roberta Flack onstage in Newark, N.J., in 2017.

Roberta Flack has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

A spokesperson for the legendary singer-songwriter, 85, confirmed to PEOPLE that she was diagnosed with the illness in August and is currently being treated in the hospital. According to a press release, the disease "has made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak."

"It will take a lot more than ALS to silence this icon," the statement read. "Miss Flack plans to stay active in her musical and creative pursuits. Her fortitude and joyful embrace of music that lifted her from modest circumstances to the international spotlight remain vibrant and inspired."

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a rare degenerative disease that causes progressive paralysis of the muscles. Patients first experience twitching or weakness in a limb, followed by slurred speech. According to the Mayo Clinic, because the disease affects the nerve cells in the brain and spine that control muscle movement, patients slowly lose their ability to speak, eat, walk, and breathe on their own.

There's no cure for ALS, which typically claims the lives of those who are diagnosed with it within three to five years, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. However, some patients can live decades.

RELATED: Roberta Flack, 85, Planning Comeback After Stroke and COVID: 'I Hope to See My Fans in Person Soon'

Roberta Flack
Roberta Flack

Matt Licari/Invision/AP/Shutterstock Roberta Flack in 2018.

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Earlier this year, Flack  — best known for her No. 1 singles "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Killing Me Softly with His Song" and "Feel Like Makin' Love" — opened up about the big plans she had for the future, despite previous health setbacks.

The Grammy-winning singer suffered a stroke in 2016 and recovered from a relatively mild bout of breakthrough COVID-19 in January.

"The pandemic has kept most of us off the stage for two years," Flack told PEOPLE in February. "I don't know what the next two years will hold, but I hope to see my fans in person sometime soon."

On November 17, the singer's documentary, Roberta, will premiere at New York's DOCNYC film festival. It will later air on PBS on January 24 as part of the "American Masters" series.

Flack will also publish a children's book that tells the story of her childhood, called The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music, on January 10.