Wes Johnson, actor, voice actor and voice of the Washington Capitals, shares his Alzheimer’s connection, and the power of community in the fight to end Alzheimer’s.
I lost both my mother and my grandmother to Alzheimer’s.
People talk about inheritance as if it’s material things, but it's not. The inheritance we take with us from those we love are the memories, the lessons we learned, the moments that they've given us. These are far more valuable than anything material.
I would love to be able to see my mother and my grandmother again and let them know what I've been doing – to tell them how the gaming community has rallied around me in honor of them both.
My introduction to this community started with one of the first jobs I had as a voice actor for a video game called “The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.” Now, two decades later, I have voiced more than 60 video game characters, and become part of a community of not just other voiceover actors, but of gamers who grew up hearing my voice.
I reached out to Kenneth Vigue, an actor-director who had done his own fundraising initiative, Fallout for Hope, for a variety of causes, and explained why Alzheimer’s disease research is so near and dear to my heart. I learned that Kenneth had lost family to this insidious disease, too. That’s when we decided to team up to raise funds through The Longest Day event. We reached out to streamers and gamers not just here in the United States, but all around the world, and Voiceapalooza was born!
Voiceapalooza and the fight to #ENDALZ
We brought together this group of passionate gamers and streamers to raise funds and awareness for The Longest Day through a global superstream of video gameplay. Some folks ran their own livestream events, and we did official streams over the course of a week and a half, showcasing video game voice actors each night. We had over 30 different actors who jumped in to help support the cause.
Almost every person who joined had their own Alzheimer’s story. It just goes to show that Alzheimer’s doesn't care who you are, or who you care about: it's an equal opportunity destroyer. It goes after you and it takes everything that you ever were. And families like mine lose people long before they truly lose them.
Sometimes conversations about Alzheimer’s are kept in the shadows, but when we started doing our video game streams, we brought our experiences with Alzheimer’s into the light. As an announcer for the Washington Capitals, I like to say ‘drop the gloves’ when guys are getting ready to fight, and that's what we did: we were dropping the gloves on Alzheimer’s.
In honor of all those battling Alzheimer’s and other dementia, we have raised nearly $35,000 through Voiceapalooza for The Longest Day, and this was just our first year! We will be back next year because I truly believe that the funds raised make a difference, including advancing research to get us closer to a cure, and wouldn't that be great? Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of lacing up the gloves and fighting this disease, we could unlace our gloves and just hug those we love and sit down and reminisce with them?
Carrying Memories & Creating New Ones
My mother and my grandmother are gone, and now I am the caretaker of their memories, just as everyone in my family is. I think they'd be grateful to know that they remain alive and vibrant — and who they always were — in our hearts. Today, I look at my sons and I see full grown men that I am very proud of. I want them to see me as I saw my own mother, always as herself, even in the throes of her disease. That is what love is: seeing everything that a person is when Alzheimer's takes that away.
There can be so much emotional turmoil during an Alzheimer’s journey. When you lose a loved one, there is a strange sense of relief. I want families to know that the guilt and the relief you experience throughout is completely natural. Take hold of everything they were to you and hold those memories close for yourself.
This fight against Alzheimer’s was and is made up of communities. As a community, you CAN fight back, and help people who have been where you've been before. There's sort of a camaraderie: If you have experienced Alzheimer’s or dementia in your family, you know the battle, you understand the stress. There is nothing like the feeling of looking into the eyes of someone who used to look at you with love, someone who could see you better than anybody in the world, and they're not just not there anymore. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy.
I am eternally grateful to every streamer, every gamer and every voice actor who so graciously gave their time to Voiceapalooza, including Matthew Mercer, Jon St John, Ellen McLain, John Patrick Lowrie, Richard Epcar, Keith Szarabajka, Jan Johns, Craig Sechler, Shari Elliker, Jeff Baker, Stephen Russell, Ellen Dubin and Paul Eiding. At the end of our event, we all did silly things with voice and movie scripts, and poetry readings in funny character voices. We laughed so much during these different panels… and then, at the drop of a hat, it turned more solemn when we shared stories about the people we have loved and lost: laughing one minute, crying the next — but that's life. That's life moving forward through the pain, creating new joys and new memories, all while honoring those we love.
: Wes Johnson continues to call games for the Washington Capitals and to voice video games, becoming heroes, villains, monsters and mad men. Among all these, he wants to continue dropping the gloves on Alzheimer's disease. Cheer Wes on during future fundraising quests via Twitter. See the full list of talent from this year's event.