Samuel L. Jackson Opens Up About His Family's "Heartbreaking" Struggle With Alzheimer's

The actor, a big supporter of the Alzheimer's Association, talks in THR's Philanthropy Issue about the steps he's taking to stave off the disease

This article first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Samuel L. Jackson has every reason to take Alzheimer's personally. "My grandfather was the first [family member] to be affected," says the 65-year-old actor (who will co-star opposite Colin Firth in October's Kingsman: The Secret Service). "He was my best friend when I was growing up. It was heartbreaking to reach a point where he didn't know who I was." Next, his uncle was diagnosed with the disease, followed by his mother, then his aunt. "I don't think anybody should suffer the heartbreak of having someone who has nurtured you, taken care of you and loves you reach a point where they can't even call your name."

When Jackson decided in 2012 to get involved in the search for a cure, he turned to the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association, which has awarded nearly $315 million to more than 2,200 scientists since 1982. The group has a small army of celebrity supporters — including Seth Rogen, Bradley Cooper and David Hyde Pierce — but Jackson hit on some creative techniques for drawing donors, like pledging last summer to recite any 300-word monologue Reddit users requested, provided they donated enough dollars (after the campaign reached the $100,000 mark, Jackson did a Bryan Cranston monologue from Breaking Bad that promptly went viral). "We work with a lot of people who have celebrity status," says Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association. "When they talk, people pay attention."

Jackson's family history adds urgency to his quest to find a cure, but he's taking other steps to stave off the disease. "I read, I do crossword puzzles, I memorize lines for a living," he says. "Maybe that's why I continue to work — because I want to exercise my mind." 

Go here to find out more about the Alzheimer's Association and make a donation.

Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.