Wednesday 18 September 2019

'I thought it was a pimple but it turned out to be cancer' - Jon Kenny's health scare

Comic Kenny overcomes yet another brush with cancer after beating lymphoma and heart failure

Single-hander: Jon Kenny's new play, Crowman, is premiering in Cork. Photo: Clare Keogh
Single-hander: Jon Kenny's new play, Crowman, is premiering in Cork. Photo: Clare Keogh
Jon kenny and Mary McEvoy In John B Keane's The Matchmaker
Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny (circa 2000)
Eddie Rowley

Eddie Rowley

IRISH comic icon Jon Kenny has revealed that he had another cancer scare after being diagnosed with melanoma.

It's the latest in a series of life-threatening health issues for the Irish actor and funnyman who has experienced more personal drama than one of his deep, dark stage characters.

In 2000, at the height of his phenomenal success as one half of D'Unbelievables with Pat Shortt, Kenny was successfully treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

In 2011, he then had a double bypass after it was discovered that he was suffering from heart failure, having completed 80 shows on a D'Unbelievables reunion tour.

In an exclusive interview, Jon (61), a native of Hospital, Co Limerick, revealed for the first time that he also had a malignant melanoma removed from his nose two years ago.

Chatting over coffee in a Dublin hotel, Jon recalled: "I had a pimple on my nose, it wouldn't go away and it kept bleeding. It was a doctor who spotted it and he said, 'We'll get that out.' It turned out to be cancerous."

"It was over-exposure to the sun. I over-did it because we went to France a lot on holidays. I would put on sun block, but I'd lie out in the sun for a long time. Now I tend to sit in the shade."

It's too late for him now, he jokes, but Kenny says that if he'd stayed out of the sun all his life he'd have a more youthful appearance today.

"My aunt Peggy in Athlone is in her 90s, and if you saw her you'd say she was decades younger," Jon says. "There's women of 40 and even 30 who would kill for her skin.

"I asked her one day, 'What's the secret?' She said she's been putting sun block on her skin every day of her life. She went to Australia when she was young and she had to mind the sun, so she started using the sun block and never stopped using it."

Recalling his heart failure, which he says was caused by his cancer treatment, Jon says: "The doctor was treating me for asthma. I went through that (D'Unbelievables) tour on inhalers. I couldn't walk up the stairs at home. After the tour I went for a scan and it turned out to be heart failure.

"If someone says to me now, 'I'm out of breath', I say, 'Did you get your heart checked?' It's not a chest infection once you have a breathing problem. It's not an inhaler you need, it's a heart check."

Now concentrating on theatre work, when I first met Jon in the late '70s he was in a pop band called Gimik. "I enjoyed playing music, enjoyed the buzz of it, and being in a band was great, especially when you're young," he says.

"I don't think our band was overly ambitious about taking on the world, we just enjoyed doing it. We were happy to do it and make a living from it."

But after Kenny teamed up with Pat Shortt the creative genius hit gold with their comedy act D'Unbelievables, which made the pair superstars in Ireland, instantly recognised in every village, town and city.

"It was kind of crazy," Jon says. "It was amazing being recognised, but you couldn't go anywhere with the kids because you had no space.

"We ended up heading away where no one knew us. But it was lovely to see that excitement, and people couldn't get enough of you. Now I'm trying to bate them in the door with a stick."

Kenny is set to star in a new play, Crowman, which opens at Dublin's Olympia Theatre on Wednesday. The production received standing ovations during its run in Cork where Jon was acclaimed for giving a masterclass in portraying a gamut of emotions and his physical acting.

Written by Katie Holly, Jon plays the main character, Dan Lonergan, and he says: "It's a story about lost love and the sense of belonging and not belonging in a small community.

"Most of all it's about the humanity and decency of the local characters found in every rural village and town in Ireland.

"You know, there's a bit of Dan in all of us, that thing of wanting to belong. It must be an awful feeling for someone, which I can't imagine, to feel that they don't belong. We all want to belong because that's what we are, we're social animals."

l JON Kenny stars in Crowman at the Olympia Theatre from September 4-7.

Irish Independent

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