A stage producer’s mesothelioma diagnosis reveals the dangers of asbestos exposure in the music industry


Jimmy Johnson was well-known around the world for his talent in live music stage production. During his 56-year career, he got to tour with rock legends like Elvis, the Eagles, R.E.M., and Chicago as well as country stars Faith Hill and Keith Urban.

What he didn’t know was that he was regularly being exposed to asbestos, a toxic substance that would eventually force him to dim the lights on his passion for music and stage production. While on tour in his late 60s, Jimmy was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer he knew nothing about.

“I don’t think a lot of people know how you get mesothelioma and where it comes from. What I worry about now is how many of my fellow workers got it as well and maybe passed on without knowing.”
–Jimmy Johnson, pleural mesothelioma survivor

Read more about Jimmy’s struggle for an accurate diagnosis, the treatment that finally worked for him, and how he was able to get financial help.

A Tour Disrupted by Unexpected Symptoms

In 2021, Jimmy was in Colorado helping bands and performers with a stage production. Typically he would be active, walking between his hotel and the venue he was working in.

However, he recalls being struck with severe symptoms that disrupted his normal routine, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain in his chest, side, and back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Jimmy had to take regular breaks to catch his breath and could barely keep up. He then decided to fly home early so he could see a doctor.

Get our Free Survivors Guide to learn more about the symptoms other patients like Jimmy experienced on their journey to a mesothelioma diagnosis.

From Surgery for Lung Cancer to a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Unfortunately, getting an accurate diagnosis wasn’t a simple process for Jimmy. He and his wife, Kelley, met with several doctors. Some of them thought his symptoms were heart-related, while others thought it could be gastrointestinal.

None of them were able to pinpoint the real issue. Eventually, he found a doctor who ordered a CT scan, a type of imaging test that takes detailed X-rays of the body’s soft tissues.

When the results came back, Jimmy’s doctor, who had only seen him twice, was certain he had lung cancer.

“Kelley and I told him, ‘I never smoked. How could it be lung cancer?’”
–Jimmy Johnson, pleural mesothelioma survivor

Two months after his CT scans, he went in for surgery. During the procedure, the surgeon discovered that Jimmy didn’t have lung cancer after all.

He actually had pleural mesothelioma, a much rarer cancer that forms in the lining of the lung rather than the lung itself.

Finding Financial Support Through Legal Help

Both Jimmy and his wife were forced into retirement by an illness he developed through no fault of his own. They found themselves scrambling to control their finances to handle whatever may come next.

Jimmy’s surgeon recommended contacting an attorney to help them navigate their financial situation. Jimmy and Kelley felt apprehensive at first, but they decided to keep looking into it.

Eventually, they called Simmons Hanly Conroy, a leading mesothelioma law firm. Within a week, a lawyer came out to their house and explained how mesothelioma compensation could help them.

Their lawyers fought for an out-of-court settlement that not only covered Jimmy’s medical bills and treatment expenses but also provided much-needed financial security for Kelley.

“All of a sudden, one check showed up, and then another check showed up, and then another check showed up. And they are still coming in now. It’s been very satisfying, and what I know is that my wife is taken care of for the rest of her life.”
–Jimmy Johnson, pleural mesothelioma survivor

Get a free mesothelioma case review today to see if you can pursue compensation for your illness.

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Shara Fisher
Shara Fisher Senior Paralegal
17+ years providing legal help to mesothelioma victims

Asbestos Use in the Music and Entertainment Industry

The biggest mystery in Jimmy’s case was how he was exposed to asbestos, which is the only known cause of mesothelioma.

As his legal team dove deeper, they discovered that asbestos was lurking all around when Jimmy was working in music studios.

“There was asbestos in the fire curtains, and a lot of fire curtains still to this day have not been changed or taken out.”
–Jimmy Johnson, pleural mesothelioma survivor

It turns out Jimmy handled several asbestos-based products nearly every day, including:

  • Electrical wiring
  • Fireproofing curtains
  • Flooring
  • Stage lights

This caused clouds of asbestos dust to be released into the air, where Jimmy and anyone else nearby could unknowingly swallow or breathe in the tiny fibers.

Adapting to Treatment and Life With Mesothelioma

After his diagnosis was confirmed, Jimmy’s medical team recommended a specific course of mesothelioma treatment.

First, he underwent three rounds of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, his follow-up scans showed that the cancer wasn’t responding to the treatment.

Jimmy’s specialists then started him on immunotherapy, a newer cancer treatment that helps the body’s immune system find and attack mesothelioma cells. His tumors began to shrink, giving him and Kelley hope again.

Today, Jimmy uses an oxygen tank to help him breathe, and his doctors are watching for clinical trials that could benefit him. Mesothelioma has changed his life, but he and Kelley believe it’s just their new normal — one they will keep adapting to together.

“It’s all about humor. We’re going to have good days and bad days, and you want to have more of the smiles.”
–Kelley Johnson, wife of pleural mesothelioma survivor Jimmy Johnson

How We Help Mesothelioma Patients and Their Families

Jimmy is one of the 3,000 Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. But no one has to face this cancer alone.

Our team at Mesothelioma Hope can help you find:

  • Personalized medical treatment in your area
  • Financial assistance to pay for your medical care
  • Peer mentors and palliative care for an extra layer of support

Call us now at (866) 608-8933 or get our Free Survivors Guide to learn more about how we can help you and your family.

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Laura WrightWritten by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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