"I just want to make sure I get all of what I can out of living. Whatever's out there, we don't know," Maureen McGovern said.
With her hallmark song, The Morning After, celebrated singer Maureen McGovern preached a message of hope amid despair for nearly 50 years. The anthem now tells McGovern's narrative as well, as a statement of her own hope as she learns to live with Alzheimer's illness. Despite the fact that the degenerative and incurable condition has begun to deprive the 73-year-old singer of her everyday lexicon, she can still recite the lyrics to her 1973 chart-topper with ease. "It's not too late," McGovern tells PEOPLE, emphasizing the line from her song, adding, "There's hope. Don't give up. That's my mantra. Don't give up."
McGovern revealed her diagnosis and announced her retirement from the stage in an emotional website post and Facebook video last August, confessing she initially "struggled with the inevitable shock with fear and, frankly, hopelessness." She now keeps such worries at bay through an active lifestyle and a strong sense of purpose. She was born in Ohio and now lives in a Columbus retirement community that provides her with both independence and security. She has surrounded herself with a close-knit group of family and dedicated friends. "I truly, truly do believe I've been blessed with so many things," she says.
McGovern began battling with familiar lyrics around five years ago. She compensated by increasing rehearsal time and utilizing a notebook onstage while seeking medical advice. A battery of tests yielded a definitive diagnosis in 2021, nearly a year after she'd performed her farewell concert just before the COVID-19 lockdown. Music is still at the heart of her life today. At home, she listens to a continual rotation of recorded music from her large collection. "Sometimes classical, sometimes jazz, sometimes I'll pull out the old records and sing with myself," she says with a chuckle.
Though her days of public performances are past, McGovern continues to entertain her fellow retirement community residents, occasionally partnering with a jazz pianist in recitals. "You just go one day at a time," she says. "Every day is a day to make it better." Her happiness is also fueled by her family — she is close to her sister's three daughters and seven grandchildren — and a vast group of friends who have rallied around her. And there's joy, she says, "that I'm still here, frankly."
Of course, that concept is echoed in her hallmark song: Wherever there is life — and love — there is hope. "I don't fear dying, particularly," McGovern says. "I just want to make sure I get all of what I can out of living. Whatever's out there, we don't know. So you just have to start singing."
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Jemal Countess