The Who frontman talks to PEOPLE about his innovative charity for teenagers fighting cancer

By Johnny Dodd
January 28, 2017 04:31 PM
Advertisement

Roger Daltrey, the 72-year-old energetic frontman of the iconic rock band the Who, clearly isn’t the type to forget his debts.

And one of those debts, admits Daltrey while kicked back in his hotel room during a recent visit to Los Angeles, is owed to teens.

“Without the support of teenagers,” he insists, “the Who would have been just another punk band.”

So five years ago, Daltrey and bandmate Pete Townsend created Teen Cancer America, a charity that builds teen-friendly environments – with everything from jukeboxes to pool tables — in hospitals for young people battling cancer.

“We don’t do medicine, we do environments,” says the Grammy-winning singer, whose explosive voice and high-octane stage presence, along with Townsend’s aggressive guitar work and inventive songwriting, made the Who one of rock’s most influential bands.

“It’s a small change, but it can make a big difference and it’s our way of giving back and saying thanks.”

Much of Daltrey’s time and energy these days is spent fundraising for the charity, which partners with hospitals to build the specialized areas and programs.

“So far we’ve built facilities in seven major hospitals (including Memorial Sloan Kettering, UCLA and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia). And over 70 hospitals across the country have been in touch about developing specialized programs for these teens,” says Daltrey.

The teen units, which are partially designed by the young patients who reside in them, are equipped with computers, big-screen TVs, game consoles, even kitchens in an effort to make their hospital stays as stress free as possible.

“We found that the teens start talking and supporting each other in these environments,” says Daltrey, who has raised millions for the effort through fundraising concerts with Townsend, Eddie Vedder, Joan Jett and other musicians.

“And it’s medically known that a psychologically happy patient has an improved chance of success with the treatment. The ultimate goal is that every teenager in this country has access to specialized units if they’re hospitalized.”

Teens, whose bodies are vastly different mentally and biologically, often suffer from some of the rarest, most aggressive forms of cancer – which all too frequently aren’t detected until it’s too late.

The charity also works to improve the collaboration between pediatric and adult specialists to enable dedicated research in an effort to improve survival rates.

“Their cancers need to be studied specifically,” adds Daltrey, a grandfather of 10, who lost a sister to cancer. “Teens are our future and they deserve better treatment.”