Why Phil Collins is still touring despite health issues

Truly against all odds, Phil Collins set out on his “Still Not Dead Yet, Live!” solo tour of US arenas in September 2019.

The tour’s name — and that of its predecessor, 2018’s “Phil Collins: Not Dead Yet” trek — was a cheeky reference to the debilitating physical challenges of the Genesis lead singer.

A spinal injury had left him with such limited mobility that Collins was performing from a chair for almost all of his concerts and using a cane for what little walking that he did.

Still, by the time the tour came to Madison Square Garden in October 2019, Collins was vigorously belting out such beloved classics as “Another Day in Paradise,” “Sussudio” and “In the Air Tonight.” And playing the unmistakable drum part on the latter track  —  indeed, skins throughout the whole show — was Collins’ 20-year-old son Nic. 

Rock legend Phil Collins received a standing ovation as he sat down to sing for the first night of the Genesis reunion tour.
Bav Media/SplashNews.com

And it’s Nic who will be playing the drums throughout Genesis’ “The Last Domino?” tour, which, after being delayed last year because of COVID, kicked off its UK leg on Monday and will hit the US in November.

​​“I’m kind of physically challenged a bit, which is very frustrating because I’d love to be playing up there,” Collins told the BBC in an interview broadcast this month. 

But despite clearly being in failing health, a 70-year-old Collins is turning it on again with his Genesis bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks in what is setting up to be a last hurrah on the road for the singer and his group.

Collins has said this will be the band’s final tour — it will hit Madison Square Garden on Dec. 5 and 6 — and that it won’t extend until 2022.

“I think probably this will be putting it to bed for the last time,” Collins said in the new PBS documentary “The Last Domino?”

As for his motivation to do one last tour, he said: “When it’s good, it’s great fun. The audience always seem to come away having enjoyed it. So really it’s a question of going out there and doing what you do with your life. I’m 70 … and I’ve been in this band since I was 19.”

In 2011, Collins announced he was taking time off from his music career, prompting widespread reports of his retirement. “I am stopping so I can be a full-time father to my two young sons on a daily basis,” he said on his official website at the time.

The 70-year-old Collins has faced health issues since 2007, when he suffered a spinal injury — damaging vertebrae in his upper neck — that caused lasting nerve damage. The injury had been sustained during a Genesis reunion tour during a drum solo — leaving him with nerve damage in his hands and unable to play the drums.

“Maybe in a year or so it will change, but for now it is impossible for me to play drums or piano,” he wrote on his website in 2009, adding, “Stuff happens in life.”

Collins was emotionally crushed by the injury, which rendered him unable to sign his John Hancock and, at times, needing help in the bathroom. 

Phil Collins in his heyday before he lost the ability to play the drums.
Phil Collins before he lost the ability to play the drums.
Martyn Goddard/Shutterstock

In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Collins said he had considered taking his own life “in recent years” in part due to his inability to hit the skins.

“I wouldn’t blow my head off,” he said. “I’d overdose or do something that didn’t hurt. But I wouldn’t do that to the children.”

To this day, and despite back surgeries in 2009 and 2015 — the latter of which left him reliant on a cane — Collins’ physical limitations remain severe.

“I can barely hold a [drum] stick with this hand, so there are certain physical things which get in the way,” he told the BBC.

Phil Collins with current wife, Orianne Cevey, at the 4th Annual Dreaming on the Beach Gala
Phil Collins with current wife, Orianne Cevey, at the 4th Annual Dreaming on the Beach Gala
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Soon after his first back surgery, Collins separated from his third wife Orianne Cevey, who’s more than 20 years his junior. The pair had met when she worked as a translator during one of his European tours. They wed in 1999, splashing out nearly $623,000 in today’s dollars on their reception. The pair share two sons, Nicholas and Matthew, but after the latter’s 2004 birth, Cevey struggled with postpartum depression, and the marriage began to crumble.

“It was hard for Phil to understand,” she told the Daily Mail in 2016. “Men do not have the same way of expressing their feelings as women.”

The couple separated in 2006 and finalized their divorce in 2008 — with Collins paying Cevey, in today’s figures, a $44 million settlement, then a record in Britain for a celebrity divorce.

At the time, the Daily Telegraph reported that Collins’ three divorces had cost him $84 million — about a third of his net worth. In addition to his two sons with Cevey, Collins also has three children, including actress Lily Collins, from his previous marriages.

But his relationship with Cevey would continue to haunt him as he began a battle with the bottle. 

“I didn’t go around rolling drunk. But I just started to drink,” he told the Daily Mail. “I used to get up and I’d start drinking and watch the cricket. Red wine, white wine.”

Cevey and their two kids moved to Miami with her new husband Charles Fouad Mejjati and Collins’ drinking spiraled out of control.

“Before you know it, within months, you’re drinking vodka from the fridge in the morning and falling over in front of the kids, you know,” he said.

Singer, songwriter and drummer Phil Collins, with his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli.
Singer, songwriter and drummer Phil Collins, with his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli.
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At the height of his drinking in 2012, Collins developed acute pancreatitis and was reportedly close to dying. He went to rehab — and despite a relapse during a Turks and Caicos vacation that required he be airlifted to New York — he parted ways with booze for three years.

It was around this time, in 2015, that Collins reunited with Cevey, who at that point was still married to Mejjati, prompting a bitter split. 

Phil Collins and his second wife, teacher Jill Tavelman.
Phil Collins and his second wife, teacher Jill Tavelman.
Keith Waldegrave/ANL/Shutterstoc

But despite living with Collins in his $40 million Miami mansion, the pair were not exclusive.

Unbeknownst to Collins, Cevey reportedly wed Thomas Bates in August 2020.

Collins sued to evict her — accusing his ex and Bates of “an armed occupation and takeover” of his home.

Cevey responded with a counterclaim for the half the property’s value; the claim was thrown out of court. She was ordered to leave the premises in January of this year and the vacated home found a buyer.

During the drama, Collins was rehearsing for his current tour with Genesis in the UK.

Despite all of his personal setbacks, it’s doing what he loves that still keeps him going.

“Whenever my dad, you know, was feeling a bit down and we’d go and play a show, I would see his mood light up,” his son Nic said in the PBS documentary.

“Because when you have 20,000 people in an arena who are all there because they absolutely love you, it’s a feeling that I think is so important for musicians to realize that what they do and what they did still matters.”

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