When talking about the definitive rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s, you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual person with the profile, body of work, and sheer iconic legacy as Neil Young.
The Canadian singer-songwriter made a name for himself at a young age, spending the '60s and early '70s performing with iconic groups such as Buffalo Springfield, and of course, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
Not only that, but by the time he’d joined up with David Crosby and company for the latter group, he’d already released two solo albums, and would go on to release even more of them with his band Crazy Horse.
Suffice it to say, the man is a rock and roll icon, and he has the back-catalog to prove it. If that previous list of credentials wasn’t enough, just take a look at the songs Young is responsible for: classics like “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down By The River,” “Helpless,” and of course, “Rockin’ In The Free World.” Seven of his own albums have gone Platinum, and he continues to tour and perform into his 70s.
Of course, no rock star’s life is ever straightforward or without drama, and Young is no exception to this. The man has gone through a number of unsuccessful relationships. most recently leaving his wife of 35 years, Pegi Young, in 2014 and moving to Los Angeles his with current girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah.
On top of that, Young has infamously consumed a number of substances over the years that he’s performed, only becoming sober as recently as 2012, and that sort of lifestyle is bound to take its toll on just about any human being (or at least any one that isn’t named Ozzy Osbourne).
However, in this particular case, it’s been highly speculated that Young’s substance issues haven’t just had an impact on his own health, but also that of his children. You see, Young has three children: his son Zeke from his marriage to actress Carrie Snodgress, and son and daughter Ben and Amber from his marriage to Pegi Young. Why is this important? Because all three of them were born with significant disabilities.
Zeke Young and Ben Young both suffer from Cerebral Palsy, a permanent movement disorder that manifests in early childhood and often results in poor coordination, stiff muscles, and tremors, which makes it difficult for someone to even stand under their own power. Ben in particular suffers from the disorder so severely that he can’t speak, and it has also rendered him quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair.
Amber, meanwhile, is epileptic, a debilitating brain condition where exposure to triggers such as flashing lights or other jarring brain stimuli can cause someone to have potentially dangerous epileptic seizures. Thankfully, she continues to have a successful art career in San Francisco.
Young now takes Ben on every tour, and commented to the New York Times in 2012 that “He’s our spiritual leader in that way. We take him everywhere, and he’s like a measuring stick for what’s going on."
“I tell Ben everything, and he listens,” Young would later add. “He knows everything, but who is he going to tell?”
It’s been speculated by many that Young’s substance habits were largely responsible for the developmental issues faced by his children, and while the singer himself has largely remained private about the matter, he appears to be wholly dedicated to looking after his son, even well into his old age.
Young’s shared plenty of his passions with Ben, most notably his love of trains, which he apparently has had since he was 10 years old. Amber once affectionately quipped that “Dad’s a train nerd,” and as such, he and Ben began building a massive model train set years ago.
"When I started building the railroad, I built it so that my son and I could have something to do together especially when we found out how disabled Ben was physically," he told the Times.
Even after he and his wife Pegi divorced in 2014, both of them have agreed to continue looking after Ben, who thankfully also has his own ventures to work on aside from those of his parents. He runs an organic chicken farm on the ranch his mother kept in the divorce, and using a communication device to speak to a local paper, he stated that: "The whole idea of nurturing animals that can give you something in return without having to slaughter them just works for me. There is a very (strong bond) between people on the farm and the animals on the farm. Besides baby chicks are so cute, and eggs are one of my favorite foods."
Both Young and his ex have taken the plight of others in Ben’s position to heart, and the two regularly donate money to charity. The two actually created the Bridge School, a private institution for profoundly handicapped children located in Hillsborough, Calif., because the existing ones nearby were insufficient for Ben’s needs.
After all of this, Young still has nothing but the best things to say about Ben:
"Ben has taught me you never give up. You can't say 'This is too hard.' It can't be too hard. There's so many kids with challenges that are so great and yet they just keep trying. So if I come up against something that's hard to deal with, I can handle it and it's because of him."
What do you think of Young’s devotion to his child?