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Jack Hanna diagnosed with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer's Disease, family shares in heartfelt letter

Hanna Family at Zoo - Rick Prebeg.JPG
Posted at 1:46 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 00:32:21-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jack Hanna, the man and local legend who brought his passion for wildlife and conservation efforts to television screens in homes across the world, has been diagnosed with dementia, now believed to have developed into Alzheimer’s disease, his family announced in a heartfelt a statement Wednesday.

“His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated. Sadly, dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to, where people all over the world watched, learned and laughed alongside him,” his family said.

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The family of Jack Hanna releases statement on his dementia diagnosis.

Hanna, who was affectionately known as Jungle Jack Hanna by his fans, retired after 42 years from the Columbus Zoo on Dec. 31, 2020.

His family said even though their dad is no longer able to travel and work in the same way, they know his infectious enthusiasm has touched many hearts and that will continue to be his legacy.

Our mom – Suzi – has been by his side for 53 years in every corner of the world. She continues to be his rock (and ours, too). We have great respect and admiration for Mom as we move through not only this difficult time with Dad, but also Julie’s continued life-long challenges from her childhood leukemia, as she is currently recovering from major surgery.

While Dad’s health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through. And yes - he still wears his khakis at home.

To keep everyone safe in light of COVID-19 restrictions, we are asking for privacy, which is ironic given Dad’s love of interacting with people. We are grateful that the many hearts he’s touched over the years are with him during this journey, which gives us strength.

Thank you, and we appreciate your understanding –

Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie Hanna

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where Hanna was the director, released the following statement:

The Wilds released a similar statement.

Since the beginning of his career, he has transformed the role zoos play in their communities and globally. Hanna first arrived in Ohio in 1965 to attend Muskingum University. Always the animal lover, he even brought his pet donkey with him to live in the fraternity house. While at Muskingum, Jack met his wife, Suzi, and they married in 1968.

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Jack Hanna and Family.

In 1978, he became the director of the Columbus Zoo, holding that position until 1992 when he then became director emeritus. Throughout his career, he has authored 15 books, hosted several television series, and has been the “go-to” wildlife expert and correspondent who shared amazing animals with audiences nationwide.

Gov. Mike DeWine released the following statement about Hanna:

“Fran and I were very sad to learn of Jack Hanna’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s that his family so bravely shared with Ohio and the world today.

“Over the years, Fran and I have had the opportunity to take our kids and grandkids to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and The Wilds. When we were there with Jack, we were so fortunate to experience his passion for animals and the natural world.

“Along with our fellow Ohioans, we wish Jack, Suzi, and their daughters our best as they navigate the challenges of this disease and will be keeping them in our prayers.”

Karen Gorman Jones knows the shock and pain that comes with such a diagnosis as her 92-year-old mother Inez Gorman also battles the disease.

“When I heard it, my heart went out to his family and him. It is very devastating news,” Gorman Jones said. “Ultimately, as my mother says, ’It is what it is.’ I remember crying for months, just thinking about what was to come and not knowing when, how, what.”

Gorman Jones said her priority while caring for her mother for the last decade has been allowing her to maintain her sense of independence.

“I couldn't be sad and mopey. Everything that was in me was gonna try to help her,” Gorman Jones said. “We make sure during the holidays that she still cooks her macaroni and cheese. She still cooks her collard greens.”

Gorman Jones said she’ll continue to advocate for people like her mother and Ohio’s beloved Jack Hanna until there is a cure.

“She told the doctor when she was diagnosed, ‘I’m going to fight this.’ So we're in year 10 or 11 and she's not giving up,” Gorman Jones said.

RELATED: Jungle Jack Hanna announces retirement after 42 years
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