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Vandross Finding His Voice Again

10/10/2003 10:38AM

Luther Vandross is learning to sing again after a stroke on April 16 that left him in a coma for five weeks, PEOPLE reports in its latest issue.

R&B diva Patti LaBelle, who visited the singer late last month, says that his mind was so sharp that when they sang a duet, he corrected her on a lyric. "His voice is the same as it was," she says. "He's back."

In truth, however, the beloved R&B star, now 52, still has a long way to go. The Sunday of LaBelle's visit, "he had a really good day," says Carmen Romano, Vandross's longtime manager, who sees him regularly. "But two days later was a really bad day. A bad day is when, for whatever reason, if he's really tired, he becomes disoriented."

Vandross came out of his coma in early June, and since then has been undergoing at least five hours of therapy, doing both mental and physical exercises as well as rehearsing basic life skills like getting in and out of a car. Several friends say that since the removal in late June of a tracheotomy tube, inserted while he battled meningitis and pneumonia, Vandross is once again talking, teasing and singing.

For now, at least, music's greatest value to Vandross is its therapeutic qualities. Friends use old songs to help therapists track his memory loss and play his favorite tunes to cheer him up. Legendary friends like LaBelle, Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, who sang "Alfie" with him, have visited him for live command performances.

Vandross's family won't allow his doctors to speak to the press, but other physicians caution that residual impairment is likely. "The dramatic recovery is probably over," says Dr. Keith Siller, director of the stroke unit at New York University Medical Center. "Now it's a matter of him retaining what he's gained from rehabilitation and preventing another stroke."

For more on Vandross's recovery, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, now on newsstands.

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