Bernie Williams, the Yankees legend turned Latin Grammy nominee, is back at the plate for a pharma-backed disease awareness program that’s become his signature cause.

Williams is fronting Boehringer Ingelheim’s “Tune In To Lung Health,” a program exploring how music may help support those with interstitial lung disease (ILD). The term ILD refers to a group of rare lung conditions that includes the one Williams’ dad, Bernabé, ultimately succumbed to, called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF. 

BI approached Williams to enlist in its national respiratory campaign, known as “Breathless,” several years ago. Since then, he’s become a leading advocate, appearing at Major and Minor League Baseball stadiums as well as other venues around the country strumming his jazz guitar, telling his story and drawing attention to the effort. 

This latest phase of his work with the drug company sees Williams explaining how his father’s guitar-playing ignited his own passion for music, which later helped him cope with the loss. He views the effort as a way to help others suffering from ILD to find the information they need “earlier and more quickly than we did.”

“His openness is endearing to people,” said Al Masucci, VP of Boehringer’s ILD business unit. “We get letters from people about ‘What it means to hear from someone like Bernie’; letters like, ‘I had no understanding of the disease until I heard the story of his father.’” 

The new program’s resources were introduced Wednesday to coincide with September’s Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month. This includes a video series with guided vocal and breathing exercises, first-hand accounts from people living with ILD and a Spotify playlist curated by Williams and others. All are accessible via microsite

Williams also did a stint on New York affiliate Fox5’s Good Day New York Wednesday morning to plug the effort. 

“His story has allowed us to reach millions across the country with important messages about awareness, the signs and symptoms, and the need for timely care,” added Masucci.

In addition to the ex-Yank’s involvement and star power, the campaign’s other central figure is Eric Vetro, the celebrity vocal coach who guides the vocal and breathing exercises available on the microsite. 

Vetro, who’s worked with everyone from Shawn Mendes and Katy Perry to Ariana Grande and John Legend, says the same techniques he uses to teach pop and Broadway singers to maintain vocal strength may also help those with ILD to cope with breathlessness, which is one of the disease’s hallmarks.

These classic signing techniques can also promote relaxation and stress relief, Vetro says. That’s relevant to ILD, which can have both a physical component in the form of permanent lung scarring, which makes it difficult to breathe, as well as a mental health aspect.

Among the 200 or so conditions that fall under the ILD umbrella, IPF is the most common. It was IPF that claimed the life of Williams’ father in 2001. BI’s drug Ofev, used to treat IPF, was approved in 2014. Three years later, in 2017, the Yankees hero teamed with the drugmaker on Breathless.

In the “Tune In” campaign’s latest slate of videos, three patients who are afflicted with ILD explain how music helps them navigate the disease burden. 

“Music is personal to the campaign’s spokespeople and to patients,” said Masucci. “We wanted to make sure our campaign was authentic.”

When the pandemic sidelined his stadium appearances, Williams and BI launched the Breathless Ballad Challenge, a contest for the public to write lyrics to his instrumental tribute to his father, “Para Don Berna.” More than 75 entries were received, each judged by a star-studded jury pool that included Queen Latifah, the Bacon Brothers and Paul Shaffer. Also in 2021, BI sponsored Beyond Breathless, a documentary featuring Queen Latifah, who also lost a parent to ILD. 

In addition to raising awareness and honoring his dad, Williams has said that his work over the years with BI has been somewhat cathartic. That is, it’s providing him with a way to finally process the emotional turmoil of losing his father, whose death came while Williams was in the midst of his memorable Yankee career. 

“Up until four years ago, I never really had an opportunity to confront this,” he told in 2021. “It has been great; from a personal standpoint, it has sort of given me the opportunity to bring closure to this process.”