Watch CBS News

How an encounter with a teen superfan battling cancer inspired Imagine Dragons to start a foundation

Teen fighting cancer inspires Imagine Dragons
A teenage fan's struggle with cancer inspires Imagine Dragons to create a foundation 06:09

Before it was one of the biggest rock bands around the world, Imagine Dragons was hustling for recognition in small clubs and playing for a few hundred fans at a time. 

That all changed with the 2012 debut single "It's Time," which was influenced by lead singer Dan Reynold's lifelong struggle with depression. The song not only introduced the band to the world, it touched the very soul of a young fan — whose story would later spur an invaluable mission.

"When we were a small, unsigned act, there was a boy in the audience that was a superfan, that was raised on his brother's shoulders, who had no hair because of chemo, was skin and bones, was really in the middle of cancer," Reynolds told Jamie Yuccas for the "CBS Mornings" series "A More Perfect Union."

That superfan was 16-year-old Tyler Robinson, who was fighting stage 4 cancer. His brother, Jesse, actually snuck Tyler out of the hospital to take him to see his favorite band. 

"I told him, 'Mom and Dad are going to come down on me hard. So you have to back me up if we're doing this,'" Jesse Robinson said. "And he's like, 'I got it, I got it, we're doing this.'"

"We did what we always did. We stole my dad's car and just went and listened to music," he said.

Jesse Robinson had sent the group a Facebook message asking them to sing "It's Time" for Tyler and explaining that the song had been his fighting theme throughout chemotherapy.

Their wish came true when Robinson sang the song with Tyler that night.

"And that moment, when their heads touch, and they're singing to each other, screaming at the top of their lungs — I will never forget that moment, ever, as long as I live," said Wayne Sermon, the band's guitarist. 

A friendship was born that night. And as the band began to catch fire, Reynolds would text Tyler to share the joy.

"He was just there to enjoy the music, but his attitude towards life was so inspiring," Reynolds said. "I can honestly say from that moment, I have been changed."

Imagine Dragons dedicated its next single, "Demons," to Tyler. But in 2013, the cancer returned and attacked his brain. 

Sermon recalls the moment he heard the news of Tyler's death. 

"Dan called me, and he had just gotten some terrible news about Tyler, and just was so distraught," he said. "We cried together, and thought that Tyler's legacy has to live on."

Shortly after Tyler's death, the band reached out to his parents about launching the Tyler Robinson Foundation. The mission: helping families bear the emotional and financial burden of children fighting cancer. 

"I'd always thought, 'OK, good people care about their children. Great people care about other people's children,'" said Tyler's mom, Shannon Robinson.

"I just remember thinking, 'That's unbelievable that someone cares that much,'" she said.

Years later, the foundation is still going strong. This year's fundraiser in Las Vegas brought in more than $2.5 million.

For the band, the event is always an emotional night.

"People have to derive meaning in a lot of different ways and I feel like that's the one thing we know for a fact. We're making a difference and we're doing something powerful and important," Sermon said.

The nonprofit has already provided support to some 2,000 families, including 8-year-old Jori Bonner's. The boy's family was on the verge of eviction because his dad left his job to take him for treatments. Jori's mom, Amira Bonner, said the foundation has helped them with rental assistance, groceries and Christmas. 

"It's been a big blessing," she said.

Bassist Ben McKee gets emotional talking about the foundation.

"Seeing the kids that we're able to help and everything they go through — it's the most meaningful thing that we've been able to do. I can't even talk about it," he said.

"There's nothing that grounds you quicker and reminds you of what matters," said Reynolds, "than when you see a kid, who has yet to get to experience all the things that you have, that has been given a cancer diagnosis."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.