COMEDIAN and actor Billy Connolly has been diagnosed with the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and has also had surgery for prostate cancer.
Connolly, who was last year awarded the Bafta Scotland Lifetime Achievement Award, has recently become forgetful during stage routines, but yesterday insisted he would continue with his acting career and comedy tours.
His spokeswoman said: “Billy Connolly recently underwent minor surgery in America after being diagnosed with the very early stages of prostate cancer. The operation was a total success, and Billy is fully recovered.
“In addition, Billy has been assessed as having the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, for which he is receiving the appropriate treatment. Billy has been assured by experts that the findings will in no way
inhibit or affect his ability to work, and he will start filming a TV series in the near future, as well as undertaking an extensive theatrical tour of New Zealand in the new year.”
Yesterday, Connolly thanked the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Sadie Docherty, who had sent a get-well message on behalf of the city. The popular comedian was granted the freedom of Glasgow two years ago.
Connolly said: “I was very touched to receive a get well message from the Lady/Lord Provost. Please convey my best wishes to her.”
The comedian is one of around 127,000 people inBritain diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, caused by a loss of brain cells which produce a chemical messenger called dopamine.
Symptoms differ from case to case but often include a tremor while the person is at rest, rigidity of muscles, slow movement and unsteady balance.
Another possible symptom is memory loss and earlier this year Connolly said that he had started to forget his lines during performances.
During a show at the Waterfort Hall in Belfast, he lost his place a number of times and asked the audience what he was talking about.
Speaking about it, he said: “This is f*****g terrifying. I feel like I’m going out of my mind.” He also said: “I can’t remember what I was saying. I get wee gaps and just stop.”
There is no cure for Parkinson’s and scientists have been unable to work out why people get the condition. Symptoms can be controlled using a combination of drugs, therapy and occasionally surgery, but often more care and support may be needed.
Last year, the actor Bob Hoskins announced his retirement after being diagnosed with the disease. The condition was identified by – and named after – Dr James Parkinson who wrote An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817 which established it as a recognised medical condition.
Steve Ford, chief executive at Parkinson’s UK, said: “Many people, with the right medication, continue to live a full and active live with Parkinson’s, but for some it can be life-changing and it is vital that Billy gets the
support he needs to live with this complex condition.
“We wish Billy and his family all the best as they come to terms with this upsetting diagnosis.”
The Glasgow-born star, who began his working life in the Clyde shipyards, became a household name with a string of appearances on Michael Parkinson’s chatshow. He went on to perform sell-out stand-up shows around the world, present a series of documentaries and become an in-demand character actor, starring alongside Judi Dench in Mrs Brown and playing a dwarf warrior in the forthcoming movies of The Hobbit.
He is married to actress and psychologist Pamela Stephenson, whose biography of her husband, Billy, was a best-seller. Connolly was made a CBE in the 2003 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Yesterday, Bob Geldof said his “great friend” would not be deterred by the diagnosis. He said: “He’s helped me lots in my endeavours. Pam and Bill are great mates.
“He’s as strong as an ox mentally from everything he’s been through as a kid. So I don’t think this will deter him from being that individual that we know.”
Margo MacDonald: Billy will be too busy to bother much about this illness
I responded no differently from anyone else when I learned Billy Connolly had Parkinson’s. “That’s a shame. What rotten luck.” And then I remembered: I have Parkinson’s and although life may be somewhat less than ticketyboo, it’s better than the alternative.
Several newspapers have recently carried stories about how Billy has put his beloved Highland “but and ben” on the market. Some showbiz journalists see this as signalling a move away from Scotland.
Although I’ve known him since the late 1960s, when I paid him, as one half of the Humblebums, a half-case of McEwans Export for singing his heart out on the Maid of the Loch Folk Boat, I haven’t spoken to him for years, so I don’t know if their speculations are correct.
The last time I saw him was when the pair of us had a hilarious time recording radio messages promoting the NHS. His fee took my breath away – nothing. He could command $1 million a film, but here he was, at a studio at Radio Clyde with me, having answered my call for help.
But even though I haven’t had a blether with him, I’m pretty sure his attitude will be the same as my own; I’m much too busy to be bothered with Parkinson’s. Sure, I shake a bit when I’m under pressure or nervous. Sometimes I just can’t force my legs to move one after the other. My balance is shot to hell, but I can put my joints through the full range of their movement in the water, so bring on the aquarobics.
Billy has kept himself in good shape, so if I have one piece of advice, it is to exercise to the limit. Every case of Parkinson’s is unique so the same advice isn’t necessarily applicable for all, but exercise is beneficial.
Also, look on the bright side. On days when you’re feeling your age, you can blame it on the Parkinson’s, not the numbers on your birth certificate.