The 71-year-old has vowed to tackle head-on the taboos surrounding death in a two-part ITV documentary, which reveals how he wants his remains to be “scattered to the wind”.
He travels around the United States and visits his home city of Glasgow to investigate what he describes as the “death industry”.
In the programme, Connolly says: “I’m going to strip away the taboos to reveal that, far from the doom and gloom you may expect, the world of death is full of wonderful people doing extraordinary things.”
He witnesses a voodoo ceremony, visits a drive-through funeral parlour, meets a dying man and talks frankly about death with his friend Eric Idle, the Monty Python star.
He attends a National Funeral Directors Association convention in Texas, where the wares on sale include an eco death-suit threaded with mushroom spores; witnesses a Chinese burial service; visits a Jewish cemetery and learns about Muslim traditions for burying the dead.
The comic, who lives in New York with his wife, psychologist and author Pamela Stephenson, announced last September that he had undergone surgery for prostate cancer and was being treated for early symptoms of Parkinson’s, the degenerative brain disorder.
Connolly, who has ruled out retiring from performing live, was given a cancer all-clear in December and has recently been touring the United States and New Zealand.
Talking about his own mortality in the documentary, Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off, he says: “I don’t think I want a resting place. I want to be scattered to the wind. Actually, I’d like to think we could have the coffin in a hearse, empty. And the real me being buried somewhere by pals, quietly, with a tree on top of me.” In the programme, Connolly reveals he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Parkinson’s on the same day, during a week which began with him getting a hearing aid and being prescribed pills for heartburn.
Meanwhile, in a separate interview with the Radio Times, Connolly revealed how he had put himself on a “strict regime” of crossword books to try to retain his memory. He said: “They remind me of everything. I have to train my memory. I’ve got a notebook with all the words I tend to forget. It’s the same ones cropping up again and again.”
However, Connolly dismissed a claim the drugs he had to take for Parkinson’s caused on-stage memory loss last year. He added: “Oh that was bulls**t! It makes me so f***ing angry! I’ve lost my train of thought all [through] my career! It’s what makes me different from everybody else – ‘Where was I, what was I saying?’ I just ramble off and come back ages later.”
Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off begins on 7 May at 9pm on ITV.