Surgeon lifts lid on Billy Connolly’s Parkinson’s

Billy Connolly: Treated for prostate cancer and Parkinson's. Picture: Getty
Billy Connolly: Treated for prostate cancer and Parkinson's. Picture: Getty
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THE doctor who warned Billy Connolly he may have Parkinson’s disease, after watching him walk as if he had been drinking alcohol, has spoken of his decision to share his concerns with the comedian.

Orthopaedic surgeon Gary Fettke, fromAustralia, said he urged the comic to see his doctor after the way he was walking along a hotel lobby caught his eye.

Earlier this week, Connolly revealed he only discovered he had Parkinson’s after a chance encounter with the fan, who spotted him walking “strangely” last January.

However, the identity of the fan has not been known until now.

Dr Fettke was in Los Angeles with his daughter’s dance troupe when they saw the Big Yin at their hotel, The Sportsmen’s Lodge. The two men met after the surgeon approached the comedian to ask for an autograph.

“He was such a nice guy and spoke to us for quite a while about Tasmania and the girls and his tour,” Dr Fettke’s wife Belinda said. “As he walked away, Gary said to me he was sure Billy had Parkinson’s.”

Dr Fettke said Connolly walked the same way as someone who had been drinking.

“I thought maybe he didn’t realise he had it,” he said.

This week, the 71-year-old Glaswegian comic told of his chance encounter when he came across a group from Australia, including Dr Fettke, at the hotel.

Speaking for the first time about his diagnosis, he told a US radio show: “It was the strangest thing of all.

“I was walking through the lobby and every time I had gone through there was a crowd of boys and girls and a couple of adults. It turned out they were dancers from Australia.

“The guy who was in charge of them said: ‘I’m a surgeon and I have been watching you walking, you have a strange gait’.

“He said, ‘You’re showing distinct signs of early onset Parkinson’s disease. See your doctor’.”

Connolly, who wanted to be a star from the age of 12, announced last September he had undergone surgery for prostate cancer and was being treated for early symptoms of Parkinson’s, the degenerative brain disorder.

He had been staying in Los Angeles while waiting to appear on Conan O’Brien’s chatshow when he met the surgeon.

Dr Fettke said the diagnosis and the opportunity to tell Connolly was “an absolute hoot of a chance”. He added: “It was just one human being to another human being, who happened to be Billy Connolly.”

After going upstairs and looking on the internet, Dr Fettke could find no mention of Connolly suffering from Parkinson’s.

The following morning, he met the former shipyard worker again and told him he wanted a quiet word.

Dr Fettke told him he was a huge fan before delivering the news. “I’m a surgeon. It may be nothing, but you’ve got a shuffle – just go to the GP and get it checked out,” he told him.

“It was a chance encounter and seemed to be the right thing to do. I think I did it tactfully.”

Dr Fettke said he was glad to hear the comedian was doing well. “I just hope there’s some free tickets in it somewhere,” he joked.