Billy Connolly health: ‘My life is slipping away’ comedian on his chronic condition

Billy Connolly, 76, has made an indelible impression on comedians and fans alike. In addition to selling out stand up tours over the years, he has made his mark in film, TV and music. Back in 2013, the comedian was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The Scottish funnyman’s ailing health has shocked fans all around the world. In a recent documentary, the comedy legend reflected on his progressive condition.

My Parkinson’s is not going to go away and it’s going to get worse

Billy Connolly

In a BBC documentary series charting his extraordinary life, the comedian said: “My Parkinson’s is not going to go away and it’s going to get worse, my life is slipping away.

“There is no denying it, I am 75, I have got Parkinson’s and I am at the wrong end of the telescope of life.”

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually develop gradually and are mild at first. But as the disease progresses, symptoms tend to become more severe.

One of the key symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is impaired movement – a common sign that started to encroach on Connolly’s career.

He continued to tour for a few years afterwards with his High Horse stand up show playing into 2017 but he said it got tougher and he could no longer stride around on stage in trademark style.

He recalled: “I hadn’t stood anywhere since I got Parkinson’s and I discovered that I got kind of rooted to the spot and became afraid to move.

Instead of going all the way to the front of the stage and prowling along the front the way I used to do, I stood where I was.”

According to the NHS, shaking is another key symptom of Parkinson’s disease, which usually begins in the hand or arm and is more likely to occur when the limb is relaxed and resting.

It is also common to experience muscle stiffness (rigidity) and tension in the muscles, which can make it difficult to move around and make facial expressions, and can result in painful muscle cramps (dystonia), noted the health body.

As the Scottish comedian knows all too well, the progressive nature of the condition can also take its toll emotionally: “The Parkinson’s is strange because it is not going to go away. All my life I have got sick and I have got the flu and pneumonia various things and they all went away, this isn’t going anywhere. It is going to get worse.

“It takes a certain calm to deal with, and I sometimes don’t have it.”

He has learned to live with the condition, however: “I sometimes get angry with it, but that doesn’t last long, I just collapse in laughter.

“The good things are there, the love we have for people is still there, and with a bit of luck the love they have for you is still there.

“And I am very lucky in as much as I made a bit of a mark, and you think ‘well I must have done something right’.

“And that keeps you company when you are older, is the fact that when you were creative, you created well, it accompanies you, it is a great companion.”

While the condition cannot be reversed, there are supportive treatments available to help people with Parkinson’s disease maintain quality of life.

The NHS recommended reaching out to family and friends as they can provide a vital pillar of support.

“You may also find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor or psychologist, or someone at a specialist helpline,” said the health body.

Regular exercise may also help to alleviate physical and mental symptoms.

As the health site explained, it is particularly important in helping relieve muscle stiffness, improving a person’s mood and relieving stress. Evidence suggests a particular exercise may even help to slow down symptoms. 

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