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26 Oct 2021 12:07
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  •   Home > News > International

    Billy Connolly says life with Parkinson's disease 'has its moments'

    Comedian Billy Connolly was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2013. While he tries not to dwell on his diagnosis, he admits it has been challenging.

    Scottish comedian Sir Billy Connolly is an international icon, best known for his flamboyant outfits and off-the-cuff observational humour.

    The 78-year-old now resides in Florida with his wife Pamela, but says if he was a younger man he would happily live in Australia.

    "I love Australia," he tells 7.30.

    "It's a beautiful country and ... the treasure it has is its optimism.

    "It has optimism, and not many people have [that]. Most people are living in misery."

    Connolly says in his early days working at a Glasgow shipyard, he never understood why the workers were so negative.

    "They didn't like being welders, and they didn't like where they lived, and they didn't like their wives," he says. 

    "I never understood it. There was a lack of optimism, the [lack of] caring about the future."

    Living with Parkinson's 

    In 2013, Connolly was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson's disease, which progressively affects the body's movement.

    After a few years of worsening symptoms, he made the tough decision to retire from stand-up comedy.

    He doesn't dwell on his diagnosis – forever the optimist — but he does admit it has been challenging.

    "It goes up and down," he says.

    "It has its moments and it's just weird. Like, I am in a worse state than I realise sometimes."

    Some mornings it's even difficult to put clothes on, and his wife has to help. But in typical Billy Connolly fashion, he's still cracking jokes ("underpants are just ridiculous", he says).

    "She brings me breakfast every morning. It's a joyous life."

    Despite the setbacks, the comedian says his Parkinson's doesn't define him.

    "I try not to think about it," he says.

    "I walk funny, I walk like a drunk man, and I see people staring at me sometimes and that reminds me that I've got it.

    "I get invited to places to meet people who have got it and talk about it, but I can't imagine anything worse than sitting around talking about it."

    Connolly hopes that speaking out publicly about the disease will inspire and comfort others with Parkinson's.

    "A woman came up to me in Portland, Oregon ... and she said, 'Because of you, I took up fly fishing. But because I've got Parkinson's, I can't tie my flies or my hands shake,'" he recalls.

    "She said, 'You've got me in terrible trouble. I have to take people with me who can tie flies.' 

    "I thought, I've done something good with my life to get that result from that woman ... it's a lovely thought."

    And while being able to stand up and talk in front of hundreds of people is nothing new for a comedian, Connolly admits that he truly hates public speaking.

    "It terrifies me," he says. 

    During his live performances there are no rules to abide by, but at the dinner table there are.

    "[Comedy is] standing up and talking your mind and changing it to suit yourself," he says. 

    "When you speak at a dinner, you have a routine of things to say, about the football team of whoever you're talking about, and you don't veer off in case it bodes unwell for the people you're talking about. You've got responsibility.

    "Well, what I do [with comedy], you don't have responsibility, you just say whatever comes into your head.

    "And you change it if it comes up your humph ... and it's a great thing to give the world.

    "They're laughing, and they don't know why they're laughing, and I don't know why they're laughing. I don't know what it means, the thing I've just said. It's just a funny thing. And we all share it and then we all go home."

    Don't give a 'hoot'

    Connolly is getting candid in his new autobiography, Windswept and Interesting.

    And after a successful 50-year career performing stand-up comedy around the world, including in Australia, Connolly's advice is to not give a "hoot" about what anyone thinks.

    "Do what you think you should be doing. You're usually right," he says. 

    "I've taken the criticism on board for years. And then it dawned on me it was a waste of time. 

    "Then you just get down to what you do for a living, and you make it better, and you end up being the best at what you do."

    Watch Billy Connolly's interview on 7.30 tonight on ABC TV and iview.


    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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