What Billy Connolly Means To Me, By 7 People With Parkinson's Disease

"Together we can show that you can still enjoy life."

Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is of course, never easy, but as Sir Billy Connolly is proving, it does not mean that your life is over.

People with the condition have thanked the comedian for speaking openly about his experiences of Parkinson’s in his two-part BBC documentary ‘Made In Scotland’. In the show, Connolly details how he can feel himself “slipping away”, but is also filmed playing his banjo and laughing with friends, as he always has done.

While many have thanked him for raising awareness, others have said Connolly inspires them to remain positive in the face of the condition.

Emma Lawton, who lives in London, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago at 29. She admires the way Connolly has addressed his illness, saying: “I know all too well how difficult it is to talk about the condition in a way that is realistic but not negative.”

“If you’re overly positive, it harms the community of people with the condition as the general public think having it is easy,” she says. “Speak too negatively and it feels like you’re dragging everyone down with the honesty of your words.”

“It’s an evil condition and the way Billy describes it as stripping things away is so true but I think he’s also careful to share that he can still do some things that he loves. Personally, having Parkinson’s has opened my world up but I’m very aware that not everyone feels that.”

Gary Boyle, who lives in Dublin, says “if there ever was someone whom you could have chosen to help raise awareness of Parkinson’s, it would be Billy!” Boyle, now 53, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009.

“When Billy went public with his PD diagnosis in 2013 I felt quite sad for him, but then I heard him joke about it in his own inimitable way and I thought ‘what a guy!’ He inspired me to get on with my own living with PD,” he says.

“And I guess that’s the thing about Billy Connolly. He’s always made us laugh and he has such a wicked sense of humour. He always, always knows how funny it is to look at ourselves and laugh at what we see. Sure, PD is awful; no one would wish it on anyone. But even as we live with it, we have to not take ourselves too seriously all the time.”

Alison Anderson, from Cheltenham, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015 at the age of 46 and says “the future that I imagined for myself was instantly destroyed”.

However, she’s tried to remain positive and has since cycled thousands of miles to raise thousands of pounds for The Cure Parkinson’s Trust. She believes Connolly will help to raise awareness and further funds for research.

“I grew up watching and loving ‘The Big Yin’ and he now holds a place in my heart for finding the courage to speak up and in doing so, helping so many of us,” she says. “It is said that laughing is the best exercise and we know that exercise is the best thing for PD, so may we continue to laugh, always.”

Heidi Reynolds, from Cornwall, is a Parkinson’s UK supporter and founder of Start Living Today PD. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014 when she was 37, and says Connolly’s recent comments “help to smash some of the stereotypes people have about the condition”.

“For me, it’s also about all the hidden symptoms that people don’t see or understand, so having Billy talk about the different ways Parkinson’s affects him helps to raise awareness of how complex Parkinson’s is,” she says.

“Billy makes Parkinson’s real, we can’t make it pink and fluffy because it’s not, but together we can show that you can make changes and still enjoy life.”

Heidi Reynolds
Heidi Reynolds

HuffPost blogger Michelle Harvey, 46, thinks being able to see the symptoms Connolly is coping with on camera will help to improve public understanding about the condition. The mum-of-two, from the Wirral, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at the age of 43.

“Like Billy, we put our face on to the world, only go out when medicated, and the reality when we’re not on it is so stark that people find it hard to believe when they don’t see it,” she says. “The me on medication and me off medication are two different people.”

Matt Eagles, 50, from Macclesfield, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was eight-years-old, thinks the documentary will make a difference because Connolly is a “man of the people”.

“When he talks about how Parkinson’s affects him, people listen and most importantly, they understand,” he says. “He gets on with his life and continues to do what he can despite Parkinson’s and this encourages me to do the same. You can’t fight something like Parkinson’s or treat it as the enemy, but you can fight to have a quality of life and enjoy the experiences you have regardless.

“As well as helping to raise awareness of the condition and the symptoms, Billy is real and he shows that Parkinson’s can happen to anyone.”

Matt Eagles
Matt Eagles

While John MacPhee, 53, is fully supportive of Connolly and him raising awareness, he cautions that we shouldn’t take any comment he makes about of context, saying representations of Parkinson’s in the media need to improve.

MacPhee, who is based in Highland Perthshire, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease seven years ago. In 2014, he walked from Lands End to John O’Groats to raise awareness of the condition, and when he bumped into Connolly in 2016 they spoke about his walk (and took the below photo together).

“Parkinson’s has affected my life and my movement is increasingly restricted, my shake is quite prominent and my walking is only possible with medication,” he says,

“Reading Billy Connolly’s comments out of context makes it sound like it is Parkinson’s alone that is making him feel his life is slipping away but he is also now in his mid 70s and is reflecting on a what has been an extraordinary life by any measure and he knows that it has changed. Parkinson’s is surely part of that change, but not the only factor.”

For information on living with Parkinson’s disease or supporting a loved one, Parkinson’s UK runs a helpline on 0808 800 0303. The Cure Parkinson’s Trust raises funds for research, more details can be found here.