Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative nervous system disorder that produces tremors, stiffness, and balance issues in persons who have it. People with Parkinson’s disease may develop cognitive problems, including dementia, as their condition develops. Approximately 1 million Americans suffer from this chronic disease, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Some public personalities have faced this condition, and many have worked to raise awareness and funding to aid in the search for improved therapies. Here are a few famous people with Parkinson’s disease you may be familiar with.
Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer, died of septic shock in June 2016 at the age of 74. Ali had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, three years after retiring from boxing, and has battled it for more than 30 years. Head trauma is a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease, but Muhammad’s wife, Lonnie Ali, claims that experts believe her husband’s sickness is due to genetics. Pesticide exposure could also have played an impact. The Alis co-founded the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix in 1997, which provides care to Parkinson’s patients.
“I realize my pride would make me say no, but it scares me to think I’m too proud to come on this show because of my condition,” he said. “I might die tomorrow, I might die next week. I don’t know when I’ll die.”
In July 2018, the award-winning M*A*S*H actor revealed his Parkinson’s diagnosis during an appearance on CBS This Morning, and he’s discovered that exercising helps him stay happy. Alda maintained a positive attitude and underlined how active he had been despite his illness, performing, giving talks, and even boxing three times a week.
“You can hold back the progress [of the disease] if you do a lot of specific exercises, so I do a lot of crazy things,” he told Today in 2019. These “wild things” for this Marriage Story actor are said to comprise boxing, juggling, tennis, swimming, marching, and biking.
Michael J. Fox
Doctors told Michael J. Fox, star of the popular “Back to the Future” film series, that he had 10 years remaining to work after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was 1991, and the actor was only 30 years old at the time.
For several years, Fox, one of the prominent celebrities with Parkinson’s disease, held his diagnosis a secret, taking on a variety of acting gigs to fill the time he thought he had left. Then, in 1998, the Canadian native accepted his diagnosis of Parkinson’s illness and proclaimed it publicly.
“Once I made my diagnosis known, it’s been a tremendous opportunity, a tremendous privilege,” Fox said. “We have some amazing people that have done amazing work, and we have brought this foundation to a place where we’re key players in the quest for a cure.”
Brian Grant, one of the famous people with Parkinson’s disease, was a 12-year NBA power forward who played for the Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, and Phoenix Suns between 1994 and 2006. At the age of 36, just two years after retiring from a 12-year career as a professional basketball player and strong community volunteer, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Grant was committed to live a healthy, active lifestyle and established the Brian Grant Foundation to assist others in doing so.
Billy Graham, one of the famous people with Parkinson’s disease, is most known for his enormous rallies, radio lectures, and television appearances as a Christian evangelist, minister, and author. A spiritual counsel to various American presidents, notably Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon, the North Carolina native has a long list of accomplishments.
The minister was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1992, although he didn’t leave his position until 2005. “I have my good days and my terrible days,” he told AARP, The Magazine in 2010.
Janet Reno, the former United States Attorney General, discovered a tremor in her left arm while on the job in 1995. She was diagnosed not long after that. Her doctor informed an interviewer that her sickness would not interfere with her job as attorney general and that she would be ” fine for 20 years.” She lectured to organizations about her Parkinson’s disease and worked with the Innocence Project when her government career ended in 2001. Reno died in November 2016 from Parkinson’s disease complications. She was 78 years old at the time.
“I noticed a tremor in my early-morning walks around the Capitol. At first it was just a faint twitch, but it got progressively worse, and so I went to the doctor. He asked me some questions, examined me, and told me that I had Parkinson’s and that I’d be fine for 20 years. Then he started talking to me about violence issues related to the criminal justice system!” Reno told Neurology Now in 2006.
Linda Ronstadt, best known for her rich soprano voice as the lead singer of the Stone Poneys in the 1960s, revealed her Parkinson’s disease diagnosis to AARP The Magazine in 2013. Ronstadt claims her health never recovered fully after two particularly serious tick bites in the 1980s, but she didn’t see a neurologist until she couldn’t sing anymore.
“Well, as I got older I got Parkinson’s disease, so I couldn’t sing at all,” Ronstadt told Vanity Fair in 2013. “That’s what happened to me. I was singing at my best strength when I developed Parkinson’s. I think I’ve had it for quite a while.”
“I didn’t know why I couldn’t sing — all I knew was that it was muscular or mechanical. Then when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I was finally given the reason. I now understand that no one can sing with Parkinson’s disease. No matter how hard you try. And in my case, I can’t sing a note,” she told AARP.
Ozzy Osbourne, the heavy metal superstar, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in February 2019, he stated in a January 21, 2020 talk with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America.
Ozzy Osbourne, an Englishman, rose to prominence in the 1970s as the lead singer of Black Sabbath. Ozzy started his solo career in the 1980s, eventually releasing 12 albums and winning three Grammy Awards, including the “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2019.
“I’m no good with secrets,” the rock star confessed. “I cannot walk around with it anymore ‘cause it’s like I’m running out of excuses.”
“I feel better now I’ve owned up to the fact that I have a case of Parkinson’s,” he said. “And I hope [my fans] hang around, because I need them.”
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in January 2018, singer Neil Diamond, one of the famous people with Parkinson’s disease, revealed his retirement from concert travelling. The ailment made it hard for the music great, who was 76 at the time of his diagnosis, to travel and perform on a wide scale, causing him to cancel the third leg of his 50th Anniversary tour.
“It is with great reluctance and disappointment that I announce my retirement from concert touring. I have been so honored to bring my shows to the public for the past 50 years,” he said in a statement on his official website.
Billy Connolly, a Scottish stand-up comedian and actor, continued to work after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013. He was 70 years old at the time. Connolly was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after a chance meeting in a hotel lobby with a doctor who identified his symptoms as early stages of the neurological condition. He is well-known for his off-the-cuff and profanity-laden comedy style. His diagnosis, however, had no effect on him, and he continued to perform onstage and on screen until 2018, when he retired from live appearances.
“I had a Russian doctor in New York who said, ‘You realize this is an incurable disease?’” he recounted. “And I said ‘You have got to get a grip of yourself. Stop calling it an incurable disease; say we have yet to find the cure. Give the guy a light in the tunnel.”