Billy Connolly Opens up About Parkinson's and Losing Friend Robin Williams

Billy Connolly Headshot - P 2012
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Billy Connolly Headshot - P 2012

The Scottish actor and comedian says he has "been through the wars" in recent years

Billy Connolly has had to struggle with a lot over the last couple of years, with one week in particular proving more challenging than most after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, deafness and prostate cancer, he told The Daily Mirror on Monday. 

The larger-than-life Scottish comedian turned actor and star of Brave, Quartet, Mrs. Brown and the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is currently promoting the dramedy What I Did on Our Holiday, which also stars David Tennant and Rosamund Pike and will be released in the U.K. on Friday. Speaking to the Mirror, he was in a reflective mood about the trials he has faced in recent years, including the recent death of his close friend Robin Williams

“I have been through the wars. I am getting old,” said Connolly. “I have had 71 incredible years. I had pneumonia in my twenties but nothing since then. I guess you get your lot. Some have it sprinkled through their life and others get it, whammy, at the end.

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“The week I found out about it all was quite funny, it was like a comedy sketch. I got acid reflux, deafness, cancer and
Parkinson’s in the same week," said Connolly, revealing that the week before the Mirror interview he had painful gallstones in his bladder removed. 

Connolly's tough Glaswegian upbringing has helped him cope with his health problems, particularly Parkinson's, and he has changed his medication to avoid losing his quick wit. “I have Parkinson’s disease, it’s OK. I am seeing a specialist, and he took me off the drugs I was on. I was on stuff called ReQuip, but the side effects were stronger than the effects. It brought on a kind of dullness,” he told the Mirror

Connolly expects his illnesses will provide ample material for an upcoming stand-up tour of Scotland, but he never wants to be seen as a spokesman for Parkinson's disease. “Some people go on the Internet and research it and they email me and say, ‘I have discovered this about Parkinson’s’. I’m, ‘f--- off, talk about something else.’ "

Connolly did make one exception: his dear friend Williams, who had been diagnosed with early onset of Parkinson's at the time of his death and had only spoken to close family and friends about it. “He was diagnosed after me, and he was on the phone a lot asking me about it," Connolly said.

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“It broke my heart when he died. I was in Malta with my family, and my children were all crying. They all loved him," said Connolly, admitting that he still speaks about Williams in the present tense, expecting him to walk in at any moment. 

Williams called Connolly a week before his death, with little initial indication anything was wrong. “During the call he kept telling me he loved me. I said, ‘I know.' But he kept repeating it, saying, ‘Do you really know I love you.?' " Added Connolly: “After his death I thought, ‘Oh my god, he was saying goodbye.’ ”