1 / 13 Raising Awareness of Parkinson’s Disease
Celebrities by the dozens glide down the red carpet for Celebrity Fight Night each year, the glittering Parkinson’s disease fundraiser for which Muhammad Ali has been the featured guest for the past 18 years. Ali is one of many celebrities living with Parkinson’s disease who are raising the profile of this little-understood neurological condition.
The list of well-known people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease includes a former U.S. attorney general, a boxing trainer, and many stars of the stage and screen. With their fame, people like actor Michael J. Fox have worked to bring more Parkinson’s disease awareness into their professions, which sometimes value physical perfection over health concerns. With about 1 million Americans living with Parkinson’s disease — and an estimated 7 to 10 million people living with it worldwide — patient advocacy helps promote research into this condition that causes, among other problems, balance and coordination difficulties.
2 / 13 Janet Reno: Public Service With Parkinson’s
The first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, from 1993 to 2001, Janet Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1995 just two years after she was nominated to the cabinet position. She was 55 at the time. “Well, my hand was shaking this summer and I thought it would go away. I thought it was maybe you all picking on me. But it didn’t go away, and so I went and had it checked out,” Reno said in a press conference at the time.
She took medication to bring her symptoms under control. Her Parkinson’s has advanced since then, but she was able to guest star as herself in a 2013 episode of The Simpsons, where she presided in a trial in which Bart Simpson was the defendant. While Reno is a respected and admired famous person with Parkinson’s disease, she mostly shuns the spotlight.
3 / 13 Michael J. Fox: Parkinson’s Champion for a Cure
Michael J. Fox is among the most well known people with Parkinson’s disease. Many remember him as the fresh-faced young star of the 1980s TV comedy hit Family Ties and the popular Back to the Future movies. Though most people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed between ages 40 and 60, Fox was diagnosed at age 30.
He shared his young-onset Parkinson’s disease diagnosis with the world in 1998, and two years later founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Fox is committed to helping the foundation build Parkinson’s disease awareness and raise funds for research into prevention, treatment, and a cure. He’s still a working actor; some more recent roles have included characters with Parkinson’s in the TV shows The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
“As long as I play a guy with Parkinson’s, I can do anything,” he said in a 2013 AARP interview.
4 / 13 Muhammad Ali: Fighting for Parkinson’s Awareness
The beloved boxer Muhammad Ali coped with shaking hands and mobility challenges well before he retired from the sport in 1981. In 1984, doctors diagnosed Ali with Parkinson’s disease. Ali, philanthropist Jimmy Walker, and Abraham Lieberman, MD, established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center for movement disorders, a National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. It serves as a resource center for Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, including Huntington’s disease and essential tremor, for both patients and their families.
The center works with patients and provides education and outreach opportunities to raise Parkinson’s awareness. Ali’s star power draws a lot of big names to the annual gala fundraising event Celebrity Fight Night, where he’s the featured guest. Awareness-building runs in the family: His daughter Rasheda Ali wrote a book for children about Parkinson’s disease, I’ll Hold Your Hand So You Won’t Fall: A Child’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease.
5 / 13 Linda Ronstadt: Parkinson’s Takes Her Voice, But Not Her Spirit
Known for her rich soprano vocals that fused country music with rock ‘n’ roll as the lead singer of 1960s band the Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt opened up about her Parkinson’s disease diagnosis to AARP The Magazine. After getting two very bad tick bites in the 1980s, Ronstadt says her health never fully recovered — but she didn’t visit a neurologist until she was unable to sing.
“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.
Ronstadt was initially shocked by her diagnosis, but now believes that she’d been living with Parkinson’s symptoms for years. These days, she’s learning as much about her neurological condition as possible.
6 / 13 Bob Hoskins: Retirement With Parkinson’s
The British actor best known for his award-winning turn in the 1982 film The Long Good Friday and for his voiceover in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Bob Hoskins announced that having Parkinson’s disease forced him into retirement in 2012. He was quite private about the details of his diagnosis, but in a 2012 interview with Saga Magazine, he said, “I’m trying to retire. I’m not doing very well at it, though.” When he did retire, he announced that he would be focusing on his own health and a healthier lifestyle after leaving the acting profession. Hoskins passed away of pneumonia in 2014, at age 71.
7 / 13 Brian Grant: Staying Positive With Parkinson’s
Brian Grant spent 12 seasons as a National Basketball Association (NBA) professional, playing for the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Phoenix Suns. As an NBA player, he was known for his positive team commitment as well as his work with disadvantaged children. He was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease in 2008 at age 36, after retiring from the sport. He founded the Brian Grant Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness andinspiring those living with Parkinson’s disease to include exercise as medicine.
8 / 13 Freddie Roach: Boxing Trainer With Parkinson’s
Frederick “Freddie” Roach is a boxing trainer and former professional boxer. Bryant Gumbel included his story in the HBO series Real Sports, detailing Roach’s efforts tocontrol his Parkinson’s disease with medication and continued work as a trainer. Roach, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010, trains world-famous boxers at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, which he owns. His client list has included the likes of Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao, Mark Wahlberg, and Georges St. Pierre.
But having Parkinson’s hasn’t dimmed his commitment to boxing, even as it’s caused his speech to slur and his left arm to shake. “I’m in the gym every day, it’s part of life. Instead of taking a vacation, I like what I do. My vacations are right here,” Roach said in a 2015 CBS interview.
9 / 13 Billy Connolly: Humor With Parkinson’s
Scottish actor and comedian Billy Connolly continued on with his career after his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2013 at age 70. Well known for his movie roles, including as Uncle Monty in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, he is currently hosting the 2016 TV travel story Billy Connolly’s Tracks Across America. He first found out he had Parkinson’s when a fan noticed his symptoms and talked to him about showing the early signs of tremor.
“Aye, it just happened. I think they’re very closely related, deep despair and laughing. And I wasn’t in any pain,” he said of his diagnosis in a 2014 interview reported in The Guardian.
10 / 13 Michael Richard Clifford: Parkinson’s in Space
Michael Richard “Rich” Clifford began his career as a NASA astronaut in 1990. He’s since made three space flights, accumulating 665 hours orbiting the globe. Though diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1994, he continued to fly. Clifford was 42 and in apparent good health when he discovered his Parkinson’s disease, signaled at first by difficulty moving his right arm and hand correctly. In 2012, the American Academy of Neurology gave him the Public Leadership in Neurology Award for increasing awareness of Parkinson’s disease and for encouraging people living with Parkinson’s to continue to pursue their dreams.
“Everyone with PD handles it differently,” says Rich in an interview with the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Don’t let it get in the way of living. Life is too good. Remember, keep going — the sky’s the limit.”
11 / 13 Maurice White: Performing With Parkinson’s
One of the founding members of the band Earth, Wind & Fire, Maurice White noted the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in the 1980s while the band’s popularity was going strong. Although he was diagnosed in 1992 at age 50, he kept quiet about his disease for eight years. In a 2000 interview with Rolling Stone, he discussed his diagnosis, saying, “I traveled with the band for five years with Parkinson’s. I was treating it with medication then, and I still have it under control. It’s not taking anything away from me.”
White was one of the most well-known musicians with Parkinson’s disease. He died in 2016 at age 74. \
12 / 13 James Levine Continues Leading the Metropolitan Opera
- James Levine, music director and conductor of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, has Parkinson’s disease and, at age 72, continues to work while keeping his symptoms under control with medication, reports The New York Times. Levine has conducted thousands of opera performances at the Met since 1971 and is also an accomplished pianist. He led the PBS television series The Metropolitan Opera Presents, bringing opera to more fans through the popular show. After a two-year recovery from a crippling spinal injury in 2011, Levine returned to conducting the Metropolitan Opera in 2013 — wielding his baton from a motorized wheelchair. “I was just grateful beyond words. It was clear that I could still do this work and that the orchestra and the company and the audience wanted me to do it,” Levine said in a 2015 interview with CBS.
- ]Ben Petrick dreamed of a stellar baseball career as a catcher with the Colorado Rockies. He played in 240 major-league games, the majority of which came after Parkinson’s disease struck him at age 22 in 2000. He retired from baseball in 2004.
- He’s since authored Forty Thousand to One, a book whose title in part references the 40,000 Americans diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year. The book also recounts his experiences in major league baseball and coping with Parkinson’s disease. According to an ESPN interview, Petrick’s father was also diagnosed with the condition but maintains a positive attitude, saying that although he has Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s doesn’t have him.