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Billy Connolly 'no longer recognises close friends' as Parkinson's battle takes its toll

Mirror logo Mirror 19/08/2018 Emmeline Saunders
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Sir Billy Connolly has trouble recognising his oldest friends, five years after going public with his Parkinson's disease diagnosis, Sir Michael Parkinson admitted today.

The legendary Scottish comedian, 75, struggled to remember who Sir Michael was in a "sad and awkward" moment over dinner recently, as the neurodegenerative disorder takes its toll on Billy's ailing health.

Michael was in New York to present Billy with an award recently, but told Saturday Morning With James Martin that his old pal couldn't place him and asked how long they'd known each other.

Sir Billy Connolly struggles to place his closest friends, says Sir Michael Parkinson (Image: WireImage) Sir Billy Connolly struggles to place his closest friends, says Sir Michael Parkinson (Image: WireImage)

"The sadness of Billy now is that wonderful brain is dulled," Sir Michael said.

"I saw him recently - he's now living in America - and it was very sad, because I was presenting him with a prize at an award ceremony. We had an awkward dinner together, because I wasn't quite sure if he knew who I was or not."

He went on: "But we were walking out after the presentation to go down and have our picture taken, and he turned to me and put his hand on my shoulders."

Sir Michael said Billy "wasn't sure where [the dinner] was or what context at all".

a close up of Billy Connolly wearing glasses © Credits: PA

"To know someone as long as I knew and loved Billy… it was an awful thing to contemplate, that that had been taken from him in a sense.

"He was just a genius and the best thing that happened to me on the show."

Billy was diagnosed with Parkinson's after having surgery for his prostate cancer, and went public with it in 2013 at a Downing Street reception to raise awareness of the condition.

The Scottish comedian went public with his diagnosis in 2013 (Image: Hulton Archive) The Scottish comedian went public with his diagnosis in 2013 (Image: Hulton Archive)

Parkinson's affects the brain and causes involuntary shaking, slow movement and stiff muscles.

It can also affect smell, disrupt sleep patterns, cause balance and memory problems and spark depression and anxiety. There is no known cure for the condition.

Sir Billy was knighted in October 2017 for services to the world of entertainment and for his charity work.

Sir Billy Connolly poses after being knighted by the Duke of Cambridge during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on October 31, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool / Getty Images) Sir Billy Connolly poses after being knighted by the Duke of Cambridge during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on October 31, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

"When I'm in front of people and performing, I don’t give it much attention," he explained in April last year.

"And I perform in spite of it. That's why I put on the song A Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On – just to stick two fingers up to it.

"There's a whole lot of shaking going on. It's kind of weird, this instability. The only time it stops is when I'm in bed and then I can't roll over. I'm like a big log. It's the first thing I think about in the morning because getting out of bed is quite hard."

He went on: "It's a weird thing because it stopped me playing the banjo and it stopped me smoking cigars.

"It seems to creep up on everything I like and take it away from me. It's like being tested: 'Cope with that, cope with life without your banjo. Now I'm going to make your hand shake so you can't tie your fishing flies any more'."

He added: "It's weird. I’m trying to stay on the light side because the dark side is unthinkable."

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