Over one million Americans are living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), with 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Many people do not realize that Parkinson’s is the second most common degenerative neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s disease.
Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects the part of the brain responsible for movement. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, PD primarily targets the neurons in the brain that produce dopamine – a chemical that sends signals throughout the brain affecting mood, movement, and memory. If you have Parkinson’s when these neurons die, they produce less dopamine, which causes the movement problems typically identified with PD.
Symptoms of PD are most likely to appear in individuals who are older than 60, however, symptoms can start at 50 or younger. In fact, about 10 percent of people with Parkinson’s may fall into this category. Actor Michael J. Fox was only 29 when he was diagnosed.
When well-known figures go public about their diagnosis, they bring increased awareness to the disease and help ‘personalize’ Parkinson’s for those with no other connection. Here are twelve you may or may not have known about.
The actor, director, screenwriter, and author confirmed the news of his diagnosis on Twitter in 2018 by saying, “I decided to let people know I have Parkinson’s to encourage others to take action. My life is full. I act, I give talks, I do my podcast, which I love. If you get a diagnosis, keep moving!”
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just three years after retiring from boxing and worked to raise funds for Parkinson’s research through the 2000s, even carrying the Olympic flag in 2012. He helped establish the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, a Center of Excellence, in Phoenix. His fight against Parkinson’s ended in 2016, but his legacy lives on.
The Scottish comedian and actor only visited his doctor after a fan, who was an MD, approached Connolly in a lobby and told him that his abnormal gait could be a sign of Parkinson’s.
The “Sweet Caroline” singer/songwriter went public with his diagnosis when he announced the cancellation of the last leg of his 50th Anniversary tour in January 2018. Fans of the Golden Globe and Grammy award-winner donated their tickets to Parkinson’s research on his behalf.
Fox is one of the most recognizable Parkinson’s advocates in the world. He has dedicated his life to furthering Parkinson’s research by establishing The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Fox became a household name as Marty McFly in Back to the Future and had a lengthy TV and film acting career, winning multiple Emmys and a Golden Globe. He continues to make guest appearances on TV and at events.
The outspoken civil rights leader, who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, announced his Parkinson’s diagnosis publicly in November 2017.
A highly-respected film critic, author and Hollywood historian, Maltin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. Inspired by Alan Alda’s announcement of his own Parkinson’s diagnosis, Maltin publicly shared his diagnosis in 2018. Speaking out about the disease, he says “it’s not a death sentence, not anywhere even close to that.”
Heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in February 2019, and he revealed the diagnosis in an interview with Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America” on January 21, 2020.
As the first American to win a road stage of the Tour de France, Davis Phinney has celebrated the most victories of any cyclist in American history (328). The Olympic medalist was diagnosed with young-onset PD after several years of experiencing both motor and non-motor signs. He launched the Davis Phinney Foundation to help further PD research.
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland, and was the first non-Italian pope in 400 years. Ordained in 1978, he traveled widely and advocated for human rights during his 25+ years in the Vatican. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2001 and passed away in 2005.
Over her 44-year music career, Rondstadt received 11 Grammys and an Emmy. She retired in 2011 and announced that she had Parkinson’s in 2012, explaining that her voice had likely been affected for many years prior to her diagnosis. She was honored with a National Medal of Arts by President Obama in 2014.
In February 2018, guitarist Glenn Tipton revealed his Parkinson’s battle, which forced him to step back from touring full time with Judas Priest, although he still remains part of the band. Together with the band, he launched the Glenn Tipton Parkinson’s Foundation to raise money and bring awareness to PD.