“Parkinson’s is the gift that keeps on taking.”
Millions of people around the world have been affected by Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that can lead to neurological and mobility issues. While doctors and scientists are still searching for a cure, celebrities who have been diagnosed with the disease are leading the way to spread awareness and raise money for research.
At the forefront is Michael J. Fox, who shared his diagnosis with the world over two decades ago. Since then, he’s been open about his battle and has helped found The Michael J. Fox Foundation, dedicated to researching and improving therapies for those living with Parkinson’s disease. While he admits the disease has taken a lot from him, he says he’s glad he’s able to have a voice to help others.
Read on to hear what these stars had to say about Parkinson’s disease…
Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 when he was just 29 and was one of the first celebrities to go public with his battle. He even established his own foundation in 2000, dedicated to developing improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s disease and researching to find a cure. Over the years, Michael has been open about the ups and downs of the disease, explaining that at times he is wheelchair bound but can rebound and regain mobility. While it can be difficult, Michael says he wouldn’t change anything and is always looking for “something to be grateful for.”
“Parkinson’s is the gift that keeps on taking. But it’s a gift, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. People like [‘Back to the Future’ co-star] Chris [Lloyd] have been there a lot for me, and so many of you have. It’s not about what I have, it’s about what I’ve been given, the voice to get this done, and help people out,” Michael shared at Comic-Con.
Ozzy Osbourne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2003, although he didn’t share it with the public until early 2020 following a bad fall. He decided to take some time off from performing but finally made a return to the stage in 2022. Although he has both good and bad days, Ozzy admits his battle has been tough, especially when it comes to walking.
“You learn to live in the moment, because you don’t know [what’s going to happen]. You don’t know when you’re gonna wake up and you ain’t gonna be able to get out of bed. But you just don’t think about it,” Ozzy told The Guardian.
In 2018, Alan Alda shared his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis with the world, after keeping his battle private for several years. Despite his battle with the disease, Alan says his life hasn’t changed much and he is educating himself and staying active to cope with the diagnosis. While he admits he can struggle with some things, like tying shoelaces, he says activities like walking, biking and using treadmills help with his symptoms.
“My life hasn’t changed much. I just applied my curiosity to it. I’m constantly reading and trying to figure out the best approaches. So far it’s really interesting. I think it’s helped me understand a little better that everybody has something they’re coping with,” he shared.
In 2018, Neil Diamond announced that he was battling Parkinson’s disease and a doctor ordered him to cancel his upcoming tour dates. Not long after, Neil announced his retirement from touring altogether, although he promised to continue making music.
“I plan to remain active in writing, recording and other projects for a long time to come. My thanks goes out to my loyal and devoted audiences around the world. You will always have my appreciation for your support and encouragement. This ride has been ‘so good, so good, so good’ thanks to you,” Neil said in the statement.
Reverend Jesse Jackson shared that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017. At the time, Jesse said the diagnosis “wasn’t a stop sign” and that he would be using his voice to help find a cure. In 2022, Jesse checked into a treatment center where he underwent physical, occupational and speech therapy to treat symptoms of the disease.
“I came in here in a wheelchair and I’m leaving here walking on my own power…Fighting Parkinson’s is about working and being active,” Jackson said. “You can’t sleep your way though Parkinson’s,” he said.
Muhammad Ali had been retired from boxing for several years when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Following his diagnosis, he teamed up with philanthropist Jimmy Walker, and doctor Abraham Lieberman to establish the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center for movement disorders. To this day, the center aims to provide patients with clinical care, research, rehabilitation, education, and support. Before his passing, Muhammad said he was not scared of the public witnessing his struggle — and even went on to light the Olympic flame during the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“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. I might die tomorrow, I might die next week. I don’t know when I’ll die,” he said.
Founding Earth, Wind & Fire member Maurice White says he began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in the 1980s but he wasn’t diagnosed until 1992. He kept the disease a secret for several years, finally going public with his diagnosis eight years later. At the time, he said he hadn’t been significantly impacted by Parkinson’s and even toured with the disease.
“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,” he told Rolling Stone.
Stone Poneys lead singer Linda Ronstadt first started experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in the early 2000s but it wasn’t until 2013 that she was finally diagnosed. By that time, Linda 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.
In 2019, she shared an update about her battle, revealing that she had been diagnosed with a subtype of progressive supranuclear palsy known as PSP-parkinsonism which is a neurodegenerative brain condition that shares many symptoms with Parkinson’s disease.
Basketball player Brian Grant spent 12 seasons playing in the NBA but shortly following his retirement, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He went on to found the Brian Grant Foundation, which helps empower people impacted by Parkinson’s to lead active and fulfilling lives.