Over 10 million people live with Parkinson’s disease, according to Parkinson’s Foundation. However, a lot of people don’t know anything more about the disease than what they’ve heard about or seen regarding celebrities with the disease such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative condition involving the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the brain. These neurons produce dopamine, which the brain needs for motor control. The primary motor symptoms of the disease are tremors, stiff muscles, slow movement, and balance problems. There is no cure for the disease and its progression cannot be slowed, stopped or reversed.
Numerous celebrities have been diagnosed with the disease, and while it can be a terrible disease to live with, public awareness and understanding of the disease are often increased when celebrities are diagnosed with it.
Muhammad Ali is perhaps the most famous person to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The Associated Press ranked Ali as the second greatest boxer and the greatest heavyweight of the 20th century, and Sports Illustrated named Ali Sportsman of the Century. Ali, a three-time lineal heavyweight champion, was a boxer known for his speed, movement and ability to out-think his opponents, as he famously did in his 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight against then-undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman.
However, Ali was famous for other reasons, as well. His decision to refuse to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War made him a 1960s counterculture icon, and he was a civil rights activist who was awarded a Liberty Medal in 2012 for devoting “his life to humanitarian causes, fighting for world peace, equal rights, religious liberty, hunger relief, and cross-cultural understanding.”
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984, which caused his health to gradually decline until his death in 2016. Ali lit the torch at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, creating perhaps the most iconic Parkinson’s related image for many as his left hand shook from his Parkinson’s while he held the torch in his right hand. Ali started working with actor Michael J. Fox in 1998 to fund research for a Parkinson’s cure and raise Parkinson’s awareness, and testified with Fox before Congress in 2002, lobbying for government funding to fight the disease.
Michael J. Fox
Another one of the most famous people with Parkinson’s disease is actor Michael J. Fox, who is best known for playing Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy of films. Other notable works which Fox acted in include Teen Wolf and the ABC sitcom Spin City. Fox has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and five Primetime Emmy Awards.
Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. At first, Fox only experienced minor symptoms such as a sore shoulder and a little finger which twitched. However, doctors told him he would be unable to work within a few years.
At first, Fox grew depressed and began drinking heavily after his diagnosis. However, in 1998, Fox made his diagnosis public and started strongly advocating for research into the disease.
In 2000, Fox established the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, an organization dedicated to discovering a cure for the disease. The Foundation has since invested over $1 billion in funding for Parkinson’s research.
Time named Fox one of the “100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world” in 2007, and Fox received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2022 for his work to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Ozzy Osbourne is best known as the lead singer for the band Black Sabbath, one of the pioneers of heavy metal music. Osbourne has sold over 100 million albums between his work with Black Sabbath and his solo work, and has received numerous awards for his music, including a Grammy and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Osbourne is also well-known for appearing in MTV’s reality show The Osbournes, in which the world got to know Osbourne’s eccentric, often humorous personality.
Osbourne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in February of 2019, and publicly announced the diagnosis in January 2020, canceling his 2020 North American tour in February 2020 in order to seek treatment for the disease.
Osbourne told The Guardian about his struggles with the disease in August 2022, saying “you think you’re lifting your feet, but your foot doesn’t move. I feel like I’m walking around in lead boots.”
While no medication can cure Parkinson’s or slow, stop or reverse its progression, some medications can treat its symptoms. However, these medications can cause unwanted side effects, such as the short-term memory loss which can be caused by medication Osbourne takes for the disease.
Neil Diamond is a singer-songwriter who has sold over 130 million records, has charted at number one ten times on the Adult Contemporary and Hot 100 charts, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. Diamond may be best known for his 1969 hit “Sweet Caroline,” which is played at many sporting events, often with the crowd singing along to it.
Diamond announced that he was retiring from touring after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2018. He had to cancel shows which were scheduled in Australia and New Zealand in March of 2018.
Diamond told the Associated Press in August 2018, “I’m doing pretty well. I’m active. I take my meds. I do my workouts. I’m in pretty good shape. I’m feeling good. I want to stay productive. I still have my boys. I just can’t do the traveling that I once did, but I have my wife there supporting me (and) friends.”
However, Diamond gave a surprise performance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in 2020, telling the crowd, “I’m feeling great.”
Diamond also sang “Sweet Caroline” at a Boston Red Sox game in Boston in June 2022.
Alan Alda is an actor who is best known for his role as Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce in M*A*S*H. Alda is also well-known for roles on TV series such as Ray Donovan and The West Wing, and in movies such as Same Time, Next Year and The Aviator. Alda has won six Primetime Emmy Awards and six Golden Globe awards, and was awarded the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. He has also received three Tony Award nominations for performances on Broadway.
Alda announced in July 2018 that was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015, telling CBS This Morning “I’m not angry,” adding, “I’ve had a full life since then… I’ve acted, I’ve given talks… I started this new podcast… I could see my thumb twitch in some shots and I thought, it’s probably only a matter of time before somebody does a story about this from a sad point of view, but that’s not where I am.”
Alda appeared in the 2019 film Marriage Story, a film which, unusually, keeps Alda’s shaking hands in frame rather than hiding them. The film received six Academy Award nominations, including a nomination for Best Picture, and the acclaim Alda received for his performance in the film was widespread.
George H.W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st president of the United States. He served as president from 1989 to 1993.
Bush was a Republican who had previously served as the country’s 43rd vice president under Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989. Bush had also served as the Director of Central Intelligence and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Bush won the 1988 presidential election by defeating Democrat Michael Dukakis. He was the first incumbent vice president to win the presidency since Martin Van Buren did so in 1836.
Bush’s presidency saw the end of the Cold War, Germany be re-unified, the Gulf War and the United States’ invasion of Panama. Bush also signed and negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Bush, in the later years of his life, suffered from weak legs, balance issues, a slow gait, and needed a walker to move around. He had trouble speaking and his face seemed to be permanently fixed in a strained smile. His muscle weakness and rigidity ultimately led to him needing a wheelchair or motorized scooter.
It turned out that a diagnosis of vascular parkinsonism explained these symptoms. The condition is thought to be the result of mini-strokes which damage the same parts of the brain that are affected by Parkinson’s disease.
Kirk Gibson is a former Major League Baseball player and manager. Gibson hit 255 home runs in his career and won the 1988 National League MVP.
Gibson is perhaps best known for his iconic home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers off of Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Gibson did not start the game because both of his legs were injured, but was inserted into the game as a pinch hitter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Swinging mostly with his upper body, Gibson hit a full-count pitch over the right-field wall, limping around the bases afterwards while pumping his fist, providing one of the most memorable, iconic visuals in baseball history. The Dodgers won the series in five games.
It was announced in 2015 that Gibson had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. However, Gibson was still working as a color commentator for the Detroit Tigers as of 2022.
“It’s not a death sentence. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence. So you start looking at a course of action, and you have to implement it,” Gibson said regarding the disease.
Gibson’s neurologist said, “I have a feeling Kirk is going to be one of those people with slow progression [of the disease] because of the intensity of his exercises.”
Leo Fender was an inventor who designed one of the earliest, most successful and most influential solid body electric guitars, the Fender Esquire, which eventually became known as the Fender Telecaster. Notable players of the Fender Telecaster include Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Brad Paisley, Jonny Greenwood, Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, Prince, Muddy Waters and Albert Lee. The guitar, to this day, is perhaps the most popular guitar in the world amongst country music guitarists.
Fender later designed another one of the most iconic guitars in rock history, the Fender Stratocaster. Notable Fender Stratocaster players include Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Yngwie Malmsteen and Eric Johnson. The guitar is perhaps the most popular guitar in rock music alongside the Gibson Les Paul.
Fender also designed the Fender Precision Bass, the first electric bass guitar to be used widely, and a model which is still widely used today.
Fender founded Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, which is one of the two most iconic guitar brands in rock history alongside Gibson.
Fender received an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, yet never learned how to play the guitar.
Fender died in 1991 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Brian Grant is a former NBA player who had a 12-year career playing basketball for the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers. Grant made the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 1995 and was known for his defense and rebounding.
Two of Grant’s best statistical seasons came during the 2000-2001 season, in which he averaged 15.2 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Miami Heat, and the 2002-2003 season, in which he averaged 10.3 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game, also for the Heat.
Grant was awarded the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1999.
Grant was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in November 2005 at the age of 33 after receiving tests which were prompted by a tremor he kept experiencing in his left hand. Grant reached out to Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox after the diagnosis, and finally made his diagnosis public in 2009. Grant told ESPN that he was helped a lot by Fox, who told him, “you have to rule it, you can’t let it rule you.”
Grant established the Brian Grant Foundation in 2010. The Foundation empowers those affected by Parkinson’s to lead fulfilling and active lives.
Perhaps one of the more remarkable stories of a celebrity with Parkinson’s disease belongs to former Major League Baseball player Ben Petrick. While Petrick was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after the 1999 season, he actually kept playing Major League baseball through the 2003 season.
Petrick, following his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, played in 221 Major League Baseball games, hitting 23 home runs and driving in 82 runs.
Petrick is one of only two players to drive in four runs in an MLB game without getting a hit, driving the runs in by way of walking, a sacrifice fly and two ground outs.
Petrick told MLB.com about how he deals with the disease, saying, “I work out almost every day to try to stay fit and make my muscles stay relaxed… I try to stay as upright as possible. This disease tries to bend you over until your back is messed up.”
Call an attorney at Nadrich & Cohen today if you have any questions or would like a free consultation with a Parkinson’s or Paraquat Lawyer.