- 1.Muhammad Ali (diagnosed 1984)
- 2.George H.W. Bush (diagnosed with vascular parkinsonism 2012)
- 3.Billy Connolly (diagnosed 2012)
- 4.Neil Diamond (diagnosed 2018)
- 5.Michael J. Fox (diagnosed 1991)
- 6.Billy Graham (diagnosed 1993)
- 7.Brian Grant (diagnosed 2008)
- 8.Bob Hoskins (diagnosed 2011)
- 9.Rev. Jesse Jackson (diagnosed 2015)
- 10.Dave Jennings (diagnosed 1996)
- 11.Knowlton Nash (diagnosed 2002)
- 12.Pope John Paul II (diagnosed 1991)
- 13.Davis Phinney (diagnosed 2000)
- 14.Janet Reno (diagnosed 1995)
- 16.Linda Ronstadt (diagnosed 2012)
- 17.Robin Williams (diagnosed in 2014 with Lewy Body Dementia)
Although more than 10 million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the general public’s understanding of disease symptoms is often limited to what is seen in the media. Many people only know Parkinson’s as the disease that Muhammad Ali had, or Michael J. Fox has.
However, when a household name such as Ali or Fox announces their diagnosis, Parkinson’s coverage briefly spikes. While a diagnosis is upsetting, when notable figures are public about their disease, the coverage helps increase awareness and understanding, while personalizing Parkinson’s for those with no other connection.
A PD diagnosis is universally difficult to cope with, but with a platform to speak from and fans to speak to, here’s a list of notable figures that have helped shape the Parkinson’s conversation:
Muhammad Ali (diagnosed 1984)
Born Cassius Clay, Ali was known as the People’s Champion. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just three years after retiring from boxing. He worked to raise funds for Parkinson’s research through the 2000s, even bearing the Olympic Flag in 2012. Ali was a longtime friend of the Parkinson’s Foundation. He elevated Parkinson’s awareness around the world and helped establish the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, a Center of Excellence, in Phoenix, AZ. Ali’s fight against Parkinson’s ended June 2016, but his legacy lives on.
George H.W. Bush (diagnosed with vascular parkinsonism 2012)
The 41st President of the United States and two-time vice president under Ronald Reagan is living with vascular parkinsonism. The World War II Navy veteran keeps his hopes high and battles Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Today, Bush is the longest living president in history and enjoys a private life, sharing his time between Texas and Maine.
Billy Connolly (diagnosed 2012)
The Scottish stand-up comedian and film actor only visited his doctor after a fan, who was also a surgeon, approached Connolly in a lobby and informed him that his abnormal gait could be a sign of Parkinson’s. Today, Connolly copes with his Parkinson’s through his sense of humor alongside his wife, Pamela Stephenson. He is currently working on several projects.
Neil Diamond (diagnosed 2018)
Singer and songwriter of popular songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “I’m a Believer” went public with his diagnosis after he announced his cancellation of the third leg of his 50th Anniversary tour in January 2018. Fans of the Golden Globe and Grammy winning Hall-of-Famer donated their tickets to Parkinson’s research on his behalf, many through Parkinson’s Champions. Diamond still plans on making music.
Michael J. Fox (diagnosed 1991)
Actor and philanthropist Michael J. Fox is one of the most recognizable Parkinson’s advocates in the world. Fox became a household name as Marty McFly in Back to the Future and led an illustrious acting career, winning Emmys and a Golden Globe. Fox began noticing symptoms of young-onset PD when he was just 29 years old. He has dedicated his life to furthering Parkinson’s research, going on to establish The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Fox has written three books and continues to make guest appearances on TV shows.
Billy Graham (diagnosed 1993)
The well-known evangelist was adored by his world-wide following for decades. His humble beginnings eventually turned into delivering sermons to crowds of hundreds of thousands of people. Graham received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996. He died in his North Carolina home from old age at 99 in February 2018.
Brian Grant (diagnosed 2008)
Professional basketball player and strong community activist turned Parkinson’s advocate was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at just 36, just two years after retiring from his 12-year career. Grant was determined to live an active, healthy life and launched the Brian Grant Foundation to help others do the same.
Bob Hoskins (diagnosed 2011)
One of London’s most beloved actors, Hoskins was best known for his roles in Pennies from Heaven, The Long Good Friday and Hook. The Emmy Award winner was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2011 and soon after retired from acting. Just two years later, Hoskins died of pneumonia at age 71.
Rev. Jesse Jackson (diagnosed 2015)
The influential and outspoken civil rights leader who strived for equality since the 1960s and marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., announced his Parkinson’s diagnosis in November 2017. The retired CNN host hopes to use his voice to find a cure.
Dave Jennings (diagnosed 1996)
During his 11-year career, the New York Giants punter made four Pro Bowls before ending his career with the Jets. As a broadcaster in the public eye, he privately managed his young-onset PD, until he eventually shared his story to help others. Jennings passed away at age 61 in June 2013.
Knowlton Nash (diagnosed 2002)
The Canadian broadcasting icon, best known as long-time anchor of The National and who interviewed high-profile figures such as Robert Kennedy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, but kept his spirits high. Nash passed away in 2014 at the age of 86.
Pope John Paul II (diagnosed 1991)
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland, and was the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years. Ordained in 1978, the pope visited more than 100 countries and strongly advocated for human rights for his more than 25 years in the Vatican. His change in posture, voice and gait became more pronounced through his public appearances later in life. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2001 and passed away in 2005.
Davis Phinney (diagnosed 2000)
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, an astonishing 328. The Olympic Bronze medalist was diagnosed with young-onset PD after years of experiencing several motor and non-motor signs. He inspires others through his optimism and encouragement, eventually launching the Davis Phinney Foundation. Today, he lives in Boulder, CO, with his wife and fellow Olympian, Connie Carpenter-Phinney.
Janet Reno (diagnosed 1995)
As the first female Attorney General of the United States, Reno was a champion for social change during a difficult political environment. In 1995, just two years into her eight-year service, Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Reno was a longtime supporter of the Foundation and an advocate for Parkinson’s research. She proved to the public how people with PD could live life to the fullest. Reno passed away due to complications of PD in November 2016 — nearly 21 years after her diagnosis.
Linda Ronstadt (diagnosed 2012)
“The First Lady of Rock,” Linda Rondstadt emerged on the folk rock and country rock scene in 1967. Over her 44-year career, Rondstadt received 11 Grammys and an Emmy while selling more than 100 million records. She retired in 2011 and announced that she had Parkinson’s in 2012. She has said 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 and currently lives with her son.
Robin Williams (diagnosed in 2014 with Lewy Body Dementia)
The adored comedian and actor was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three months prior to his death in August 2014. Williams won Academy Awards, Emmys, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Grammy Awards throughout his career. After his death, it was confirmed that Williams had identifiers for Lewy Body Dementia.