Billy Connolly reflected on his television successes, his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease and how his regional accent played a big part in shaping his prolific career in Scotland at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Monday.
Speaking remotely from his Florida home in a session hosted by his wife, Pamela Stephenson Connolly, the Scottish comedian and actor was in good spirits despite admitting his medical condition was “getting worse.”
The fest was lauding Connolly with its Lifetime Achievement Award as the four-day event was underway and, in typical Connolly fashion he opened up the conversation by quipping, “I feel like I should be dead – these ‘lifetime’ things, I feel like they know something I don’t.”
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In the intimate and rare conversation between husband and wife, Connolly was asked if filming in the television sector posed any new challenges for him right now and he responded: “Not really, but the way I think everything is a new challenge. I hardly prepare, so I turn up unprepared and everything is a new challenge. It keeps your eyes open – it’s good fun.”
He added: “The challenges lately have been medical and they’re getting worse. Have you noticed I’ve been holding my left hand as we have been going on, it is starting to jump around. So, I will have to weigh it up and see how bad it gets, I don’t know, we will play it by ear. It happens when I least expect it. I’ll be talking to you and I think, ‘ah my hand is shaking’ and I will grab it. But it’s not much of a problem.”
Connolly, who is 78-years-old, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013. He retired from stand-up comedy in 2018 after a 50-year career but hasn’t completely stopped working as he is writing and recording a new book.
Speaking on his iconic first appearance on British chat show Parkinson in 1975, Connolly said his Scottish accent made the appearance all the more meaningful to his Scottish fans.
“It’s a thing that Scots have got about accents,” he said. “You can be as popular as you like but if you don’t have a Scottish accent, it’s different. They love the fact that I went on [Parkinson] with my Scottish accent and got famous. They took it personally. It was lovely.”
Asked if it was important for television comedy to feature working class voices and regional voices, Connolly said it was “wonderful” for the business.
“A lot of people complained that Monty Python were always doing working class accents for weird people but I think [regional accents are] wonderful,” he said.
Connolly has been the recipient of the BAFTA and BAFTA Scotland awards for Outstanding Achievement and was given the Freedom of the City of Glasgow before his Knighthood for Services to Entertainment and Charity. He is also a renowned actor for roles in films such as The Hobbit and 1997’s Mrs. Brown, the latter for which he was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
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