Billy Connolly on comedy, family and his battle with Parkinson’s

He's one of Scotland's finest exports. Find out everything you need to know about the Glaswegian entertainer.

Billy Connolly

by Lorna White |

Sir Billy Connolly is a 79-year-old comedian, born in Glasgow in 1942. He was raised a catholic and attended a strict catholic school, which he has said formed the basis of a lot of his comedy material. He’s also written a number of books, both fictional and autobiographical, and makes art.

Though he’s now known as one of Scotland’s greatest comedians, Billy’s first foray into showbiz was as a folk singer in Glaswegian folk group The Humblebums, but in the mid 70s made the move from frontman funny-man to full time stand up comic. His first solo album was a combination of music and comedy skits and contained one of his most famous routines, The Cruxifiction, where he likens the Last Supper to a drunken night out in Glasgow.

The album and ensuing live shows were a hit and propelled him to UK fame, first appearing on BBC’s premier chat show Parkinson in 1975.

Billy Connolly's wife

In 1968, at 26, Billy married his first wife, fellow Scot Iris Pressagh, who he went on to have two children with. They divorced in 1985, and in 1989 Billy married New Zealand-born writer and psychologist Pamela Stephenson.

Billy Connolly Pamela Stephenson
Billy with his wife Pamela ©Getty

The couple are still married and have three children together.

Billy Connolly through the ages


Billy Connolly through the ages

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Billy Connolly began his showbiz career in the 60s as the frontman of local folk rock group, the Humblebums. They released one album as a trio, and then after one band member left, two more albums as a duo.

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In 1968, Billy married local gal Iris Pressagh, an interior designer, who he moved out of Glasgow when his fame started to climb. They had two children together.

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In 1971, The Humblebums broke up and Billy went on to have some success as a solo singer, but it was soon clear his hilarious on stage persona was driving the crowds and he gradually turned his attentions to comedy.

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By the mid 70s Billy had mostly completed the crossover to stand up and was doing well on the Scottish scene. In 1975 he was invited to appear on the BBC's premier talk show Parkinson, and his career took off.

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Billy and Iris separated in 1981 and divorced in 1985. In 1989, Billy married writer and performer Pamela Stephenson, with whom he has three children. They are still married and Billy praises her for being 'patient' during his illness, saying last year, "I sleep like a wild animal. Laughing and singing or having fights. Pamela has to sleep in another bed."So far, she has never tutted. And she's a rather attractive nurse."

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Billy has an impressive filmography, starring in both big budget blockbusters like The Hobbit and Disney's Brave, as well as indie productions. In 2004 he starred as Dr Monty Montogomery in Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events.

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For Billy's 75th birthday, the City of Glasgow gifted him three enormous murals on buildings around town in honour of one of their best loved entertainers. "I'm truly amazed at the effect these have had on me. They've just completely stunned me," he told the BBC."I thought I'd be all light-hearted on seeing them and jokey - but they're so big - the effect on me is so profound."

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In 2017, Billy was awarded a knighthood by Prince William at Buckingham Palace for his services to entertainment and charity.

Billy Connolly illness

Billy has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative brain disease, since 2013. In 2018 he released a documentary, Made In Scotland, in which he looked back at his life and career and reflected on his illness.

Ever since we heard the very sad news of his battle with Parkinson's, we’ve been inspired by his bravery and approach to the terrible disease and enjoyed watching his BBC documentary series, Made in Scotland, where he reflects on his life and career.

"I'm a damn sight nearer the end than I am the beginning. But it doesn't frighten me, it's an adventure and it is quite interesting to see myself slipping away.

"As bits slip off and leave me, talents leave and attributes leave. I don't have the balance I used to have, I don't have the energy I used to have. I can't hear the way I used to hear, I can't see as good as I used to. I can't remember the way I used to remember.”

Shockingly, Billy says he was diagnosed with prostate cancer the same day as his Parkinson's diagnosis – but a procedure to remove the cancer the same year was successful and he was given the all clear.

Speaking of his double diagnosis to The Guardian at the time, Billy said, “When he said 'First of all, you're not gonna die,' I was shocked. I said, 'Of course I'm not going to fucking die.' It never crossed my mind. It was all very businesslike."

As we know, Parkinson’s sadly has no cure meaning it can be a very heartbreaking disease to live with. That’s why comedian Sir Billy Connolly has revealed he is willing to be a “guinea pig” if it means finding a cure.

The comedian has been battling with the incurable condition, which causes parts of the brain to become progressively damaged over years, since 2013 and has admitted he's been in contact with stem cell scientists at Harvard University about using him to advance their research and, hopefully in the long run, discover a cure for the condition.

Speaking in an extract taken from a book, published by The Scotsman, he said: "I've spoken to guys working on it at Harvard and told them I'll be a guinea pig for them. I think they are going to take me up on that."

Billy Connolly's art

Since the diagnosis, Billy has admitted his brain doesn't quite work in the same way, so made the difficult decision to stop doing stand up.

Instead, Billy has been focussing more on his art career. Speaking about his new found hobby, he said, “Drawing has given me a new lease of life. I managed to get pictures together and people like them, which surprises me and amazes and delights me.”

His art is available to view and purchase from the Castle Fine Art website.

Billy Connolly on Sharks, Stone Fish and other Sea Life

Billy Connolly stand-up and films

Billy said earlier this year that he was done with stand-up because of his illness, but has continued to make documentaries up until as recently as 2019.

A source said last year, “Billy admitted that Parkinson’s was taking its toll and he could no longer cope with live performances.

“But after ITV producers offered him a new adventure in the US, where he has spent half his life living, he decided it was too good to miss.

“He’s been secretly working on the project and filmed footage for the show in March and June. It’s going to be welcome news for his fans who thought he was going to be retiring for good.”

He's also starred in a number of films such as Brave, The Hobbit and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Billy Connolly knighthood

In 2017, Billy received a knighthood from Prince William at Buckingham Palace for services to entertainment and charity.

Sir Billy Connolly honoured with BAFTA Fellowship

In May 2022, the multi-award-winning actor was honoured with the prestigious BAFTA Fellowship at this year’s Virgin Media BAFTA TV Awards.

The Fellowship is the highest accolade bestowed by BAFTA in recognition of an individual’s outstanding and exceptional contribution to film, television or games across their career.

Speaking about the award, he said: “I am deeply honoured. Fifty films and… I can’t remember how many TV shows - as well as my stage comedy - added up to something that’s a joy to look back on. A lovely thing. I have no regrets at all. I had no idea the Fellowship existed, but I’m told it’s a big deal! It’s lovely to be recognised and to become a jolly good fellow.”

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