7 famous women with Parkinson’s

Women and Parkinson's

Author: Roisin McCormackPublished: 11 March 2021

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Most people can name at least one famous man with Parkinson’s, but can you name a famous woman? As part of our Women and Parkinson’s campaign, we highlight some of the women in the public eye who have lived with the condition, from the actress Valerie Perrine – who played a showgirl in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and a villain’s moll in ‘Superman’ – to US singer-songwriter, and friend of Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt

Valerie Perrine

The seventies silver screen icon Valerie Perrine (pictured above) launched her career with a role as a Las Vegas showgirl in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971). She went on to star alongside some of the most celebrated actors of the time, including Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford and Christopher Reeve in the original ‘Superman’ film in 1978.

Now retired, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015 and has since undergone deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery to try and reverse the effects of her tremor. A campaign, started on US crowdfunding site Indiegogo, saw fans try to fund a documentary about Valerie’s life, her hugely successful career, and her ongoing battle with Parkinson’s.

Margaret Bourke-White

US photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White witnessed many important moments in the 20th century. One of the first four photographers hired by ‘Life’ magazine, her images recorded Soviet industry, the Great Depression and the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. She also took the last photos of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 – just before his assassination.

Bourke-White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the mid-1950s. An article published in ‘Life’, titled ‘Famous Lady’s Indomitable Fight’ (1959), detailed the challenges she faced as a result of the condition and her experiences of treatment, which included a now-discarded operation called a ‘chemothalamectomy’. She died, aged 67, in 1971.

Deborah Kerr

Credit: The Innocents. 1961

The Scottish-born star of classic cinema was best known for her roles in ‘The King and I’ (1956) and ‘An Affair to Remember’ (1957), co-starring Hollywood legend Cary Grant. Nominated for six Academy Awards, and winning two Golden Globe Awards, the star was diagnosed with Parkinson’s which she lived with until her death in 2007, aged 86.

Martha Johnson

Canadian rock singer Martha Johnson, best known as the lead vocalist in eighties new-wave band, Martha and the Muffins, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2001 at the age of 51. She continues to perform while raising funds for the condition – with a portion of the proceeds from her 2013 album ‘Solo One’ going towards the Michael J Fox Foundation. She regularly attends Rock Steady Boxing classes, and has supported the organisation through fundraising.

Linda Ronstadt

Credit: Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment

The 10-time Grammy Award winning US singer-songwriter, Linda Ronstadt, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 66 shortly after retiring from music. The seventies star, whose top hits include ‘You’re No Good’ and ‘Blue Bayou’ has spoken candidly about how the development of Parkinson’s has robbed her of her voice but maintains that, “In my imagination, I can still sing”. A new documentary, titled ‘Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice’, released in September 2019 explores her life, work and friendships with fellow musicians including Dolly Parton.

Barbara Thompson

Credit: Thompson family

English jazz saxophonist and composer Barbara Thompson, who was awarded an MBE for services to music, has worked closely with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber on shows including ‘Cats’ and ‘Starlight Express’. Having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1997, the musician was forced to retire from music for a short period before returning to the stage in 2003. 

Commenting on her Parkinson’s in a blog post, she said: “I decided earlier on that the only way to cope as not to make it the main point of my life, but treat it as an unwelcome visitor.”

Cait Brennan

Credit: Greg Allen

Despite being diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s in 2013, US glam rock singer-songwriter, actress and screenwriter Cait Brennan went on to release her critically acclaimed debut album ‘Debutante’ three short years later. While she undergoes intensive voice therapy to protect her voice and her ability to perform, she has said that when performing live on stage, she feels “absolutely free from any kind of discomfort or physical limitation”.

Lead image credit: Wikipedia

If you have a story to tell about being a woman with Parkinson’s – or some information about the impact of the condition on women for us to share with the global Parkinson’s community – please get in touch.

Women and Parkinson’s: Our campaign

It is estimated that three million women worldwide are living with Parkinson’s – yet their specific needs and experiences are often ignored, leading to disparities in diagnosis, treatment and medication. Each week, we’ll be sharing the little-heard stories of women with the condition to find out how their lives are being affected by a shocking data gap when it comes to women and Parkinson’s. This is just the start.

  • We want to raise awareness of women’s experience of the condition within the medical profession, so that women’s symptoms are taken seriously.
  • We think more research is needed into the impact of Parkinson’s on women, so that they can benefit from tailored medication and treatment.
  • We want to explore ways to offer better support for those women managing the condition alongside caring responsibilities.

Join us – #WomenAndParkinsons.

For more information on women and Parkinson’s please visit Parkinson’s Europe website.

Read more:

Women and Parkinson’s: “We need to be having more conversations about menopause”

Women and Parkinson’s: “Being pregnant was scary”

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