Sir Billy Connolly said he does not let his Parkinson’s disease dictate who he is as he spoke of his honor at receiving this year’s Bafta fellowship.
The 79-year-old comedian, known as the Big Yin, will be celebrated for a career spanning more than five decades at the awards ceremony on May 8. The fellowship is the highest Bafta accolade given to recognize outstanding and exceptional contribution in film, games or television.
Connolly, who was knighted in 2017 for services to entertainment and charity, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. He retired from live performances five years later but has continued to record programs and make TV appearances.
The Scottish star, who lives in the US and is married to the actor turned clinical psychologist and author Pamela Stephenson, will not be able to attend the ceremony in person but has recorded an acceptance message.
He told Bafta.org: “Doing the same thing you’ve always done is good for you. I don’t let the Parkinson’s dictate who I am – I just get on with it. I’ve had a very successful career and I have no regrets at all.”
Born in a tenement flat in Glasgow in 1942, Connolly worked as a welder in the Clyde shipyards before becoming a folk singer and musician alongside Gerry Rafferty in the Humblebums. But it was his move into standup that brought him fame.
As well as his comedy career he has won praise for his acting roles including opposite Judi Dench in Mrs Brown in 1997 as well as The Man Who Sued God and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
More recently he has found a new audience with his TV documentaries and last year published an autobiography, Windswept & Interesting.
The recognition from Bafta is the latest in a list of honours. In 2002 he received a Bafta special award and in 2003 was made a CBE in the 2003 Queen’s birthday honors list. In 2010 he was given Glasgow’s highest honour, the freedom of the city, and two years later was recognized with a lifetime achievement award by Bafta Scotland.
Connolly said that while he was very proud of his collection of “shiny things”, he had “never set out to get them or hunt them down”.
Emma Baehr, the executive director of awards and content at Bafta, thanked him for his “phenomenal career on television”, saying he had made “a remarkable contribution to our industry” and become a “national treasure on stage and screen, adored by fans around the world”.
The comedian joins the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Sir Trevor McDonald, Dame Joanna Lumley and Jon Snow in receiving a fellowship.
He said of the accolade: “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 had no idea the fellowship existed, but I’m told it’s a big deal! It’s lovely to be recognized and to become a jolly good fellow.”
The Channel 4 series It’s a Sin, written and created by the Doctor Who screenwriter Russell T Davies, leads the Bafta television award nominations this year with 11 across the craft and television awards categories.