A tribute to the prime time star, who topped theatre bills globally, including more than a thousand solo appearances at the London Palladium will be aired tonight on ITV, with many of his celebrity friends and admirers speaking on the legacy he left behind. Yet it was in an interview his wife Jodie Brooke Wilson gave after his death in 2020, that unmasked some shocking revelations about the star’s health before he passed away.
During the production the star started to notice a tremor, but at the time didn’t think it was a sign of Parkinson’s.
“In one of the scenes he had to be put up in a hot-air balloon and go up into the gods. He had to stay there for a little bit,” Jodie continued.
“He remembers thinking it’s strange, but never thinking it was Parkinson’s-related.
“Des wanted people to be uplifted chatting to him, rather than thinking about his illness. It was a very gradual thing.
“He dealt with it, saying, ‘Yes I’ve got it, but I’ll keep taking the tablets and keep smiling.’ That’s what he did: took the tablets and kept smiling.”
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) explains that Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness and difficulty walking, balancing and coordination.
Symptoms appear gradually over time and tend to get worse as the condition develops. Individuals may also find that they experience changes in their behaviour and memory.
The NIA goes on to explain that one clear risk factor of the condition is age, with most people developing the disease at around the age of 60, and five to 10 percent of others developing “early-onset” Parkinson’s as early as their 50s.
The main symptoms to look out for include the following:
- Tremor (trembling) in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
- Slowness of movement
- Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls.
However, other symptoms may include depression, urinary problems, constipation, skin problems or sleep disruption, all of which can easily be discarded as normal effects of ageing.
People with Parkinson’s will often develop what is known as a ‘parkinsonian gait’ that includes a tendency to lean forward, take small quick steps whilst reducing the swinging motion of their arms. They may also have trouble initiating or continuing movement.
It is important that individuals who notice these symptoms seek medical advice immediately, as there is possible treatment- albeit no cure for the condition.
Similarly to Des, the main treatments for Parkinson’s include medication, surgery and supportive therapies which aim to help minimise symptoms and help individuals deal with day-to-day lives.
Therapies such as physiotherapy work to relieve muscle stiffness and joint pain through movement and exercise. This will not only improve fitness levels, but also make moving easier and improve walking and flexibility.
Speaking to the Metro about Des’ diagnosis, Parkinson’s UK’s former chief executive Steve Ford commented: “The news that Des O’Connor lived with Parkinson’s for a number of years before his death, will no doubt inspire members of the Parkinson’s community.
“He showed that you do not need to be defined or held back by a diagnosis. The fact that he continued to do what he loved, by entertaining us all and keeping his humour throughout, is a reminder that whilst Parkinson’s can devastate lives, it doesn’t have to.”