Stars pay tribute to Sir Billy Connolly as he marks career with TV special

Dustin Hoffman and Sheridan Smith paid an emotional tribute to Sir Billy Connolly as he marked the end of his stand-up career with a TV special.

The 78-year-old comedian, known affectionately as The Big Yin, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013 and announced his decision to retire from live performance five years later.

It’s Been A Pleasure on ITV on Monday saw close friends and fans of the Scottish star – including Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney and Whoopi Goldberg – pay tribute to his five decades on stage.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Investitures at Buckingham Palace

A tearful Smith, who welcomed her first son Billy in May, revealed she had named him after the comic.

She said: “I named my son after Billy. Did you know that? I’m going to cry.”

Hollywood star Hoffman, who directed Sir Billy in the 2012 film Quartet, held back tears as he said: “I want him to be around for a long, long time.”

And Sir Elton described him as “the first rock star of comedy”.

Glaswegian Sir Billy was famous for his energetic presence on stage, and the programme featured footage from across his career.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include decreased mobility and difficulty speaking, leaving him unable to perform as he had in his pomp.

Sheridan Smith seizure revelation
Sheridan Smith seizure revelation

Speaking from his home in Florida, Sir Billy explained his decision to give up performing.

He said: “I have done my stand-up, I did it for 50 years, I did it quite well and it is time to stop.

“My illness, my Parkinson’s disease, has rendered me different. It would either mean renewing what I do and doing something else, or give up what I did and that’s what I’ve done.

Quartet screening – London
Quartet screening – London

“Why do I like to make people laugh? Because it is a jolly thing, it is good for you and it is good for them.

“It is a dynamite thing to be able to do, to get a laugh out of someone.”

He added: “Since the Parkinson’s I’m still the same in many ways, but I don’t think as sharply as I need to to be a stand-up.

“I’ve done 50 years and that’s plenty. Quitting is the right thing to do.”

The programme prompted fans to wish Sir Billy a “happy retirement” on Twitter.

One said of him: “Comic genius. Happy Retirement Billy! You’ve certainly earned it.”

Another added: “You will never get another comedian like Billy Connolly, one of a kind. Sad hes had to call it a day because of Parkinsons, but what a life.”

One of what I’m sure will be many regrets throughout life will be to never see #BillyConnolly perform live.

The man is a genius and makes it look so simple!

— Jordan Weir (@jordan_weir14) December 28, 2020

A third said: “One of what I’m sure will be many regrets throughout life will be to never see #BillyConnolly perform live. The man is a genius and makes it look so simple!”