In Good Company: Famous People with Macular Degeneration
Those of us with macular degeneration are in good company. Many actors, artists, and authors have managed to lead successful lives and careers whilst dealing with this condition. Knowing that we are not alone might bring us some comfort, and might even inspire us.
Celebrities living with macular degeneration
Dame Judi Dench
Judi Dench, one of Britain’s most famous actors who is now 84, gave an interview to the Sunday Post in July 2019 where she described her life with macular degeneration. She had already gone on the public record in 2012 announcing that she had age-related macular degeneration, as did her mother before her.1
She has one eye with the dry form and one eye with the wet form. She is having injections in her wet eye every six weeks. Because of her vision loss, she can’t read or drive anymore. She said to the Sunday Post, “I just want to go on being mobile, really, and being able to do things. I’m not going to be beaten by my eyes.”1
When her eyesight first started to deteriorate, she used to get her scripts enlarged to 22-point font. Now she mostly gets people to read her lines to her and coach her. When she goes to the movies, she gets a friend sitting near her to describe the scenes to her. She says she wants to go on “being able to do things. I’m not going to be beaten by my eyes …… I can see enough. You adapt to it. So I ignore it altogether.”1
Sir John Mills
Sir John Mills was another famous English actor, who appeared in more than 120 movies over a 70-year period. He was, for a time, the senior vice president of Vision Foundation. At a virtual event in 2021 for this foundation, his daughter, actress Hayley Mills, explained that her father had macular degeneration for the last 20 years of his life. His sight deteriorated gradually and he managed to keep acting well into his later years.2
According to the Guardian, in the year 2000, when he was 90, he performed at the 100th birthday pageant for the Queen Mother. He played a cameo role two years before his death in the movie Bright Young Things. He died in 2005 at the age of 97.2
In 2015 Roseanne announced in an interview with the Daily Beast that she had been diagnosed with macular degeneration and glaucoma. She said she felt her sight was “closing in.” “You do what you have to do. I just try and enjoy vision as much as possible……y’know, living it up. My dad had it, too.”3
Then in 2018, in an interview with PEOPLE magazine, she said she had gone to a new doctor and found out that she had been misdiagnosed. The new doctor said Roseanne had a mole growing on the inside of her eye. Some people might think a third opinion was in order!4
In an interview with CBS 60 minutes in 1998, Stephen King revealed he had macular degeneration. King joked about his peripheral vision when he said, “that’s the part I want to keep as a man and as a writer – what I see out of the corners”.5
King revealed later on his official website that he is genetically predisposed to macular degeneration but isn’t yet experiencing symptoms.6
Who could forget Ernest Borgnine from McHale’s Navy? He also starred in more than 200 movies including The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, and The Poseidon Adventure and Convoy. He was diagnosed with macular degeneration after having cataract surgery. He said that he took vitamin supplements to slow the condition and that he could still read in good light.7
He continued to drive his bus around the country, talking to friends and fans, until he was 88. In order to help others with the condition, he became the spokesperson for the National Eye Institute at 91 years old and made a video to explain macular degeneration to others.7
The Andy Griffith Show wouldn’t have been the same without Don Knotts as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife. He earned five Emmy Awards for this role. He also featured in Three’s Company, Cannonball Run 11 and Air Buddies. Don was diagnosed with macular degeneration when he was 57.8
He eventually stopped driving and reading, but he could still act and he enjoyed swimming. He participated in an encouraging video for the American Macular Degeneration Foundation about life with macular degeneration.8
Alive between 1838 and 1917, Edgar Degas was a famous impressionist painter who suffered from a retinal disease that gradually worsened. It was believed to be macular degeneration. He noticed a blind spot in the middle of his field of vision and had difficulty painting when he could not see what was straight ahead. Instead, he could only see around that spot.
Over a period of time, the sight in both eyes deteriorated and he lost his central vision. He coped by changing his style and painting in more broad strokes. He also painted from photographs so he didn’t have to work outside. When his sight wasn’t good enough for him to continue painting, he started creating sculptures.9
Let's support each other
We might not have the same financial and physical resources behind us that most of these famous people accrued, but I have seen the resources of strength, hope and resilience demonstrated in this community. With the support of each other, we’ll be able to let our own light shine.
True or false: You always know if you have macular degeneration.