Billy Connolly facts: What is his illness, what movies is he in, and who is his wife Pamela Stephenson?

19 August 2018, 16:13 | Updated: 19 August 2018, 16:42

Billy Connolly
Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Sir Billy Connolly is one of the most popular and successful standup comedians of all time.

The 'Big Yin' is loved the world over for his comedy, his many films and his charity work over the past several decades.

Here are all the important facts about the legendary Scottish comic.

  1. How old is Billy Connolly?

    Billy Connolly was born on November 24, 1942.

    He turned 75 years old in 2017.

  2. What is Billy Connolly's illness?

    In September 2013, Billy Connolly underwent minor surgery for early-stage prostate cancer.

    This announcement also stated that he was being treated for the early signs of Parkinson's disease.

    In August 2018, his old friend Michael Parkinson said that Billy was struggling to remember who his friends were, and this "wonderful brain had dulled".

  3. Who is his wife?

    Billy and Pamela
    Picture: Getty

    Connolly has been married to his second wife, comedian and psychologist Dr Pamela Stephenson, since 1989. She is a New Zealand-born Australian, who came to fame after starring in 1980s sketch show Not the Nine O'Clock News. She also wrote a biography about her husband, titled Billy.

    "Marriage to Pam didn't change me; it saved me," he later said. "I was going to die. I was on a downwards spiral and enjoying every second of it. Not only was I dying, but I was looking forward to it."

    Before this, in 1968 aged 26, Connolly married interior designer Iris Pressagh. In 1985, they divorced after 16 years, having separated four years earlier, and he was awarded custody of their children.

  4. How many children does Billy Connolly have?

    Billy Connolly with daughter Cara
    Billy Connolly with daughter Cara. Picture: Getty

    With his first wife, he has two children: Jamie and Cara.

    He also has three kids with Pamela Stephenson: Daisy, Amy and Scarlett.

  5. Who were Billy Connolly's parents?

    Billy Connolly
    Picture: Getty

    Billy Connolly's father was William Connolly, and his mother, Mary 'Mamie' McLean

    Mamie's father, Neil, was a Protestant, and her mother, Flora, was a Roman Catholic who "made clandestine arrangements for the children to be baptized as Catholics", although they were "formally raised as Protestants".

    Connolly has spoken about how he was sexually abused by his father between the ages of 10 and 15. He believes this was a result of the Catholic Church not allowing his father to divorce after his mother left the family. Connolly has since had a "deep distrust and dislike of the Catholic church and any other organization that brainwashes people", and considers himself an atheist.

    In 1946, when he was four years old, his mother abandoned her children while their father was serving as an engineer in the Royal Air Force in Burma. He and his older sister Florence were cared for by two aunts, Margaret and Mona, his father's sisters, in a tiny tenement in Partick.

    He said: "My aunts constantly told me I was stupid, which still affects me today pretty badly. It’s just a belief that I’m not quite as good as anyone else. It gets worse as you get older. I’m a happy man now but I still have the scars of that." He has described his sister as his "great defender".

    In 1968, Connolly's mother met him backstage after a gig in Dunoon, where she was working in the cafeteria at Dunoon General Hospital. It was only the second and final meeting between them since she abandoned him. She since had four children with another partner.

    He said: "I went home to her house and stayed the night, instead of the hotel. The sadness is... She was a very nice woman, but we never got along. We both tried to like each other, and I don't think she liked me very much. I don't regret it, but I'm sad about it. I wish I'd liked her. And I wish she'd liked me."

    In 1988, Connolly's father died after a stroke, while his mother died five years later, in 1993, of motor neurone disease.

  6. What band was he in and what are his famous songs?

    A gifted banjo player and folk singer, he formed a duo called The Humblebums with Tam Harvey. In 1969 they were joined by Gerry Rafferty, who had approached Connolly after a gig in Paisley.

    After releasing one album, Harvey left the trio, and Connolly and Rafferty went on to release two more albums. Billy's time with Rafferty influenced his future comedy, as he would tell audiences funny stories in between songs.

    In 1975, Billy scored a UK number one single with a parody of Tammy Wynnette's 'DIVORCE'.

  7. What movies is Billy Connolly in?

    Billy Connolly has become an accomplished actor since the 1980s, appearing in movies such as:

    - Indecent Proposal
    - Pocahontas
    - Muppet Treasure Island
    - Mrs Brown
    - The Boondock Saints
    - The Last Samurai
    - Timeline
    - Brave
    - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

    He also starred in the US sitcom Head of the Class, and had his own spinoff Billy, as well as appearing in episodes of House, Columbo, 3rd Rock from the Sun and Minder.

  8. What does 'The Big Yin' mean?

    His 'The Big Yin' nickname was first used during his younger years to differentiate between himself and his father.

    "My father was a very strong man. Broad and strong. He had an 18½-inch neck collar. Huge, like a bull. He was 'Big Billy' and I was 'Wee Billy'. And then I got bigger than him, and the whole thing got out of control. And then I became The Big Yin in Scotland.

    "So, we'd go into the pub and someone would say, 'Billy Connolly was in.' 'Oh? Big Billy or Wee Billy?' 'The Big Yin.' 'Oh, Wee Billy.' If you were a stranger, you'd think, 'What are these people talking about?".