Linda Ronstadt on her Parkinson's disease: 'I can't sing at all'

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Image Credit: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Last week came the very sad news that Grammy-and-Emmy-award-winning singer Linda Ronstadt can no longer sing as a result of her Parkinson’s disease. Ronstadt was diagnosed eight months ago. She shared her diagnosis in an interview with AARP Magazine

In her chat with writer Alanna Nash, we learn more about Ronstadt’s first signs of Parkinson’s, her famous friends (like George Lucas),  her pet cow, and details from her upcoming biography, Simple Dreams, to be released on Sept. 17.

Her voice was the first to go

“In fact I couldn’t sing for the last five or six years I appeared on stage, but I kept trying. I kept thinking, ‘What if I tried singing upside down? Or standing on my head? Or while juggling? [Laughs] Maybe I’d be able to sing better then.’ So I didn’t know why I couldn’t sing — all I knew was that it was muscular, or mechanical. Then, when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I was finally given the reason.”

Ronstadt thinks her pet cow may be to blame for her Parkinson’s

“Oh, Luna! Yeah, I loved her — she was such a nice old girl — but I got a tick from her, and that’s probably why I’m sick.”

“They’re saying now they think there’s a relationship between tick bites and Parkinson’s disease — that a virus can switch on a gene, or cause neurodegeneration. So I can’t sing at all.”

She found out she had Parkinson’s while penning her autobiography

“About eight months ago — just when I was writing the acknowledgments for the book, actually. I got the initial diagnosis, but they didn’t confirm it until six months later. I didn’t want to write about it in the book, because I wasn’t sure.”

And it was a total surprise

“So when I finally went to a neurologist and he said, “Oh, you have Parkinson’s disease,” I was completely shocked. I was totally surprised. I wouldn’t have suspected that in a million, billion years.”

On her relationship with George Lucas

“We’re still friends, but we never mixed that with business. He just got married — his wife is lovely, I can tell — and he has a baby. At this age! [Laughs] So there are people I care about passionately, but I don’t wish I still lived with them, or that I’d married them. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have left, you know? [Laughs] I just wasn’t the marrying kind.”

On a funny story involving a California governor (whom she once dated) and another legendary singer (to be included in her book)

“He came by my house once when I was leaving to have dinner with Rosemary Clooney, and he invited himself to dinner — typical Jerry [Brown]. Then he said, ‘Wait — we gotta take her something.’ Somebody had sent me a big bouquet of coral roses. Jerry sees them and says, ‘We’ll just take these.’ It took me years to admit to Rosemary Clooney that Jerry Brown had brought her secondhand flowers.”

On her book’s mention of musicians like Brian Wilson, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin

“Brian had tremendous difficulties in his childhood, but I just love him, and I think he’s so resilient. I’ve always known Brian to be a gentle, lovely person with an incredible amount of talent. I think he was one of the great geniuses of American pop music, along with Gershwin and those guys.”

“I didn’t love Jim Morrison. There was something very reptilian about him. And I didn’t care for his singing, but his band! The Doors were fantastic.”

“As for Janis, it was impossible not to love her. She was a sweet, sincere person, and she truly loved the music. Not only was she passionate about the blues, but she had great respect for the people whose shoulders she stood on, which I appreciate: We’re all standing on somebody’s shoulders, aren’t we?”

She’s not letting her diagnosis get her down

“There’s nothing you can do about it except inform yourself. And I’m learning from other Parkinson’s patients that there are different treatments besides the drugs they give you. There are other things to try besides [the drug] L-DOPA, which I’ll go on only when I’m circling the drain. [Laughs] I’m so sensitive to drugs you have to talk me into taking aspirin.”

“A lot of patients tell me marijuana is very effective for Parkinsonism. But I don’t tolerate that very well either, so I don’t think it will help me. Unless it has low THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) — I’d have to find the kind that doesn’t get you stoned! [Laughs]“

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