Part 2: Celebrities with Parkinson’s Disease

Celebrities with Parkinson’s Disease: A Three-Part Series

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impairs motor skills and speech.  Parkinson’s is characterized by muscle rigidity, tremors, a slowing of physical movement and, in extreme cases, a loss of physical movement.  Many patients with Parkinson’s disease have clinically significant anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, or sensory symptoms, as well.  There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, but medications or surgery can provide relief from the symptoms. Watch this video for more details.

Despite its debilitating effects, many sufferers of Parkinson’s have enjoyed considerable achievement in a wide variety of fields.  Examples of celebrities with Parkinson’s include Michael J Fox, Muhammad Ali, and Janet Reno.  In Part 1, we covered Michael J. Fox and his notable contributions to helping fund research to develop a cure and a vaccine.  In Part 2, we will focus on Muhammad Ali, his fight with Parkinson’s, and his founding of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center.

Part 2: Spotlight on Muhammad Ali

“Parkinson’s is my toughest fight. No, it doesn’t hurt. It’s hard to explain. I’m being tested to see if I’ll keep praying, to see if I’ll keep my faith.”- Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali, 71, was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky.  Once a top American boxer, he has shown that he is not afraid of any fight, inside or outside the ring.

At the age of 12, Ali discovered his talent for boxing when his bike was stolen, and he told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief.  Martin reportedly told him at the time that he had to learn how to fight before making such threats.  In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym.

Ali started working with Martin to learn how to box, and in 1956, he won the Golden Gloves Championship for novices in the light heavyweight class and the three other fights following it. In 1960, Ali won a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team. He traveled to Rome, Italy, to compete.  After his Olympic victory, Ali was heralded as an American Hero.

During his reign as a boxing champion, Ali was doing some spiritual searching and decided to join the Nation of Islam, in 1964. Two years later, Ali started a different kind of fight when he refused to acknowledge his military service after being drafted.  He said that he was a practicing Muslim minister, and that his religious beliefs prevented him from fighting in the Vietnam War.

In 1967, the U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim and he was found guilty of refusing to be inducted into the military, but Ali later cleared his name after a lengthy court battle.  Professionally, however, Ali did not fare as well.  The boxing association took away his title and suspended him from the sport for three and a half years.

Returning to the ring in 1970, Ali took on Joe Frazier and they went for 15 rounds before Frazier dropped Ali to the ground, scoring a knockout.  Ali later beat Frazier in a 1974 rematch.  Another legendary Ali fight took place in 1974, when Ali fought and defeated the reigning heavyweight champion, George Foreman.

By the late 1970s, Ali’s career had started to decline and he announced his retirement from boxing.  Ali began showing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease soon after retiring. But his condition was not diagnosed until three years later.  By that stage he had developed tremors, his speech was slurred, and his body movements had become slow.  Doctors prescribed drugs which alleviated the worst of his symptoms.

In his retirement, Ali has devoted much of his time to philanthropy.  He announced publicly that he had Parkinson’s disease in 1984, at the age of 42, and has been involved in raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center is one of the most comprehensive Parkinson’s treatment centers in the world, coordinating patient care, physical therapy, pharmaceutical and surgical care, research, and patient education and outreach.

Today, Celebrity Fight Night is Muhammad Ali’s signature fundraising event for Parkinson’s.  Donations from Celebrity Fight Night have helped the center to increase the numbers of patients they see, as well as the education and social programs they offer.  The center has also used the millions of dollars of donations that come in each year to increase their ability to develop new drugs and treatments for Parkinson’s disease.  As he has done every year since its inception, this year Muhammad Ali will host the Annual Celebrity Fight Night Awards in Phoenix.

Are you or a loved one suffering from Parkinson’s Disease?

At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firms of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and their loved ones.  If you or a loved one are suffering from Parkinson’s disease, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs.  We help protect your hard-earned assets while maintaining your comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring your eligibility for critical government benefits.

How can we help?

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease means adjusting to decreased mobility and other burdens of the disease. To alleviate problems later, it is important to plan now for the worst to ensure your wishes are carried out and your family protected.

The first and most essential legal document is a Power of Attorney.  Parkinson’s disease can be very disruptive, and there may come a time with the illness that you would prefer others make choices for you.  Many married couples assume that they are allowed to make legally binding decisions on behalf of their spouses. Unfortunately, this is not the case unless you sign a Power of Attorney. 

In addition, part of lifetime planning is to ensure that you or your loved one gets the best possible care and maintains the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection can be started any time after a person enters the “long-term care continuum,” meaning that a person is starting to need assistance with Activities of Daily Living (eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, transferring, and walking) or Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (such as cooking,  cleaning, caring for pets, paying bills and managing finances).  This type of planning can be started while you are still able to make legal and financial decisions, or can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care assistance.  In fact, the majority of our Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection clients come to us when nursing home care is already in place or is imminent.  Read more about Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection.

Our next article in the series will explore Janet Reno and her fight against Parkinson’s Disease.  If you or a loved one have Parkinson’s Disease, plan for your future. Call The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firms of Evan H. Farr, P.C. at 703-691-1888 today to make an appointment for a consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.