Famous People With Dementia
President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Reagan himself would later succumb to the disease, but Alzheimer’s Awareness Month continues.
Other celebrities, such as Glen Campbell and Rita Hayworth, have heightened understanding of the illness and reduce the stigma of Alzheimer’s patients by publicly announcing their own illnesses.
Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t just target one group of people. Rich or poor, famous or unknown — dementia can strike. Here’s a list of just a few of the more well-known people with Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia.
Eddie Albert (1906–2005)
An American actor and activist known for his performances in Roman Holiday, Oklahoma!, and The Heartbreak Kid. He also starred as Oliver Wendell Douglas in the 1960s television sitcom Green Acres. Albert was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1995 and died of pneumonia on May 26, 2005, at the age of 99 in his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Charles Bronson (1921-2003)
An American actor, he was often cast in the role of a police officer, gunfighter, or vigilante in revenge-oriented plot lines, had long-term collaborations with film directors Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson, and appeared in 15 films with his second wife Jill Ireland. Bronson’s health deteriorated in his later years, and he retired from acting after undergoing hip-replacement surgery in August 1998. Bronson died at age 81 on Aug. 30, 2003, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Although pneumonia and/or Alzheimer’s disease have been cited as his cause of death, neither appears on his death certificate, which cites respiratory failure, metastatic lung cancer, with, secondarily, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive cardiomyopathy as the causes of death.
Glenn Campbell (1936–2017)
An American singer, guitarist, songwriter, television host, and actor, he was best known for a series of hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s, and for hosting a music and comedy variety show called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS television, from January 1969 until June 1972. He released over 70 albums in a career that spanned five decades, selling over 45 million records worldwide, including 12 gold albums, four platinum albums, and one double-platinum album. In June 2011, Campbell announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease six months earlier. He became a patient at an Alzheimer’s long-term care and treatment facility in 2014. That same year, Campbell was the subject of the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, directed by longtime friend James Keach, which examined Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and how it affected his musical performances during his final tour across the United States with his family. The documentary received critical acclaim, being one of the rare films to achieve a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Campbell died in Nashville, Tenn., on Aug. 8, 2017, at the age of 81. He was buried in the Campbell family cemetery in Billstown, Ark.
Perry Como (1912-2001)
An American singer, actor and television personality with a career spanning more than half a century. Como recorded exclusively for RCA Victor for 44 years, after signing with the label in 1943. “Mr. C.”, as he was nicknamed, sold millions of records and pioneered a weekly musical variety television show. His weekly television shows and seasonal specials were broadcast throughout the world. In the official RCA Records Billboard magazine memorial, his life was summed up in these few words: “50 years of music and a life well lived. An example to all.” Como died in his sleep on May 12, 2001, at his home in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Fla., six days before his 89th birthday. He was reported to have suffered from symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Aaron Copland (1900–1990)
An American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. Copland’s health deteriorated through the 1980s, and he died of Alzheimer’s disease and respiratory failure on Dec. 2, 1990.
James Doohan (1920–2005)
A Canadian actor, voice actor, author and former soldier in the Canadian Army, best known for his role as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the television and film series Star Trek. James Doohan had an incredible acting career before announcing his Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. He died in 2005.
Peter Falk (1927–2011)
An American actor and comedian, known for his role as Lieutenant Columbo in the long-running television series Columbo (1968–2003). In December 2008, it was reported that Falk had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. On the evening of June 23, 2011, Falk died at his longtime home on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills at the age of 83. His death was primarily caused by pneumonia, with complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Estelle Getty (1923–1998)
An American actress and comedian, she was known for her portrayal of the sarcastic and quick-witted senior citizen Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls. Getty died on July 22, 2008, just three days shy of her 85th birthday, at her home in Los Angeles County, Calif., as the result of Dementia with Lewy bodies, according to family, and was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Her headstone is inscribed with the words “With Love and Laughter” and a Star of David to indicate her Jewish heritage.
Rita Hayworth (1918–1987)
An American actress and dancer, she achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era’s top stars, appearing in 61 films over 37 years. The press coined the term “The Love Goddess” to describe Hayworth after she had become the most glamorous screen idol of the 1940s. She was the top pin-up girl for GIs during World War II.
In 1980, Hayworth was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which contributed to her death at age 68. The public disclosure and discussion of her illness drew attention to Alzheimer’s, which was largely unknown by most people at the time, and helped to increase public and private funding for Alzheimer’s research.
Charlton Heston (1923–2008)
An American actor and political activist, as a Hollywood star, he appeared in almost 100 films over the course of 60 years. He played Moses in the epic film The Ten Commandments (1956), for which he received his first nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. He also starred in Touch of Evil (1958) with Orson Welles; Ben-Hur (1959), for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor; El Cid (1961); Planet of the Apes (1968); The Greatest Show on Earth (1952); Secret of the Incas (1954); The Big Country (1958); and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). After announcing he had Alzheimer’s disease in 2002, he retired from both acting and the NRA presidency.
Casey Kasem (1932–2014)
Known as an American DJ, music historian, radio personality, and actor, he was the host of several music radio countdown programs, notably “American Top 40” from 1970 until his retirement in 2009. He also provided the voice of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers in the Scooby-Doo franchise from 1969 to 1997, and again from 2002 until 2009. In October 2013, Kerri Kasem said her father was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which a doctor had diagnosed in 2007. A few months later, she said he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which is often difficult to differentiate from Parkinson’s. His condition left him unable to speak during his final months.
Evelyn Keyes (1916–2008)
An American film actress, she is best known for her role as Suellen O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind and for her role in The Seven Year Itch. She wrote a memoir of her experiences before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the late 1990s. Keyes died on July 4, 2008.
Burgess Meredith (1907–1997)
An American actor, director, producer, and writer who was active for more than six decades, Meredith has been called “a virtuosic actor” and “one of the most accomplished actors of the century.” Meredith died at the age of 89 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease and melanoma on Sept. 9, 1997, at his Malibu home.
Rosa Parks (1913–2005)
An American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott, Rosa Parks is known as “the Mother of the Freedom Movement,” after being arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus and beginning the civil rights movement. She wrote an autobiography and continued to live a quiet life before being diagnosed with and later passing from Alzheimer’s.
Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)
An American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989 and became the highly influential voice of modern conservatism. Prior to his presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union leader before serving as the 33rd governor of California from 1967 to 1975. Reagan died of pneumonia, complicated by Alzheimer’s disease, at his home in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles on the afternoon of June 5, 2004. A short time after his death, Nancy Reagan released a statement saying, “My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has died after 10 years of Alzheimer’s disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone’s prayers.”
Sugar Ray Robinson (1921–1989)
An American professional boxer who competed from 1940 to 1965, Robinson’s performances in the welterweight and middleweight divisions prompted sportswriters to create “pound for pound” rankings, where they compared fighters regardless of weight. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He is widely regarded as the greatest boxer of all time, and in 2002, Robinson was ranked number one on The Ring magazine’s list of “80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years”. In Robinson’s last years, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in Los Angeles on April 12, 1989, at the age of 67. His body was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, Calif.
Norman Rockwell (1894–1978)
An American author, painter and illustrator, his works have a broad popular appeal in the United States for their reflection of American culture. Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over nearly five decades.. Interestingly, Rockwell’s paintings are now used sometimes in dementia therapy because of the memories and nostalgia they elicit.
James Stewart (1908–1997)
An American actor and military officer who is among the most honored and popular stars in film history. Known for his distinctive drawl, down-to-earth authentic personas and everyman acting style, Stewart had a film career that spanned over 55 years and 80 films. Being slowed by Alzheimer’s, Stewart died of a heart attack at the age of 89 surrounded by his children at his home in Beverly Hills on July 2, 1997.
Pat Summitt (1952–2016)
An American women’s college basketball head coach who accrued 1,098 career wins, the most in college basketball history upon her retirement. She served as the head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team from 1974 to 2012, before retiring at age 59 after receiving a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She won eight NCAA championships — an NCAA women’s record — when she retired, and the third most all time.
Robin Williams (1951–2014)
An American actor and comedian, Williams rose to fame playing the alien Mork in the sitcom Mork & Mindy. Williams established a career in both stand-up comedy and feature film acting. He was known for his improvisation skills and the wide variety of memorable character voices he created. Many critics have lauded Williams as one of the funniest comedians of all time. Williams began to suffer from Lewy body dementia which was believed to be a “critical factor” that led to his suicide in 2014.
E.B. White (1899–1985)
An American writer who was a contributor to The New Yorker magazine for more than 50 years. In addition, he wrote books for children, including Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. White had Alzheimer’s disease and died on Oct. 1, 1985, at his farm home in North Brooklin, Maine. He is buried in the Brooklin Cemetery beside his wife Katharine.
Malcolm Young (1953–2017)
He was an Australian musician and songwriter, best known as a co-founder, rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist and songwriter for the hard rock band AC/DC. Except for a brief absence in 1988, he was with the band from its November 1973 beginning until retiring in 2014 due to health reasons. Young and the other members of AC/DC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Young left AC/DC in 2014 to receive treatment for dementia. In September 2014, the band’s management announced that he would be retiring permanently. He died from the disease on Nov. 18, 2017.
Actors, Actresses, and Film
- Mabel Albertson, actor
- Dana Andrews, actor
- Arlene Francis, actor
- Mike Frankovich, film producer
- Mervyn Leroy, director
- Jack Lord, actor
- Edmond O’Brien, actor
- Arthur O’Connell, actor
- Molly Picon, actor
- Otto Preminger, director
- Harry Ritz, performer
- Simon Scott, actor
- Irving Shulman, screenwriter
- Joe Adcock, baseball player
- Tom Fears, professional football player and coach
- Gordie Howe, hockey player
- Marv Owen, baseball player
- Bill Quackenbush, professional hockey player
- Betty Schwartz, Olympic gold medal winner in track events
- Rudolph Bing, opera impresario
- Thomas Dorsey, singer
- John Mann, songwriter
- Kay Swift, composer
Artists and Chefs
- James Brooks, artist
- Joyce Chen, chef
- Willem DeKooning, artist
- Louis Feraud, fashion designer
Politicians and Activists
- Carroll Campbell, Former Republican Senator
- Barry Goldwater, Senator of Arizona
- Raul Silva Henriquez, Roman Catholic cardinal, human rights advocate
- Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the United Kingdom
- Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister
- Abe Burrows, author
- Ross MacDonald, author
- Iris Murdoch, author
- Pauline Phillips, “Dear Abby” advice columnist
- Alfred Van Vogt, science fiction writer