Billy Connolly is a comedian, musician, actor, and presenter of Scottish origin. He initially started out as a welder in his native Glasgow before becoming a folk musician and later, a successful stand-up comic and actor. He has been described as the father of modern comedy in the UK and has inspired a whole generation of comedians. Get to know more about him including his bio, tough childhood, life history, and accomplishments without leaving out his wife and children.
Billy Connolly Bio (Childhood)
William Connolly was born on the 24th of November 1942 in Anderston Glasgow, Scotland. His father’s name was William Connolly while his mother’s name was Mary “Mamie” McLean. His mom was from Clan MacLean, one of the oldest clans in the Scottish highlands. Connolly had an elder sister, Florence, with whom he grew up in very humble conditions. At just four years of age, his mom abandoned him and his sister due to difficult times. He and his sister had no choice but to move in with their paternal aunts, Mona and Margaret, as their father was away in Burma serving in the army.
His aunts were somehow resentful of the fact that they had been saddled with little children and they took it out on them; verbally and emotionally abusing them. According to Connolly, he carried the effects of that abuse for a long time and would have preferred to have been sent to a group home rather than living with them.
Their dad returned shortly after but there was no respite for Connolly. He endured physical and sexual abuse from his own father from the age of ten to the age of 15. The abuse also followed the young Billy to his primary school where he described the teachers/nuns as being violent.
Billy Connolly completed his education at the age of 15, obtaining an engineering qualification from St Gerard Secondary School. Upon graduation, he worked as a delivery boy for a bakery before moving to Alexander Stephens and Sons, a shipbuilding company. While there, he did a five-year apprenticeship as a welder and boilermaker. He finished his apprenticeship at the age of 21 and stayed one more year before moving on to work for other engineering companies. He called time on his welding career at the age of 24.
Career (Life History)
According to Billy Connolly, he first realized that he wanted to make people laugh when he was in primary school at the age of 7/8. From then onwards, he started practicing his comic skills. His skills were further honed in the Glasgow shipyards where the men who worked there had a ruthless sense of humor.
After attending the Edinburgh Arts Festival in the 1960s, Connolly decided to become a folk musician. He bought a banjo and started opening for Scottish folk singer, Danny Kyle, at various gigs. From there, he formed his own folk-rock band known as the Humblebums. The group consisted of Connolly, guitarist, Tam Harvey, and singer Gerry Lafferty. The Humblebums released a total of three albums before breaking up in 1971. Connolly became a solo musician again after the breakup. Meanwhile, his label boss, Nat Joseph noticed his comic talents due to his increasingly lengthy funny monologues and advised him to pursue a career as a stand up comic. Connolly took that advice and the rest, as they say, is history.
In a career spanning four decades, he embarked on several comedy tours (Big Wee Tour of Britain, World Tour of Scotland, World Tour of Australia, World Tour of New Zealand) and released many successful comic albums (Billy Connolly Live! 1972 and solo concert 1973). Video recordings of his tours were also released and he became a globally loved comic in the process.
He also appeared on several talk shows both in and outside the UK. One memorable example is the BBC talk show Parkinson where he had numerous successful appearances. Billy Connolly expanded his portfolio to acting. Some of his movies are Water, Indecent Proposal, Pocahontas, Mrs. Brown, The Man Who Sued God, The Last Samurai, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Open Season, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Brave, Quartet and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Presently, Billy Connolly is retired. He is now an artist and his first exhibition was unveiled in 2012. His art has been described as similar to surrealist automatism as well as cave paintings from the Aurignacian period.
Achievements of the Comedian
Billy Connolly has received several awards and honors in recognition of his work. They include honorary PhDs from the University of Glasgow in 2001, Nottingham Trent University in 2010, and the University of Strathclyde in 2017. He also received a lifetime achievement award at the 2003 BAFTA as well as a special recognition award at the 2016 National Television Awards. In 2003, the comic was honored with a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by the Queen. In 2017, he was knighted by the Queen for services to entertainment and charity. Therefore, he is now Sir Billy Connolly.
Wife and Children
Billy Connolly got married for the first time in 1968. He married fellow Scot, Iris Pressagh, with whom he had two children, Jamie and Clara. They separated in 1981 and divorced in 1985.
Connolly is now married to New Zealand born comic actress and licensed psychologist, Pamela Stephenson. They met in 1979 while both were appearing on the BBC comedy Not the 9’O Clock News. They lived together for 10 years and had three daughters (Amy, Daisy, and Scarlett) before getting married in Fiji on 20th December 1989.
Pamela has written several books including a bestselling biography of her husband simply titled Billy.
Connolly was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Parkinson disease in 2013. He successfully conquered prostate and is now contending with Parkinson disease.