Linda Ronstadt is a legendary musician and performer who began entertaining audiences since the mid-1960s. Over the span of her multi-decade career, she’s won a slew of awards, including 11 Grammy’s, two Academy of Country Music Awards, an Emmy, and many more. She has multiple albums that have gone gold, and even some that have gone platinum and multiplatinum! And yet her career came to a screeching halt in 2009, after suffering from a mysterious ailment for several years. It only after seeing a multitude of doctors and experts that she’s diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy. A rare disease that has similarities to Parkinson’s. Keep watching as Facts Verse presents: Linda Ronstadt Comes Clean About Her Career-Ending Disease.
Linda’s Initial Health Issues
In 2000, Linda Ronstadt began to notice something was off when she tried to sing. She likened it to only being able to hear the high end of her voice. But somehow couldn’t hear the mid and lower ranges that provided the true pitch of the notes. She was in the recording studio at the time. So as she sang into a microphone, she was wearing headphones to be able to hear the music as well as her voice. So, she naturally assumed there was something wrong with the headphones. It’s was a reasonable assumption, given that Ronstadt was a star singer and world-renowned performer. She had no reason to think her voice was the thing giving out. And yet, sadly, it was her voice that was the issue, not the headphones.
Flash forward to 2009, when Linda was giving what she instinctively knew would be her final live performance. She had been having consistent issues with her voice, and they’d been growing steadily worse. Her experience was that her throat would feel like it was cramping up, and she couldn’t get the full notes to sound. Ronstadt’s final show was in San Antonio, and it featured songs from an album of hers called “Canciones de Mi Padre.” The album was a way for Linda to pay tribute to her Mexican heritage. However, when she got on stage she realized she barely had the capacity to sing many songs at all. She ended up relying heavily on the mariachi band who was backing her up at the time. And having them sing a majority of the songs. By the end of the night, Linda knew she done.
Her Road To A Diagnosis
And yet, Linda’s road to a diagnosis was far from simple. She presumed that her issues stemmed from a pinched nerve at first, so she waited for it to heal. As the symptoms became progressively worse, she abandoned that theory. She then though it was due to longer-lasting effects from a surgery she’d had on her shoulder. Then, when that no longer seemed realistic, she wondered if it the result of a tick bite she had received. But eventually things got so bad that she knew she had to seek out guidance from specialists. Even so, she still expected a fairly rosy prognosis, thinking the doctors would agree with her presumption that she had a pinched nerve, or something of that ilk, in her neck. However, they came back with a much more serious answer. They told her that she most like had Parkinson’s disease.
Linda was understandably devastated. She announced her diagnosis in public in 2013, and received an outpouring of support from friend, family, and her millions of fans. She said that she’d been diagnosed almost a year before the public announcement. And that her loss of muscle control, a common component of Parkinson’s was to blame for her lack of ability to sing anymore.
However, Linda’s diagnosis wasn’t finished with it’s progression. Because six years later, after doctors had more data to work with, they revised their diagnosis. They said in 2019 that Ronstadt doesn’t actually have Parkinson’s, but that she has progressive supranuclear palsy. It should be noted that the two diseases have remarkably similar symptoms. So it’s not hugely surprising that they initially misdiagnosed her.
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy
Progressive supranuclear palsy is a degenerative brain disease that mimics many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s. These include things like difficulty moving the eyes, loss of balance, and general impairment of cognition. And like Parkinson’s, there is no known cure for progressive supranuclear palsy. It slowly erodes certain portions of the brain, and is quite rare. It is said to affect around six people out of every 100,000. The true cause of progressive supranuclear palsy hasn’t been identified yet. Though scientists have discovered it has something to do with having too much of a particular protein (tau protein) in the brain. Reportedly, while there isn’t a cure, medicine used for Parkinson’s can be effective in slowing down its effects over time.
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Linda deals with the disease every day
Linda Ronstadt’s experience with progressive supranuclear palsy hasn’t simply been a difficulty with singing. As tends to happen with this disease, her ability to move at a normal speed and with normal dexterity has become severely limited. Because of her new issues with motor control, she now has trouble with even basic every day activities. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Ronstadt admitted that even things most people take for granted as being easy are quite difficult for her, like taking a shower, or brushing her teeth.
But this doesn’t mean Ronstadt has given up. She likens her latest phase of life to being a toddler again. Buy that she means she’s been forced to relearn how to do things, almost from scratch. She says she’s forced to find new and creative ways to accomplish basic tasks. Due to her inability to move normally. She said that in particular, eating was one of the hardest challenges to relearn. But she reported that if you give yourself time, work hard, and are patient. You can essentially create a new map of your brain that will allow you to relearn and accomplish these basic activities.
Singing helped with family politics
Linda has long been a political activist, and has always leaned to the left side of the political spectrum. However, like many people, she has some relatives who are on the other side of the political aisle. For years, Linda found that singing for them was an excellent way to bridge the political gap between them. She says that for years, when she’d get together with those relatives, instead of talking or arguing over politics, they simply sing with each other. And that always meant they’d have a great time. So she is understandably frustrated that she isn’t able to use that tool as a way to bond with family members she might disagree with. She points out that one of the most difficult things for someone suffering with a degenerative brain disorder that affects movement is to perform repetitive motions. And singing out loud is exactly that.
In recent years Ronstadt admits to having to be careful when she’s around those same family members she used to sing along with. But she still insists that everyone sing together. But nowadays, instead of acting as one of the lead vocals. She says she prefers to be in the corner, humming along instead of singing out loud.
Linda’s life today
While Linda is retired from performing, she is still enjoying her life to the best of her abilities. She spends most of her time at home, and leans on family to support her. Linda says her disability makes her need to lie down a lot, but that she tries to use that time read and listen to music. She does have issues with her eyesight starting to go, so eventually she might have to resort to only listening to music.
In an interview with the New Yorker, Ronstadt said that she still hears music constantly in her head, even if she can’t sing it. And she says she can hear the parts that she would be singing, as she also imagines the accompaniment playing along with her. She also said that those tunes in her head are usually from other artists, and that she doesn’t find herself thinking about or listening to her own songs.
And when she’s not hearing songs in her own head, she’s actively seeking out music online. She has a deep passion for music still, and loves finding new sources of performances, like NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, or random YouTube music channels.
Linda Ronstadt’s legendary career puts her into the category of an all time legend. She was able to entertain and inspire millions of people for decades, before having to completely retire and change the way she lives her life. But certainly her story is bittersweet. Bitter because of what she’s going through, but sweet because she hasn’t let this debilitating disease define who she is, nor let it take her down. She’s certainly an inspiration to all of us.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Are you a fan of Linda Ronstadt? What are some of your favorite songs from the legendary singer? Let us know in the comment section below. And before you go, make sure you give this video a like, and subscribe to Facts Verse if you haven’t already. Click the bell icon to stay updated on all our latest content!