‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Explained Keeping Optimism While Battling Parkinson’s: ‘Terrific Puzzle to Solve’

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Decades after M*A*S*H ended, its star Alan Alda noticed he had at least one early symptom of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous systems disorder.

The actor who gained immense fame playing a doctor on M*A*S*H figured out by reading an article that he may be sick. His dream, literally, made him call his doctor. An early sign of Parkinson’s is acting out your dreams.

Alda said: “I was having a dream that someone was attacking me and I threw a sack of potatoes at them. But what I was really doing was throwing a pillow at my wife.”

In 2018, the M*A*S*H star revealed he had Parkinson’s during an interview with CBS This Morning. His doctor diagnosed him more than three years before. But Alda decided to go public with the diagnosis because he noticed that his thumbs would twitch. He’d been doing publicity for his new podcast. He figured someone would notice as well. Alda wanted to answer questions before they needed to be asked.

“In the very beginning, to be immobilized by fear and think the worst thing has happened to you – it hasn’t happened to you,” Alda said. “You still have things you can do. I’m taking boxing lessons three times a week. I do singles tennis a couple of times a week. I march to Sousa music because marching to music is good for Parkinson’s.”

After M*A*S*H, Alan Alda Continued His Emmy-Winning Ways

Alda always has been this way. There are multi-dimensions to the actor who portrayed Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H from 1972-83. He won five Emmys for his work on M*A*S*H, including one for directing.

But Alda’s fabulous career didn’t stop with M*A*S*H. He won an Emmy for best supporting actor for portraying U.S. Sen. Arnold Vinick on West Wing. And six years ago, he earned his 34th Emmy nomination for a guest-starring role on The Blacklist.

Alda is 85. He’s still incredibly active, even with a Parkinson’s diagnosis. The former M*A*S*H star always has been interested in science. He said he’s approaching his disease as a “terrific puzzle to solve.”

In 2019, he talked to United Hemispheres about a variety of topics, including his views on Parkinson’s.

Alda said: For people who are suffering badly from the disease, much worse than I am, it might sound like I’m taking it too lightly, but at this stage, for me, it’s a terrific puzzle to try to solve. How can I accomplish ordinary tasks more easily? Tying my shoes, buttoning my shirt, keeping my voice in shape.

“You have to have the strength to attack it. You can’t just fold up and say, “Well, that’s it.” [Michael J. Fox] has been hit hard by it, and he still carries on in his career. It was reassuring to share similar stories. I spend a lot of time doing things to increase my motor ability, like boxing and juggling.”

Outsider.com