Country Music Memories: Ronstadt Reveals Parkinson’s Diagnosis

On Aug. 23, 2013, Linda Ronstadt announced in an interview with AARP that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and, as a result, “can’t sing a note” anymore.

Ronstadt told the publication that she had been officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s in early 2013, but had been having trouble with her voice for years before that.

“In fact, I couldn’t sing for the last five or six years I appeared onstage, but I kept trying,” she shared. “I kept thinking, ‘What if I tried singing upside down? Or standing on my head? Or while juggling?’ Maybe I’d be able to sing better then.

“So I didn’t know why I couldn’t sing — all I knew was that it was muscular, or mechanical. Then, when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I was finally given the reason,” Ronstadt added. “I now understand that no one can sing with Parkinson’s disease. No matter how hard you try.”

Ronstadt had retired from the stage in 2009, with a farewell concert in San Antonio, Texas, and turned down singing opportunities for years after that without giving a reason. She told AARP in 2012 that when she was asked to sing on a Jackson Browne tribute album, she responded with, “I have a serious case of being 66 years old and am completely retired from singing. Of course, one is always pleased to be asked, so tell them I said thank you.”

The musician went on to tell AARP that despite having symptoms for years, she didn’t go see a neurologist initially: “I had a shoulder operation, so I thought that must be why my hands were shaking,” Ronstadt said. “Parkinson’s is very hard to diagnose. So when I finally went to a neurologist and he said, ‘Oh, you have Parkinson’s disease,’ I was completely shocked. I was totally surprised. I wouldn’t have suspected that in a million, billion years.”

Ronstadt added that she wondered whether a couple of “very bad tick bites” she got in the ’80s had something to do with her diagnosis, as “they’re saying now they think there’s a relationship between tick bites and Parkinson’s disease, that a virus can switch on a gene, or cause neurodegeneration.”

In the years since, Ronstadt has continued to keep a low profile and only appeared in the public eye on her own terms. She declined to attend her 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony but released a memoir, Simple Dreams, and has done sporadic “A Conversation With Linda” events involving a multimedia presentation covering her storied career; speaking to The Arizona Republic in early 2018, Ronstadt said these engagements “get me out of the house and around the country a little bit.”

“I get a little sampling of what’s going on. And I get to tell my side of the story,” she adds. “My story was mostly told by journalists or scandal magazines or whatever. So I get to tell my side of the story, and I like that.”

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