It’s Part II of our Celebrity Eye Facts series!
MACULAR DEGENERATION (AMD) is a deterioration or breakdown of the macula and is one of the most common causes of poor vision after age 60. The visual symptoms of AMD involve the loss of central vision (reading, recognizing faces, etc.), while peripheral vision is unaffected.
Film and stage actress, Judi Dench, (Four in the Morning 1965, Golden Eye 1995, Die Another Day 2002, Skyfall 2012, Philomena 2014) has been battling macular degeneration for years. She prefers that her scripts are read to her. In true optimistic style she explained to the Hollywood Reporter that dealing with the condition is difficult but she chooses not to dwell on the things she can no longer do. Comedic actor, Don Knotts, also lived with this disease (The Andy Griffith Show 1960, Three’s Company 1977-1984, Cannonball Run II 1984, Pleasantville 1998, Chicken Little 2005, Air Buddies 2006). Bob Hope, comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, author, and athlete who starred in countless movies and TV shows also managed to continue his career while battling this condition. He made it a point to give back and entertain the troops with his USO shows spanning 1941-1991. A consummate performer, he worked into his early 90s and his last appearance was in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Normandy D Day. Dolores, his wife, accompanied him to England and they both performed. He died in 2003 at the age of 100.
Canadian cross-country skier and biathlete, Brian McKeever, has earned 10 Paralympic medals in three Games, including seven gold. He has competed at every world championship since 2005 and won nine titles in addition to 21 World Cup wins. He was diagnosed at age 19 and has attained the height of his profession, looking up to fellow Olympian, Maria Runyan (U.S. long distance runner) who overcame the same condition to compete. Both athletes were able to work within the confimes of their condition to achieve greatness. Ernest Borgnine, film and television actor whose career spanned more than six decades. He was an unconventional lead in many films of the 1950s, (McHale’s Navy 1962-1966, The Dirty Dozen 1967, The Posseidon Adventure 1972, Red 2010, The Man Who Shook The Hand Of Vincente Fernandez 2012). Despite their declining vision, these five celebrities rose to the pinnacle of their respective professions.
When macular degeneration touches an individual it is certainly a blow, but when it effects an artist it is quite traumatic on many levels. The eyes are the windows through which an artist receives all their inspiration. As their vision continues to decline the artist finds themselves switching media to compensate for their compromised vision, as some formats are more forgiving than others. Case in point, Georgia O’ Keefe, one of the most famous painters in American art history, and was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1972 at which time she stopped oil painting but continued working in pencil and charcoal until 1984. Images in her collection include abstractions, large-scale depictions of flowers, leaves, rocks, shells, bones and other natural forms, New York cityscapes and paintings of the unusual shapes and colors of architectural and landscape forms of northern New Mexico.
Like O’Keefe, Edgar Degas, went through the process of finding his niche as he continued to experience vision loss. Read this insightful excerpt from the site, Art, Vision, & the Disordered Eye:
“Degas a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings was also inflicted with macular degeneration. He is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. Degas’ visual decline began at age 36, shortly after enlisting in the National Guard. Degas found bright lights intolerable and was forced to work indoors in a controlled environment. The theatre was conducive to his glare problems, and his paintings of the ballet and the opera remain his most famous works. Degas never specifically described the impact of his vision on his art. As his eyes worsened, Degas changed media from oils to pastels, which are looser and easier to work with, dry slowly, and require less precision. Difficulties in color differentiation may have contributed to the bold coloration of Degas’ later works. A decline in contrast sensitivity and acuity is demonstrated in the progressively wider strokes evident in his later works. His condition also accounted for his move into sculpture, printmaking, and photography. While some of the changes in his work may be attributable to stylistic changes and personal development, his changing vision almost certainly played a role. It is possible that some of Degas’ greatness as an artist is attributable to his visual loss. Renoir, for example, said of Degas: ‘Had he died at 50, he would have been remembered as a good, competent artist, nothing more.’”