You know Chris Rock, right? Funny guy, not afraid to be outspoken, string of hit movies under his belt? Well, maybe you don’t know him as well as you think you do. In fact, even Rock himself was unaware of the condition he’d had for years – one that he only learned of in his mid-50s. So, the star finally got some serious help for the first time. And it appears that the diagnosis has had life-altering effects for the famous joker.
If Rock had known about his condition earlier, though, he’d probably have incorporated it into his act. The comedian is known for his no-holds-barred approach, after all, and his willingness to talk frankly about issues such as race and gender. He even uses his past trials and traumas as inspiration for his material.
And while Rock’s life hasn’t always been easy, he’s still been able to turn his experiences into comedy gold. However, in 2020 the entertainer revealed a diagnosis that had turned his world upside down. The overwhelming news even forced Rock to address some of the emotional baggage that he’d been carrying with him since childhood.
Rock was a fairly typical kid, showing little sign that he’d one day grow up to become one of the most famous comedians on the planet. He was actually born in Andrews, South Carolina, although his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, when he was just a toddler. And it was in NYC – specifically Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights – that the future star started off life.
Rock wasn’t alone, of course. There were his parents, Rose and Julius, and his seven brothers and sisters as well as numerous other foster children over the years. Rock’s mother, in particular, was eager to help give a step up to underprivileged kids and happily did so – in spite of the financial pressure this ultimately put on the household.
Rose and Julius naturally wanted their son to flourish in life, too. That meant he was ultimately enrolled at the respected Stuyvesant High School, which boasts plenty of high-achieving alumni. But even though Rock was obviously smart, his early educational experiences were far from happy. Was this perhaps connected to something deeper going on with Rock himself?
Well, it appeared not at this stage. In a 1999 interview with Ebony magazine, Rock said that his time at school was like being in “Vietnam.” He also claimed that he was too busy trying to avoid a beating to really apply himself in class. And, eventually, things got so bad that Rock’s mom and dad pulled him out of high school at 17, with Rose later admitting that she’d feared for her son’s life.
So, even before his life-changing diagnosis, Rock was no stranger to hardship. He would eventually drop out of high school altogether, though he did go on to earn his GED. Still, during his hardest times of being bullied, Rock was always able to find an escape through comedy.
Rock actually wasn’t the class clown you may have expected. Instead, he would be up past bedtime so that he could tune into The Tonight Show. The funnyman told Ebony, “Especially when Bill Cosby used to host… because he’d do his monologue and he’d… smoke when he did it… He used to smoke a cigar… He was so cool. He was a mack daddy back then.”
And Rock soon decided to follow the comedy path himself. Alongside working menial jobs at McDonald’s and Red Lobster, he started gigging at New York comedy venues while still just a teen. But success didn’t come overnight, nor did riches. The fledgling comedian earned just $5 for his first paid set at a Catch a Rising Star club.
It was lucky, then, that Eddie Murphy saw Rock when he did. Yes, the legendary entertainer took the young talent under his wing after watching him on stage. Murphy then helped Rock to land a spot on the 1987 HBO special Uptown Comedy Express. That same year, Rock appeared alongside his mentor in a small role in Beverly Hills Cop II.
And Rock’s career only rose further when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1990. This was despite the fact that, just a year prior, he’d considered quitting comedy altogether. Tragically, his dad had died following a ruptured ulcer, and the comedian had felt that his job was failing to support his grieving family.
Rock later told Ebony, “The only time I ever wanted to give [comedy] up is when my dad died, and I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t making enough money as a stand-up to help my family.” He persevered, though, and that new gig on Saturday Night Live gave the up-and-coming star the opportunity to bring his work to a larger audience.
But SNL failed to be the career-defining opportunity Rock may have imagined. For one, he saw himself as limited to portraying only token black characters on the show. He also stood in the wings as his SNL co-stars earned names for themselves as comedic talents.
So, Rock left SNL after three seasons for sketch show In Living Color – which unfortunately not long after got the ax. It was then that the funnyman decided he’d have to carve out his own path if he wanted to make it in comedy. That’s something, we can all agree, takes courage.
First, Rock created and starred in the hip-hop pastiche CB4, which luckily proved a box-office hit. Then his career really took off after a series of HBO specials that brought his original material to a whole new audience. The second of these, Chris Rock: Bring the Pain, aired in 1996 and won him two Emmy awards. Whatever condition Rock had, then, didn’t appear to be interfering with his talent.
And with the help of his TV specials, Rock climbed up the comedy ladder. While his work often dealt with issues of race in America, he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at anyone. This candid approach won him a legion of fans, too, although it wasn’t without controversy.
Rock had previously honed his stand-up skills in his Brooklyn basement, which he’d filled with mirrors so that he could see himself at every angle. He was reportedly eager to be the best in the business, after all. But it seems that the funnyman’s perfectly slick and confident on-stage demeanor belied his well-hidden insecurities.
In September 2020 Rock told The Hollywood Reporter, “I had this great combination of big ego and low self-esteem. And the ego gets you out on stage, but the low self-esteem is the thing that makes you practice so much because you don’t believe in yourself at all.”
Still, whatever Rock was doing seemed to work. It led him to his own TV series – rather unimaginatively titled The Chris Rock Show – and a burgeoning big-screen career. You may even remember him from his memorable turns in Beverly Hills Ninja, Dogma and Nurse Betty.
And in 2005 the entertainer won one of the biggest jobs in Hollywood: Oscars host. Rock being Rock, of course, he wasn’t afraid to cross the line on occasion. As well as aiming gags at audience members, he critiqued the Academy Awards itself, claiming that it didn’t appeal to “straight black” men. A risky thing to say, but probably true.
Despite making a stir with his first Oscars outing, Rock returned to host the awards again in 2016. And once more, he didn’t shy away from delicate matters, telling the audience, “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed… That’s how Hollywood is, but things are changing.”
That second stint at the Oscars topped off yet another successful decade for Rock. And he’s still going strong today. Fans may know that the comedian bagged the lead in the fourth season of Fargo. He’s also the narrator of the 2020 adaptation of Roald Dahl classic The Witches. Not bad by anyone’s standards.
Still, away from the spotlight, Rock had been dealing with his life-changing diagnosis. It’s a subject that the famously candid entertainer eventually opened up about in a tell-all interview with The Hollywood Reporter. There, he revealed that he had even gone into therapy after learning of his condition.
The comedian had been led to investigate the issue after a friend suggested to him that he may have Asperger’s syndrome. The neurodevelopmental disorder is a form of autism that can hinder communication skills and social interaction. People with Asperger’s can also fixate on certain subjects or interests and repeat certain behaviors.
So, confronted with that possibility, Rock decided to do some digging. He underwent hours of medical analysis until he finally discovered that he didn’t have Asperger’s. Instead, he was told that he had been going through life with nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD). NVLD is known to make learning visual-spatial and motor skills that little bit harder. Folks with the condition can often struggle socially, too.
That being said, the way that NVLD presents itself can differ in each individual. For Rock, the disorder caused difficulty with nonverbal cues, which can make everyday life a lot trickier. As the comedian explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “All I understand are the words.”
Another way that NVLD appeared to affect Rock was in his tendency to take things at face value. And, apparently, the star claimed that he could also be inflexible in his world view at times. He noted, “By the way, all of those things are really great for writing jokes. They’re just not great for one-on-one relationships.”
In recent years, the comedian has had to deal with one relationship issue in an all-too-public way. He was previously married to Malaak Compton, the mother of his two daughters, Lola and Zahra. Almost 20 years after the couple tied the knot, however, Rock filed for divorce, confessing to having been unfaithful in the process.
But there was a silver lining: Rock’s divorce from Compton became the source material for packed-out shows as well as a highly lucrative Netflix special. He even joked that he was accepting less-than-desirable jobs in order to keep up with his alimony payments. In real life, Rock did line up a bunch of new projects, including a book and a Super Bowl commercial.
In his interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the comedian didn’t suggest that his then-undiagnosed NVLD had played a part in his divorce. He did however claim that it had made some interactions more awkward – particularly when he encountered people who didn’t seem to like him. And after Rock had received his diagnosis, he was finally able to make more sense of these incidents.
Rock explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “I’d always just chalked it up to being famous. Any time someone would respond to me in a negative way, I’d think, ‘Whatever, they’re responding to something that has to do with who they think I am.’ Now, I’m realizing it was me. A lot of it was me.”
So, to make sense of his NVLD diagnosis and the impact that it’s had on his life, Rock sought therapy. He began to see not one but two professionals, spending seven hours each week in their company. And as well as helping him to understand his limitations, the sessions have allowed the entertainer to unpick his childhood trauma.
Throughout his career, Rock has often used his formative experiences – including the racial abuse he endured – as material for his comedy. In fact, his sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, which ran from 2005 to 2009, took its cues from his teenage years and education in an all-white school in 1980s New York.
But because Rock was able to joke about hard times, he believed that he was over them. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “I thought I was actually dealing with it, and the reality is I never dealt with it. The reality was the pain and the fear that that brought me. I was experiencing it every day.” More than a few of us can relate to that.
So, while it was the comedian’s NVLD diagnosis that ultimately pushed him into therapy, the experience appears to also be helping him deal with underlying issues that he’s carried through life. Reflecting on his childhood bullies, Rock said, “I’m not belittling today’s youth, but I wish somebody had sent me a bad text when I was a kid. These motherf**kers were trying to kill me.”
Revealing some of the more painful memories from his school days, Rock told The Hollywood Reporter that he had once had to face signs reading “N***** Go Home.” He also recalled regular beatings and spoke of how classmates had thrown balloons filled with urine at his head.
But despite the abuse he encountered, Rock was not one to run home in tears. Plus, he said, his mom and dad were “from the suck-it-up school.” Rock went on, “No matter what I was going through, it paled in comparison to what my mom or my dad went through. So, there wasn’t a lot of dealing with it.”
The star even claimed that he had once feared failing in his career as well as his personal life. Now, though, he has decided that he just can’t keep up with the pressure of aspiring to perfection. He explained to The Hollywood Reporter , “[That expectation] just depletes you. I had to let it go. I was just dying, dude.”
Now in his mid-50s, Rock is finally putting his well-being above all else. Aside from taking care of his mental health at therapy, he’s been looking after his body with a new fitness regimen that includes learning to swim. Yes, he’d never done it before. And with a little self-care, Rock feels more creative than ever. Perhaps the best is yet to come for the much-loved comedian.
Alan Alda may have many career highlights ahead of him, too, even though he’s now firmly into his 80s. The actor already possesses an enviable resume, of course, after many, many years in show business. And just like Rock, Alda keeps on despite a serious medical condition that, by any measure, is not easy to ensure.
Alan has been acting for six long decades. And while he may be a familiar face to most of us, for a while there was something that his many fans didn’t know about the screen legend. It appears, in fact, that the M*A*S*H star had been hiding a life-changing diagnosis. But after more than five years of living with his illness, Alda spoke out about how he’s coped.
Quite simply, Alda is arguably one of America’s most beloved actors. And the award-winning TV star is perhaps most famous for his portrayal of “Hawkeye” Pierce – the much-loved army captain from the war comedy-drama M*A*S*H.
But Alda has achieved many great things over the course of his 60-year career. Aside from M*A*S*H, he has starred in shows such as The West Wing and E.R. as well as having hosted Scientific American Frontiers. And that’s not even to mention his considerable success on the big screen.
Some of Alda’s most notable film roles include that of George Peters in 1978’s Same Time, Next Year and Lester in Woody Allen’s 1989 movie Crimes and Misdemeanors. In 1981 he even turned his hand to directing by helming romcom The Four Seasons, in which he also acted.
And the New Jersey resident’s work has earned him some substantial accolades. Alda has six Emmys to his name, for instance, as well as a further six Golden Globes – nearly all of which are for his work in M*A*S*H. In 2004 the actor also received an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Aviator.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that Alda went into acting, given his background. He was born Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo in New York City on January 28, 1936, to vaudeville performing parents. His father was Robert Alda, and it was through him that Alda received his first taste of the limelight.
In fact, showbusiness was just a part of life for Alda as he was growing up. He made his stage debut while he was still a baby and spent his formative years traveling the country with his family as part of an entertainment troupe. There were comics, strippers and showgirls, and all of them were apparently quite smitten with the youngster.
Given the eccentric circles in which he moved in as a child, Alda began to see the outside, non-entertainment world as quite boring. In March 2020 he told The Washington Post newspaper that he saw normal folk as “civilians” who couldn’t make each other laugh. Clearly, that’s where Alda stepped in.
It seems that comedy came naturally to Alda, despite the fact his childhood was marred with some difficulties. For example, he battled polio as a youngster, while his mother struggled with her mental health. Nevertheless, Alda had a talent when it came to entertaining people and would perform in sketches with his father.
Alda’s family eventually made California their home, after his father got his break in the film industry. It wasn’t until seventh grade that Alda started attending public school. And he later told The Washington Post, that his first reaction to his classmates was, “Wow, look at the size of that audience.”
But that being said, Alda admitted that his peers were not particularly a willing audience. He explained, “I did bits, impersonations, a little improvised tap dance. For some reason I didn’t understand, this made kids want to hit me.” Even so, Alda refused to give up performing.
At the age of 16, Alda first flexed his acting muscles while performing in a summer stock theater in Pennsylvania. He would go on to attend Fordham University in New York and study theater and improvisation. Later, when he was just 23, the actor made his Broadway debut. But while Alda was hitting his stride professionally, it seems that he was not as slick when it came to matters of the heart.
After Alda watched Arlene Weiss playing Mozart on her clarinet at a college party, he told The Washington Post that his opening line had been, “Hi. You were good.” But despite his underwhelming first impression, the world had plans for Alda and Weiss and the pair were reunited at a dinner a few weeks later.
The young couple cemented their bond after a cake their host had made fell off the fridge onto the kitchen floor. Unperturbed, Alda and Weiss were the only guests to grab a spoon and get stuck into the dessert. The actor told The Washington Post, “So that was it. From that time on we were almost inseparable.”
Alda and Weiss ultimately married in 1957. And with his wife by his side, Alda made the leap from Broadway to Hollywood, bagging his first film role in 1963 in a flick called Gone Are The Days. According to the actor, Weiss encouraged his dreams by never asking him to get a more steady job, even when the going was tough.
In his interview with The Washington Post, Alda said of his wife, “I was thinking the other day she’s the soul of my soul… Because I wouldn’t be who I am without her.” Together they’ve raised three daughters: Beatrice, Elizabeth and Eve. Alda and Weiss also have eight grandchildren – two of whom are reportedly eager to follow their grandfather into the acting profession.
With his successful career on stage and screen and a loving family of his own, Alda realized he was lucky. However, in 2003, he underwent emergency surgery after almost losing his life as a result of an intestinal obstruction. And he claims that his brush with death left him questioning the meaning of life.
Alda later told The Washington Post he’d concluded that the thinkers which he had studied in his college days had been right. He explained, “They said the meaning of life is the meaning you give to it.” With that in mind, he decided he had to keep busy in order to inject a sense of purpose into the time he had left.
Armed with this mantra, by mid-2018 the accomplished actor, director and dedicated family man had showed no sign of slowing down. It was then, after all, that the 82-year-old launched his Clear+Vivid podcast, which explores human interaction and communication.
In order to promote his new venture, Alda then gave a number of interviews to the press. And it was during one particular TV chat – on this occasion with CBS This Morning in July 2018 – that the actor revealed that he had been diagnosed with a life-changing disease more than three years prior.
The disease in question was Parkinson’s, a progressive disorder that affects the central nervous system. Among its many possible symptoms are involuntary tremors and stiff muscles. And, unfortunately, there’s currently no known cure for the condition.
In particular, Alda had decided to speak out about his diagnosis after noticing a tremor while watching his television interviews back. And as a result, he thought he’d take ownership of his journey and perhaps provide some hope to other Parkinson’s sufferers.
Speaking to CBS This Morning, Alda explained, “I could see my thumb twitch in some shots [on TV], and I thought, ‘It’s probably only a matter of time before somebody does a story about this from a sad point of view.’ But that’s not where I am.”
Instead, Alda said that he has lived “a full life” following his diagnosis. Revealing some of his achievements from the past three years, he added, “I’ve acted, I’ve given talks, I help at the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook [University]. [And] I started this new podcast.”
The M*A*S*H star also revealed that he had first sought a diagnosis after learning that physically performing out your dreams may be an early symptom of Parkinson’s. “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,” he explained.
Regardless of his condition, though, the actor seemingly wanted to promote an attitude of positivity. “In the very beginning [after diagnosis], [you can] be immobilized by fear and think the worst thing has happened to you,” he admitted. “[But] it hasn’t happened to you.” And Alda himself has learned how to live with his illness.
Revealing how he’s grabbed life with both hands, 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 [also] march to Sousa music because marching to music is good for Parkinson’s.”
And instead of being angry about his prognosis, Alda sees the illness as a kind of “challenge.” He added, “You’ve got to cross the street, [and] there are cars coming. How do you get across the street? You don’t just sit on the pavement and say, ‘Well, I guess I’ll never cross the street again.’ You find a way to do it.”
Alda isn’t the only actor to have spoken out about his Parkinson’s diagnosis, though. Perhaps one of the most prominent people with the disease is Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox. Fox found that he had the illness in the 1990s and has been an advocate for those living with Parkinson’s ever since.
However, during his CBS This Morning interview, Alda was eager to stress that no two experiences of Parkinson’s are exactly the same. “There are some common symptoms, but mostly everybody’s different, and each day is different from the next. One day you wake up, you think, ‘Oh, it’s over, it’s gone.’ Next day it’s back a little worse,” he explained.
And while Alda hoped that speaking out would help others, his actions weren’t entirely altruistic. By being open about his diagnosis, the actor admitted, he could therefore live without agonizing over whether someone would spot his symptoms and out him.
Then, concluding his interview with CBS This Morning, Alda said, “I’m not going to worry [about Parkinson’s.]” He added, “It’s three-and-a-half years since I had the diagnosis, and it hasn’t stopped my life at all. I’ve had a richer life than I’ve had up until now.”
And in the years since his diagnosis, Alda has continued to live life to the full, regardless of his diagnosis. His Parkinson’s has even informed his performance in the Showtime drama, Ray Donovan.In the TV series, in which Alda has starred since 2018, he plays a therapist with a more advanced form of the condition than himself.
During a 2019 appearance on the Present Company podcast, Alda explained how the creators of Ray Donovan had developed his character. He revealed, “When they realized I had Parkinson’s, they said, ‘You mind if we write that into the script…?’ But now I’m doing scenes where the character I’m playing has a worse tremor than I have, and I have to fake it.”
A year after going public with his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Alda gave another TV interview, this time with The Today Show. In it, the star revealed, “I’m good. I shake a little, but I’m good. I work out. You can hold back the progress if you do a lot of specific exercises, so I do a lot of crazy things.”
It seemed that, from what Alda was saying, he was just as active as he ever had been. Listing some of his hobbies, the actor mentioned common activities like tennis, swimming and cycling However, being a born entertainer, Alda had also turned his hand to more flamboyant activities.
That’s because Alda revealed that he spent some of his time not only juggling, but marching too. He revealed that – when it came to the latter – the works of the composer John Philip Sousa were his jam. Alda said, “I march to Sousa music… Lotta Sousa music going on all the time in my house.”
As well as keeping up with his exercises, Alda had dedicated himself to picking up some social media skills. Despite being an octogenarian, the actor has established a presence on Instagram and Twitter. And his technological know-how has apparently earned him an unexpected nickname.
That’s because Alda had become known as the oldest millennial in the world to the people he worked with. He told The Today Show, “That’s what they call me at my office because I’m very into computers and social stuff, you know, and my podcast. I’m very happy with all that stuff.”
So, given his seemingly ceaseless lust for life, Alda claimed that he felt as young as ever. And while he’s keeping busy, he doesn’t let the fact that he’s getting older bother him. He told The Washington Post, “I think of it as an acting thing. Right now I’m playing an older guy with less hair… So, that’s fine. I’ll play that part.”