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Billy Connolly

Billy Connolly

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Billy Connolly
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<tr><td style="text-align:left;">Birth name</td><td>William "Billy" Connolly</td></tr>

Born November 24 1942 (age 74)
Glasgow, Scotland
Spouse(s) Pamela Stephenson

William "Billy" Connolly, CBE, (born 24 November, 1942) is a comedian, musician, presenter, and actor. He is sometimes known, especially in his native Scotland, by the nickname "The Big Yin" ("The Big One", a reference to his six-foot height). His humour and songs were often controversial, both for being somewhat vulgar, and by being very critical towards respected institutions.


[edit] Background

[edit] Birth and formative years

Billy Connolly was born at 65 Dover Street ("on the linoleum, three floors up") in Glasgow, Scotland, to Mary and William Connolly, the son of an Irish immigrant. In 1946, with their son barely four years old, Connolly's mother abandoned his sister and him, while his father was away for the war. He and his sister, Florence ("Flo"), were then looked after by two aunts, Margaret and Mona, his father's sisters.

Connolly was brought up in the Anderston, and later Partick, districts of Glasgow. He attended St. Peter's Primary School in Glasgow and St. Gerard's Secondary School in Govan. At the age of 12, he decided he wanted to become a comedian but felt he didn't fit the mould; he felt he needed to become more "windswept and interesting". Instead, at the age of 15, he left school and became a welder in a Glasgow shipyard. Around the same time he joined the Territorial Army's Parachute Regiment. At the medical, the doctor noted to him, "You're not very big downstairs, are you?", to which Connolly replied, "I thought we were only going to fight them."

[edit] 1960s

In 1965, after he had completed a five-year apprenticeship as a welder, Connolly accepted a ten-week job building an oil rig in Nigeria. Upon his return to Scotland, he focused on being a folk singer.

On 27 June, 1969, a 26-year-old Connolly married his first wife, Iris Pressagh. In December of that year, his first child, Jamie, was born. He has four more children, all girls — one (Cara, b. 1973) with Iris, and three with his second wife, Pamela: Daisy (December 31, 1983), Amy (July 7, 1986), and Scarlett (July 28, 1988).

[edit] 1970s

Connolly's biggest break came when he appeared on the BBC's Parkinson talk show in 1975 and told an off-colour joke about a man who'd murdered his wife and buried her bottom-up so he'd have somewhere to park his bike. He became a close friend of the host, Michael Parkinson, and now holds the joint record (along with Kenneth Williams) for appearances on the programme, having been a guest on eight occasions. He later said, "That programme changed my entire life." Parkinson, in the documentary Billy Connolly: Erect for 30 Years, states that people to this day still remember Connolly telling the punchline to the bike joke decades after the fact.

In 1976, Connolly opened for Elton John on the latter's US tour. "In Washington, some guy threw a pipe and it hit me right between my eyes," he told Michael Parkinson two years later. "It wasn't my audience. They made me feel about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit."

[edit] 1980s

In 1985, he divorced from his wife of sixteen years (they had separated four years earlier). He was awarded custody of their two children. That same year, he recorded An Audience With... which was broadcast in front of a celebrity audience on ITV. The uncut, uncensored version was subsequently released on video. In July of '85 he once again opened for Elton John at the Wembley leg of Live Aid.

1986 saw him visit Mozambique to record a documentary for Comic Relief. He also featured in the charity's inaugural live stage show, both as a stand-up and as a willing 'victim' in his partner Pamela Stephenson's act of sawing a man in half to create two dwarves.

Connolly completed his first world tour in 1987, including six nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which resulted in the Billy and Albert video.

When the Fox Network aired Freedomfest: Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Celebration in 1988, Connolly was still virtually unknown in the States, but his performance drew attention, particularly from producers, and interest in him grew.

In 1989, Connolly's father died after a stroke, his eighth. His mother died only four years later. On December 20, 1989, in Fiji, Connolly married Stephenson, the New Zealand-born comic whom he'd met when appearing as a guest star in an episode of the BBC sketch show Not The Nine O'Clock News, a series on which she was one of four regular performers. He had been living with her since 1981. "Marriage to Pam didn't change me, it saved me," he later said. "I was going to die. I was on a downwards spiral and enjoying every second of it. Not only was I dying, but I was looking forward to it."

It was also in 1989 that Connolly shaved off his trademark beard for a film role, and he would remain clean-shaven for numerous years to come.

[edit] 1990s

Although Connolly had performed in North America as early as the 1970s, and had appeared in several movies that played in American theatres, he nonetheless remained relatively unknown until 1990 when he was featured in the HBO special Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Connolly in Performance, produced by New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music. Goldberg introduced Connolly, and his performance has been cited as the moment that officially launched his career in the States. Soon after, Connolly succeeded Howard Hesseman as the star of the sitcom Head of the Class for the 1990-1991 season, but the series was cancelled during his tenure.

The following year saw Connolly and Stephenson move to Los Angeles, and the family won green cards in the Morrison Visa Lottery. In 1991, Connolly received his first (and, to date, only) leading television role as the star of Billy, another sitcom and a spinoff of Head of the Class. It lasted only a half season.

In early January 1994, Connolly began a 40-date World Tour of Scotland, which would be broadcast by the BBC later in the year as a six-part series. It was so well received that the BBC signed him up to do a similar tour two years later, this time in Australia. The eight-part series followed Connolly on his custom-made Harley Davidson trike [1].

Also in 1996, Connolly recorded a BBC special, entitled A Scot in the Arctic, in which he spends a week by himself in the Arctic Circle. A notable feature of these shows is that he strips naked in one scene in each of them, usually in some remote wilderness area where no one is likely to complain, although for Comic Relief he once danced naked around Piccadilly Circus.

In November of 1998, Connolly was the subject of a two-hour retrospective entitled Billy Connolly: Erect for 30 Years, which included tributes from Dame Judi Dench, Sean Connery, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Eddie Izzard. The special was released on DVD in North America in 2004.

The following year, Connolly undertook a four-month, 59-date sellout tour of Australia and New Zealand. Later in the year, he completed a five-week, 25-date sellout run at London's Hammersmith Apollo. Not content, in 2000 he travelled to Canada for two weeks on a 13-date tour.

[edit] 2000s

In 2001, Connolly completed the third in his "World Tour" BBC series, this time of England, Ireland and Wales, which began in Dublin and ended in Plymouth. It was broadcast the following year.

Also in 2001, Pamela Stephenson's biography of her husband, Billy, was published. It outlines his career and life, including the sexual abuse by his father that lasted from his tenth to his fourteenth years. Much of the book is about Connolly the celebrity but the account of his early years provides a context for his humour and point of view. A follow-up, Bravemouth, was published in 2003.

Connolly himself is credited with writing several books, including Billy Connolly (late 1970s) and Gullible's Travels (early 1980s), both based upon his stage act, as well as books based upon some of his "World Tour" television series. Connolly, however, has stated that his comedy does not work on the printed page.

A fourth BBC series, World Tour of New Zealand, was filmed in 2004 and aired that winter. Also in his 63rd year, Connolly performed two sold-out benefit concerts at the Oxford New Theatre in memory of Malcolm Kingsworth, who for twenty-five years was Connolly's tour manager and sound engineer.

In October 2004, during an 18-night stint at London's Hammersmith Apollo, the comedian was criticised for making jokes about the hostage Kenneth Bigley [2]. Shortly after Connolly joked about the future beheading of the hostage, Bigley was beheaded in Iraq. Connolly still strongly denies that the incident ever happened.

However, despite the bad press, in January 2005, Connolly came 8th in The Comedian's Comedian, a poll voted for by fellow comedians and comedy insider and embarked on a major UK tour with an impressive 15 sold-out nights in Glasgow.

Also in 2005, Connolly and Stephenson announced they were returning to live in the former's native land after living in Hollywood for fourteen years. They purchased a 120-foot yacht with the profits from their house-sale, and now split the year between Malta and an estate in Aberdeenshire.

Later in the year, Connolly topped Channel Five's poll of "Britain's Favourite Comedian" ahead of the likes of John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, Dawn French, and Peter Cook.

During the months of May and June of 2006, Connolly performed a five-week stand at the 37 Arts Theater in New York City as part of his "Too Old To Die Young" tour [3], [4].

He played the lead zombie in the Canadian movie Fido.

[edit] Career

[edit] Folk music

In 1965, together with Tam Harvey, Connolly started a group called the Humblebums. At their first gig, Connolly introduced them both to the audience by saying, "My name's Billy Connolly, and I'm humble. This is Tam Harvey, he's a bum." The band would later include Gerry Rafferty. Connolly sang, played banjo and guitar, and entertained the audience with his humorous introductions to the songs.

A younger Connolly

In his World Tour of Scotland, Connolly reveals that at a trailer show during the Edinburgh Festival, the Humblebums took to the stage just before the late Yehudi Menuhin.

The trio broke up in 1971, at which point Connolly went solo. His first solo album in 1972, Billy Connolly Live! on Transatlantic Records, features Connolly as a singer, songwriter, and musician.

His early albums were a mixture of comedy performances with comedic and serious musical interludes. Among his best known musical performances were "The Welly Boot Song", a comical ode to the working class which became his theme song for several years; "In the Brownies", a parody of the Village People classics "Y.M.C.A." and "In the Navy" (for which Connolly filmed a music video); "Two Little Boys in Blue", a tongue-in-cheek indictment of police brutality done to the tune of Rolf Harris' "Two Little Boys"; and the ballad "I Wish I Was in Glasgow" which Connolly would later perform on a guest appearance on the 1990s American sitcom Pearl (which starred Rhea Perlman). He also performed the occasional Humblebums-era song such as "Oh, No!" as well as straightforward covers such as a version of Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" which was included on his Riotous Assembly album.

In November 1975, his spoof of the Tammy Wynette song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" had a one-week spell as the UK's No. 1 single. Wynette's original was about parents spelling out words of an impending marital split to avoid traumatizing their young child. Connolly's version "D.I.V.O.R.C.E.", on the other hand, played off of the fact that many dog owners use the same tactic when they do not wish their pet to become upset about an impending trip to the veterinarian. His song is about a couple whose marriage is ruined by a bad vet visit (spelling out "W.O.R.M." or "Q.U.A.R.A.N.T.I.N.E.", for example.)

His song "No Chance" was a parody of J.J. Barrie's "No Charge".

In 1985 he sang the theme song to Supergran, which was released as a single and in 1996 he performed a cover of Ralph McTell's In The Dreamtime as the theme to his World Tour of Australia. By the late 1980s, Connolly had all but dropped the music from his act, though he still records the occasional musical performance. In 1998 he covered The Beatles' "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" on the George Martin tribute, In My Life and he also recorded a rewritten version of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket" entitled "The Evil Scotsman". Most recently, he sang a song during the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Connolly is among the artists featured on Banjoman, a tribute to American folk musician Derroll Adams, released in 2002. He plays one song, "The Rock".

[edit] Stand-up comedy

It is as a stand-up comedian that Connolly is best known. His observational comedy is idiosyncratic and often off-the-cuff. He talks about himself, who he is, where he's been, what he thinks and how he reacts to the world around him. He has outraged audiences, critics and, of course, the media with his free use of the word "fuck". He has used masturbation, blasphemy, defecation, flatulence, sex, his father's illness and his aunts' cruelty to entertain. By exploring these subjects with humour, Connolly has done much to strip away the taboos surrounding them. Yet he does not tell jokes in the conventional way. At the end of a concert the audience can be convulsed with laughter but few can remember a specific "funny" line.

One of Connolly's most famous comedy skits is "The Crucifixion", an early 1970s recording in which he likens Christ's Last Supper to a drunken night out in Glasgow. The recording was banned by many radio stations at the time. Around this same time, a joke told during a television talk show appearance (about a murderer and his bike) became a sensation that, reportedly, people still remember three decades after the appearance. (A transcript of the complete joke can be found here).

Billy Connolly also performed a sketch broadcast on TV, when talking about national anthems, and comparing the UK's slow tune to the lively ones of many other nations, Billy suggested that it should be replaced by the theme tune to The Archers.

Connolly's style has changed over the years to be less controversial and more observational. Including topics such as himself aging, stories about where he has been and other aspects of his life. He also exclaims "Oh, I must tell you!" and vocalises whatever thought occurs to him. Another feature is his ability to break off onto a tangent mid-topic and return to it later -- sometimes as long as an hour later.

[edit] Film actor

Connolly in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

[edit] Awards

Connolly was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Glasgow on 11 July, 2001. This particularly bemused his wife, who noted that she had studied for six years to obtain her Ph.D., whereas Billy merely had to turn up and collect his. 2003 saw him presented with a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement award and a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

On July 4, 2006, Connolly was awarded an honorary doctorate by Glasgow's Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) for his service to performing arts [5].

[edit] Quote

On one of his appearances on Parkinson, the host put it to Connolly that it was his talent that was responsible for his success. The comedian responded:

"Anyone can do what I'm doing now: all you've got to do is want it."

[edit] Trivia

While being interviewed with his wife on the Irish Late Late Show, Connolly proved how easily he forgets many great lines that other comedians could only hope to think of. The presenter was trying to get Connolly to reproduce a funny line he had read in "Bravemouth" about Connolly knowing of an organism that lives on a human eyelid that has two penises. He asked Connolly "What was it called?" to which Connolly replied "Some latin name that I can't remember". His wife then interupted "But the translation means lucky bastard, right", to which Connolly broke down in a fit of laughter. When he complemented his wife on the line, she had to remind him that it was his own original line which he had forgotten.

Connolly is a lifelong supporter of Glasgow football team, Celtic, and is often seen at their home games.

[edit] Further reading

  • Billy, Pamela Stephenson, Harper Collins, 2001. ISBN 0-000-711045-6
  • Bravemouth, Pamela Stephenson, Headline, 2003.

[edit] Filmography

Year Title






  • Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time as #73




  • Ultimate Fights from the Movies as Frankie from Crossing the Line
  • Billy Connolly: A BAFTA Tribute as Himself
  • Judi Dench: A BAFTA Tribute as Himself
  • The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch

Television Movies


  • Comic Relief: Say Pants to Poverty as Himself
  • Comic Relief Short Pants as Himself

Television Movies


Television Movies


  • Sean Connery, an Intimate Portrait as Himself
  • Sean Connery Close Up as Himself
  • Whatever Happened to... Clement and La Frenais? as Himself


Video Games





Television Movies



  • Billy as Billy MacGregor


Television Movies





Television Special



Television Movies


Television Movies


Television Movies



Television Movies



Television Movies

[edit] Television guest appearances

[edit] Discography

A partial list of recordings:

  • 1972 - Live
  • 1974 - Cop Yer Whack for This
  • 1974 - Solo Concert
  • 1975 - Get Right Intae Him!
  • 1975 - Words & Music
  • 1976 - Atlantic Bridge
  • 1977 - Billy Connolly
  • 1977 - Raw Meat for the Balcony!
  • 1979 - Riotous Assembly
  • 1981 - The Pick of Billy Connolly
  • 1983 - A Change is Good as Arrest
  • 1983 - In Concert
  • 1984 - Big Yin Double Helping
  • 1985 - Wreck on Tour
  • 1987 - Billy & Albert
  • 1991 - Live at the Odeon Hammersmith London
  • 1996 - Musical Tour of Scotland
  • 2002 - The Big Yin - Billy Connolly in Concert
  • 2003 - Transatlantic Years
  • 2005 - Billy Connolly's Musical Tour of New Zealand
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[edit] External links

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Billy Connolly

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