Veteran actress Dame Barbara Windsor has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The 80-year-old former EastEnders star received the diagnosis in April 2014, but she and her husband decided to go public this week, to help other families living with the condition.
Alzheimer’s affects around 850,000 people in the UK and is the most common type of dementia. A progressive neurological disease, it impacts on multiple brain functions, including the memory.
Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, various factors are believed to increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s. These include a family history of the condition, increasing age, or a previous severe head injury.
Dame Barbara, who was made an MBE in 2000 and a Dame in 2015, was given medication to manage her condition following the initial diagnosis. Fans had been unaware she had Alzheimer’s and she had continued to act, including providing the voice for her most recent role, Mallymkun the Dormouse, in the 2016 film Alice Through the Looking Glass.
She had also returned to EastEnders in January 2016 to reprise her role of the landlady of the Queen Vic, Peggy Mitchell. Her final appearance on the BBC1 show was on 17th May 2016. The Shoreditch-born star had been a regular in the soap opera since 1994, but her character first left Albert Square in September 2010.
She won many awards for her role as the feisty pub landlady, including Best Actress at the British Soap Awards 1999 and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 awards ceremony. After her return to EastEnders in 2016, she won the TV Choice Awards’ Outstanding Contribution Award and the Inside Soap Awards’ Best Exit Award for her portrayal of Peggy Mitchell’s death.
She had already been a household name long before her appearance in EastEnders. For many viewers, Dame Barbara had been the queen of the light-hearted Carry On comedy films, appearing in nine in total, beginning with Carry On Spying in 1964. She was already an accomplished stage and screen actress prior to this, making her stage debut at the age of 13 in 1950.
She starred in some classic stage shows, such as the Broadway production of Oh What A Lovely War in 1964 and the West End production of The Threepenny Opera in 1972. She also appeared as Blonde in the timeless musical film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in 1968.
Dame Barbara’s husband, Scott Mitchell, said they had jointly made the decision to go public now with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. He told reporters they wished to be able to go out together and if something “wasn’t quite right” it would be accepted for what it was, a symptom of the Alzheimer’s, rather than being subject to media speculation.
The actress’s EastEnders co-stars have praised Dame Barbara’s bravery in making her diagnosis public. Ross Kemp, who played her on-screen son Grant Mitchell said he was “very proud of Scott and Barbara for speaking openly” about her condition. Tributes and good wishes have also poured in from fans on Twitter and other social media platforms.
The actress had first noticed she was finding it more difficult to learn her lines on EastEnders in 2009, but didn’t think much of it. By 2012, she had begun repeating stories and sentences. A brain scan later diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.
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