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Also Known As: William Connolly Jr. Died:
Born: November 24, 1942 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: United Kingdom Profession: comedian, actor, singer, playwright, musician (banjo player), delivery boy, welder, oil rig worker

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Famous in the United Kingdom as a musician and groundbreaking stand-up comic since the 1970s, Scottish entertainer Billy Connolly did not hit the American radar until he was showcased on "Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Connolly in Performance" (HBO, 1990). He spent a season as Howard Hesseman's replacement on the sitcom "Head of the Class" (ABC, 1986-1991) before he was given his own short-lived series, "Billy" (ABC, 1991-92), while at the same time, touring relentlessly, charming audiences in the British Isles, Australia and New Zealand - all locations where he made a series of successful tour documentaries for the BBC. His boisterous, animated physical style and off-the-cuff vulgarity eventually caught on with American audiences and he toured the United States more regularly, becoming a familiar sight on late night talk shows. As an actor, Connolly revealed a dramatic side with his BAFTA-nominated performance as a confidante of Queen Elizabeth in "Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown" (1997), and also had memorable character roles in such diverse fare as "The Last Samurai" (2003), "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004) and "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" (2008). Seemingly able to do it all and...

Famous in the United Kingdom as a musician and groundbreaking stand-up comic since the 1970s, Scottish entertainer Billy Connolly did not hit the American radar until he was showcased on "Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Connolly in Performance" (HBO, 1990). He spent a season as Howard Hesseman's replacement on the sitcom "Head of the Class" (ABC, 1986-1991) before he was given his own short-lived series, "Billy" (ABC, 1991-92), while at the same time, touring relentlessly, charming audiences in the British Isles, Australia and New Zealand - all locations where he made a series of successful tour documentaries for the BBC. His boisterous, animated physical style and off-the-cuff vulgarity eventually caught on with American audiences and he toured the United States more regularly, becoming a familiar sight on late night talk shows. As an actor, Connolly revealed a dramatic side with his BAFTA-nominated performance as a confidante of Queen Elizabeth in "Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown" (1997), and also had memorable character roles in such diverse fare as "The Last Samurai" (2003), "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004) and "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" (2008). Seemingly able to do it all and succeed, the multi-talented Connolly continued his long and varied career well into the 21st century.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 24, 1942, Connolly suffered family discord at four years old when his parents, William and Mary, divorced. As a result, Connolly and his younger sister, Florence, were raised by an abusive father and two aunts in a poor, unhappy home. By the age of 13, Connolly knew he wanted to be an entertainer, but he was torn between his love of American country music records and his admiration for the comedians at the local variety show. Music ended up being Connolly's first pursuit, but it was nearly a decade before he made a name. He dropped out of school at 15, then worked as a delivery boy before taking a five-year apprenticeship as a shipyard welder. He spent a brief tour building an oil rig off the coast of Nigeria, after which he moved to London in time to join the booming folk rock scene as a banjo and guitar player. He co-formed the folk group, The Humblebums, along with future pop star Gerry Rafferty, and while playing around local clubs, Connolly's between-song banter proved to be a hit with audiences which he parlayed it into a sideline in standup comedy.

Audiences had not heard anything like Connolly when he began making a name for himself as a comic in the late 1960s. His was a modern new perspective, with long hair and a working class Scottish accent at a time when the only comic voices on television and radio were university-educated Brits. Inspired by the bawdy humor of his ship-working colleagues, Connolly strove to be like funny "ordinary guys," whom he found entertaining, rather than tell standard jokes as a detached comic. To that end, he focused on observational humor that discussed the absurd and uncomfortable in everyday life, with a bit of an obsession for sophomoric bathroom humor. Connolly went solo as a musician, releasing Billy Connolly Live! in 1972 and performing an original musical play based on his time at the shipyard, "The Great Northern Welly Boot Show," at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. After "Welly Boot" opened to rave reviews in London, Connolly scored a number one hit in the U.K. in 1975 with a parody version of Tammy Wynette's country classic "D.I.V.O.R.C.E." A tour of his comedy and music hybrid act was turned into the film "Big Banana Feet" (1975), which was followed by a famously controversial appearance on the English interview show "Parkinson" (BBC) that helped turn Connolly into a star.

Connolly was tapped to perform his stand-up act on Elton John's 1976 American concert tour, after which he returned to the U.K. to launch a three-month tour throughout Britain, "The Billy Connolly Extravaganza." In 1977, Connolly's first non-musical play, "An' Me Wi' a Bad Leg," debuted in London to a sold-out run at the Royal Court Theater. The following year, the ever-evolving artist appeared in a Scottish Opera production of "Die Fledermaus," then had his play, "The Red Runner," performed to packed houses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1979. Connolly went on to appear in the Amnesty International music and comedy fundraiser "The Secret Policeman's Ball," which put the working class Scotsman alongside revered British comic icons as John Cleese and Peter Cook, confirming his status as a top British talent. The subsequent concert, "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" (1982), achieved cult status with British music and comedy fans in the United States, laying the groundwork for Connolly's eventual breakthrough to American audiences. In 1982, his ninth album, Pick of Billy Connolly, went gold almost immediately, and by the mid-1980s, the well-known stage act was appearing in British film productions and making guest appearances on television.

When the Fox network aired "Freedomfest: Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Celebration" (1988), Connolly was a virtual unknown in the United States. But his performance caught the attention of producers, who brought him to the States in 1990 to appear in "Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Connolly in Performance," a special produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Connolly was subsequently cast in a television adaptation of the film "Dead Poets Society" (1989). But when the pilot went unsold, he was instead cast as a teacher on the ABC sitcom "Head of the Class" after Howard Hesseman left the series. In an interesting cultural twist, Connolly - who was initially an outcast among educated British comedians because of his working-class status - was brought on the show to play an Oxford-educated teacher able to handle genius-level students. The show lasted another season to diminishing ratings amid complaints that Connolly's accent was too thick for American ears. Undaunted, Connolly relocated his family to Los Angeles, intent on breaking into the U.S. market. He headlined his own HBO special "Billy Connolly: Pale Blue Scottish Person" (1991) and followed with the short-lived ABC sitcom "Billy" (1991-92), again playing a teacher - this time, a college instructor who marries a student (Mary Springer) to remain in America.

After the demise of his short-lived sitcom, Connolly broke into American films with roles in the Robert Redford/Demi Moore drama "Indecent Proposal" (1993) and in Disney's animated hit "Pocahontas" (1995). In between both films, he undertook a 40-date stand-up comedy tour of Scotland which was filmed by the BBC and aired as a six-part series "World Tour of Scotland" (1994). In 1996, the network sent Connolly to shoot "A Scot in the Arctic" (1996) and "Billy Connolly's World Tour of Australia," before he triumphed as the hunting servant who brings Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) out of her depression after the death of Prince Albert in "Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown" (1997). With the film's rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, Connolly had finally arrived as an actor, and had a BAFTA Award to prove it. Connolly returned to American film with a hilariously bawdy role as a horny tennis pro aboard a luxury cruise liner in Stanley Tucci's ensemble comedy "The Impostors" (1998) and relived his early years in music playing a roadie in the British comedy "Still Crazy" (1998). The comic then sold out a 59-date tour of Australia in New Zealand, as well as a solid 25-date run at London's Hammersmith Apollo Theater. He rounded out the millennium with the British thriller "The Debt Collector" (1999), then entered the next century alongside Sharon Stone in the popular European theatrical release "Beautiful Joe" (2000), playing a florist unwittingly mixed up in a mob heist.

Back in his native land, he filmed another BBC tour series, this time performing in England, Ireland and Wales, before returning to American film with a highly visible role opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in "White Oleander" (2003). His film profile continued to rise with "Timeline" (2003), director Richard Donner's lackluster adaptation of the Michael Crichton bestseller. After a more winning turn as Tom Cruise's loyal sergeant in "The Last Samurai," Connolly had a great supporting role in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," adapted from the popular series of children's books, then hit the road again to tour New Zealand and film another successful series for the BBC. In 2006, the unstoppable 63-year-old unveiled a new stage show, "Too Old to Die Young," which was also given a five-week run in New York. Back on the big screen, Connolly gave a strong dramatic performance as a disturbed Catholic priest in the otherwise disappointing sequel, "The X Files: I Want to Believe" (2008). After reprising Noah "Il Duce" MacManus for the long-in-the-making sequel, "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" (2009), Connolly was the King of Lilliput in the poorly reviewed adaptation of "Gulliver's Travels" (2010), starring Jack Black as the light-hearted Lemuel Gulliver. He went on to voice King Fergus in the animated hit "Brave" (2012), and was one of four retired opera singers who revive both Verdi and old rivalries in the British-made dramedy, "Quartet" (2012), co-starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Brave (2012)
3.
5.
 Open Season 2 (2009)
7.
 Man Who Sued God, The (2007) Steve Myers
8.
 OPEN SEASON (2006)
9.
 Fido (2006)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised by his aunts (paternal) when his parents' marriage ended
1957:
Dropped out of school at age fifteen
1960:
Began five-year apprenticeship as a welder at the Glasgow shipyards
:
Joined the Parachute regiment of the Territorial Army
1965:
Formed the two-man folk group The Humblebums with Tam Harvey; later joined by Gerry Rafferty
:
Began performing comedy between songs
1971:
Disbanded The Humblebums; began solo career
1972:
Co-wrote (with Tom Buchan) the musical play "The Great Northern Welly Boat Show"; won praise at the Edinburgh Fringe
1972:
Released first solo album <i>Billy Connolly Live!</i>
1973:
Breakthrough album, <i>Solo Concert</i>; featured one of Connolly's most famous comedy routines "The Crucifixion"
1975:
Breakthrough performance on the BBC's "Parkinson" hosted by Michael Parkinson; told a now famous joke about a man who had murdered his wife
1975:
Made TV acting debut in the BBC movie "Just Another Saturday"
1976:
Appeared in the documentary feature "Big Banana Feet" based on his comedy tour
1976:
Appeared as the opening act for Elton John's U.S. tour
1977:
Launched the U.K. tour "The Billy Connolly Extravaganza"
1977:
Scripted first play "An' Me Wi' A Bad Leg Tae"
1978:
Appeared in Scottish Opera's production of "Die Fledermaus"
1979:
Invited by producer Martin Lewis to join the cast of "The Secret Policeman's Ball"; also co-wrote screenplay
1985:
Performed at the Wembley leg of Live Aid, immediately preceding Elton John
1986:
Visited Mozambique to appear in a documentary for Comic Relief
1990:
Co-starred with Liam Neeson in the feature film "The Big Man"
1990:
Made American TV debut, playing teacher Billy MacGregor on the final season of ABC's "Head of the Class"
1990:
Featured in the HBO special "Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Connolly in Performance"; cited as the moment that officially launched his career in the States
1991:
Headlined the HBO special "Pale Blue Scottish Person"
1992:
Reprised role of Billy MacGregor for the short-lived ABC spin-off series "Billy"
1994:
Launched the 40-date "World Tour of Scotland"; later aired on BBC
1997:
Portrayed John Brown, Queen Victoria's (Judi Dench) Scottish servant in the British drama "Mrs. Brown"; earned a BAFTA nomination
1998:
Offered fine supporting turn as a gay tennis pro in Stanley Tucci's "The Impostors"
1999:
Essayed the role of Il Duce for writer-director Troy Duffy's "Boondock Saints"
2000:
Co-starred with Sharon Stone in writer-director Stephen Metcalffe's little-seen "Beautiful Joe"
2000:
Played the mad wig salesman The Scalped in director Barry Levinson's offbeat misfire "An Everlasting Piece"
2001:
Joined writer-director Chris Ver Weil's ensemble "Who is Cletis Tout?"
2002:
Cast in crucial role of Barry Kloker in "White Oleander"
2003:
Appeared as Prof. Edward Johnson in director Richard Donner's adaptation of Michael Chrichton's bestseller "Timeline"
2003:
Cast opposite Tom Cruise in Edward Zwick's "The Last Samurai"
2004:
Portrayed Uncle Monty in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," based on the best-selling children's books by Daniel Handler
2006:
Cast in the animated comedy "Open Season" with Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher
2007:
Played the title role of a domesticated zombie in the Canadian feature film "Fido"
2008:
Played Father Joseph Crissman in "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," the second feature based on the popular series
2009:
Reprised Il Duce role in "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day"
2010:
Co-starred with Jack Black in a modern-day remake of "Gulliver's Travels"
2012:
Voiced King Fergus in Disney Pixar animated feature "Brave"
2012:
Cast as Dain Ironfoot in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien and directed by Peter Jackson
2012:
Played a retired opera singer opposite Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, and Maggie Smith in "Quartet," Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

St Gerard's Secondary School: -
St Peter's Primary School: -

Notes

A friend of many of the "royals," Connolly told The Boston Globe (July 24, 1997) that when he mentioned to Prince Charles he was going to do a film version of the Queen Victoria/John Brown story, the heir to the throne (and direct descendant of Victoria) said, "How embarrassing!" to which Connolly replied, "You'll like it. It's all about passion." As for the Scottish view of John Brown, Connolly told The Boston Globe, "In Scotland, he's loved. He's looked on as 'one of our guys nailed the queen! Yes!'".

"By the time my father died [in 1989] I hadn't cleared anything up with him, despite my best efforts. I think I might have made things worse, actually. But it worked on stage. Pain and funny are so closely related. At times when I was pretending to cry on stage, I would actually cry, you know, I would get carried away in the rhythm of it and actually cry. And people in the audience would spot it, a big tear falling down my face. It was immensely painful stuff but very funny. It was a dark, dark period, though incredibly fulfilling. It felt cleansing and true. Best of all, I knew the audience had never stuff like this from a comedian. Because I had never seen stuff like this. And if I hadn't, they hadn't." --Connolly to the London Times, August 10, 1997

"F*** false modesty. I'm the biggest because I'm the best. I'm the winner in a field of one. Nobody can do what I do, and I'll do it till I die. ..." --Connolly in the London Times, August 10, 1997

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Iris Pressagh. Interior decorator. Lived together from c. 1965; married on June 27, 1969; separated in 1981; divorced in 1985.
wife:
Pamela Stephenson. Actor. Born on December 4, 1950 in New Zealand; appeared together in 1981's "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball"; lived together from 1981; married in Fiji on December 20, 1989; mother of Connolly's three youngest children; formerly married to actor Nicholas Ball; wrote biography of Connolly that was published in the UK in 2001.

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Connolly. Engineer. Divorced from Connolly's mother in 1946; died in 1989.
mother:
Mary Connolly. Hospital canteen worker. Divorced Connolly's father in 1946; remarried to William Adams; had four additional children; died c. 1993.
aunt:
Mona Connolly. Helped raise Connolly and his sister.
aunt:
Margaret Connolly. Helped raise Connolly and his sister.
sister:
Florence Connolly. Younger.
son:
Jamie Connolly. Born in December 1969; mother, Iris Pressagh; Connolly was award custody in the divorce.
daughter:
Cara Connolly. Born in 1974; mother, Iris Pressagh; Connolly was awarded custody in the divorce.
daughter:
Daisy Connolly. Born on December 31, 1983.
daughter:
Amy Connolly. Born in 1986.
daughter:
Scarlett Layla Connolly. Born c. 1988.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Billy Connolly" Pan Books
"Billy Connolly: Gullible's Travels"
"The Big Yin: The Life and Times of Billy Connolly" Orion Books
"The Funny Side of Billy Connolly" Orion Books
"Billy" HarperCollins
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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