Billy Connolly's iconic career celebrated as 'The Big Yin' turns 80

The Scots comedian has spent five decades delighting audiences on stage and screen. 

Birthday wishes are rolling in for Sir Billy Connolly as the Scottish comedian celebrates his 80th.

The Big Yin’s dynamic career, spanning five decades, is being celebrated as the famous Scotsman marks his milestone birthday.

From his captivating, idiosyncratic storytelling to some of the greatest punchlines in stand-up history, Connolly is admired across the comedy circuit, from veteran comics including Kevin Bridges to Scotland’s Comedian of the Year 2019, Marc Jennings.

“Billy Connolly was the greatest comedian I’d ever seen,” Bridges has said in the past. “He created stand-up in my opinion. He was the first guy that created the art form of a person just going on stage without any jokes, just stories and just speaking.”

Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013 and retiring from live performances in 2018, Connolly continues to thrill fans and inspire the next generation of performers.

Born in Glasgow in 1942, Connolly has credited his working class roots for the content which won him his reputation as a comedic legend.

Working in the shipyards as a boilermaker before leaving to pursue a career as a folk singer in the 1960s, his natural comedic flare quickly saw his stand-up career blossom.

By the mid-1970s Connolly’s crossover to stand-up was almost complete and, in 1975, he was invited to appear on the BBC’s premier talk show Parkinson.

He is credited with influencing and inspiring comedians around Scotland and across the globe with his natural ability to connect with audiences.

Billy Connolly at the Edinburgh Festival STV News

In a 2012 poll he was voted the UK’s “most influential comedian of all time”.

Comic Al Murray said of the star: “He’s a bit like the Beatles: everything since him is because of him and a reaction to him.”

As well has comedy, Connolly’s diverse acting career has won him the praise of audiences and critics alike.

His 2004 role as Dr Monty Montogomery in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events won him a new generation of fans which continued with his work on Disney’s 2012 Pixar animation Brave.

Billy Connolly and John MacKay on Scotland TonightSTV News

He has been named number one on the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups list on multiple occasions and, in 2012, received a BAFTA Scotland Award for Outstanding Achievement in Television and Film.

Earlier this year he was also celebrated with a prestigious BAFTA fellowship award.

In 2017, he was awarded a knighthood by Prince William at Buckingham Palace for his services to entertainment and charity.

However, his home city of Glasgow is where the comedian’s influence thrives. To mark his 75th birthday the City of Glasgow gifted him three enormous murals across in the city centre and west end.

“I thought I’d be all light-hearted on seeing them and jokey – but they’re so big – the effect on me is so profound,” he said at the time.

One of three giant murals dedicated to Connolly across Glasgow. (City Centre Mural Trial)

Connolly continues to be an inspiration to the next generation of comedy stars.

Earlier this month, he announced a new award celebrating the “Spirit of Glasgow” along with comedy festival organisers.

The Sir Billy Connolly Spirit of Glasgow Award will be the only official gong given by the Glasgow International Comedy Festival (GICF) when it takes place next spring.

An independent judging panel will consider nominations made by registered participants in the festival, which runs from March 15 to April 2.

The eventual winner will be the show, individual or group that judges feel most personifies the “spirit of Glasgow”.

Billy Connolly with staff at a Milngavie coffee shop earlier this month. Jessie Biscuit

Connolly, who lives in LA, is still a regular visitor to the city and surrounding area. He recently delighted staff at Milngavie coffee shop Jessie Biscuit after popping in for his “yearly” visit to the local spot earlier this month.

Speaking earlier this year when winning his BAFTA fellowship award, Connolly said: “I am very proud to receive this. Life is good. I haven’t been on the stage for about two years. This is kind of nice. It suits me.

“Symptom spotters among you may notice that my left is different from my right. It is just one of these things. Parkinson’s disease. I suffer badly from the disease.

“My wife puts on my clothes in the morning and takes them off at night. It is a jolly life. I have got no complaints.”

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