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AARP Interview

Heart-to-Heart With Linda Ronstadt

The boomer songbird looks back on her storied music career — and ahead to life with the new reality of Parkinson’s disease

Linda Ronstadt Parkinson (Fabio Nosotti/Corbis)

The winner of 11 Grammys during a 40-year career, Linda Ronstadt (pictured in 1985) recently learned she has Parkinson's disease. She says she can no longer sing. — Fabio Nosotti/Corbis

En español | From her first burst of success in the 1960s as the lead singer for L.A.’s Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt has been as famous for fiercely guarding her private life as she has for the robust and glorious soprano that made her one of the supreme song interpreters of her generation.

Yet in an interview with AARP in advance of her coming memoir, Simple Dreams (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 17), Ronstadt opens up about the life-altering news she did not put in the book — she has Parkinson’s disease — and its tragic side effect: “I can’t sing a note.”

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Though her book mentions that her voice began to change at age 50, Ronstadt, now 67, had never offered a solid explanation for her 2009 retirement (the book does cryptically mention a time when she had a “still-healthy voice”).

The winner of 11 Grammys during a 40-year career that produced more than 30 albums, Ronstadt recorded her final CD (Adieu, False Heart, with Cajun musician Ann Savoy) in 2006. Three years later — on Nov. 7, 2009 — she gave what she calls her last concert at the Brady Memorial Auditorium in San Antonio.

After that, Ronstadt simply declined all invitations to do more.

In late 2012, when a friend asked her to sing on a tribute album to Jackson Browne, a close friend from her L.A. days, she wrote in an email: “I have a serious case of being 66 years old and am completely retired from singing. Of course, one is always pleased to be asked, so tell them I said thank you.”

What old friends and fans did not know is that for the past seven or eight years, Ronstadt had suffered from symptoms that suggested Parkinson’s disease. Eight months ago, a medical diagnosis confirmed it. Never one to shy from a challenge, Ronstadt faces her disease with the determination to push for more and better treatments, both for herself and for other Parkinson’s patients. (For more about Parkinson's disease, see the box on page 4.)

Ronstadt opens up about the life-altering news she did not put in her new book — she has Parkinson’s disease — and its tragic side effect: “I can’t sing a note.”

In the exchange that follows, Ronstadt assesses her career and explains how her Parkinson’s was detected.

Q: You wrote your “musical memoir,” Simple Dreams, entirely yourself. Was that difficult for you?

A: Well, I’d never written anything longer than a thank-you note before. I never kept a diary or a journal. But I’m a reader, and I can put a coherent sentence together, so I thought I could make it honest and clear.

Q: You talk in the book about your love for animals and your pet, Luna the cow.

A: Oh, Luna! Yeah, I loved her — she was such a nice old girl — but I got a tick from her, and that’s probably why I’m sick.

Next page: Diagnosed — after being ill for eight years. »

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