Billy Connolly’s intimate portrait of death was a triumph, says Jake Wallis Simons. It must be quite a task for Billy to host this show, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer in the same week last year. But he handled it well, with humour and class, making the second documentary in the series very interesting.
The second part of Billy Connolly’s Big Send-Off (ITV), a good-humoured and penetrating documentary about death, was a fine companion to the first. The material was fascinating and thought-provoking and was interspersed with gently acerbic comments from Connolly, as he sat with a cup of tea in a pub, speaking directly to camera.
In addition, the programme pulled off the tricky task of combining mordant humour with a more serious approach to its subject matter. It started with a rather nervous Connolly – who, last year, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer in the same week – laughing heartily when relating morbid jokes about dead hunchbacks coming back to life.
But then the tone changed and the documentary became nothing short of compelling. Connolly travelled to New Orleans, where a wall of victims’ names represented a permanent witness to the atrocious level of gun violence that plagues the city (according to a local priest, children at the poorest high schools have a greater chance of being shot to death than soldiers serving in Afghanistan).
The programme ended with Connolly visiting an artist who was days away from death. His calm acceptance of mortality, coupled with his affection for life, was profoundly moving.
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Billy Connolly hosted the second documentary of the Big Send with dignity as he faces critical health problems of his own. Our hats are off to Billy and we wish him the best.