Actress Judi Dench can no longer read or write due to failing eyesight

In an interview with Louis Theroux, the film icon opens up about the difficulties of living with macular degeneration, and why she isn’t going to let the condition stop her from acting

British actress Judi Dench, at a premiere in London on October 9.
British actress Judi Dench, at a premiere in London on October 9.John Phillips (Getty Images for BFI)

In February 2012, actress Judi Dench confessed that she suffered from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a degenerative eye condition that can lead to total blindness. Since then, her condition has worsened. Speaking on the BBC program Louis Theroux Interviews, the 87-year-old film icon said that she can no longer read or write due to her failing eyesight. “I don’t want to retire. I’m not doing much at the moment because I can’t see. It’s bad,” she said.

In the preview of the forthcoming episode, Dench speaks to Theroux about her career, which spans six decades, and the challenges of living with AMD. “I went to a dinner a few weeks ago, a rather important dinner,” she said with a chuckle. “It was so dark that I said to my partner David [Mills], who was next to me, ‘Have I anything on my plate?’” she explained. “He said, ‘Yes’. I said, ‘Does it need cutting up? So he said, ‘Yes’ and I said, ‘Would you do it?’ He cut it up and handed something to me on a fork, and that’s the way I ate it.”

The Oscar-winning actress, who is also known for her role as M in the James Bond film franchise, said she did not want her failing eyesight to stop her from acting. Dench said she was going to use her photographic memory to teach herself a new way of learning lines.

Last January, the British actress also opened up about the difficulties of living independently at her age. In an interview with Saga magazine, she recounted how she spent half an hour on the floor after she tripped on her rug in her house in Surrey. Since announcing her illness, Dench has also admitted that it is more difficult for her to recognize faces.

Macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss among elderly people, and is characterized by a progressive loss of central vision. The first symptoms usually appear when a person is between 50 and 60 years of age.

Ahead of the episode, Theroux – who also interviews artists such as Stormzy and singer Rita Ora in his program – said Dench jokingly told him to “fuck off,” when he asked her about being a national treasure. “You get the feeling from her, she is someone who never wants to rest on her laurels and actually, every time she goes out to do something of any depth, it’s a kind of a struggle because she is out to prove herself again and along with that is a degree of insecurity about whether she’s good enough which makes her so extraordinary,” he added.

This fighting spirit is captured by a tattoo on her wrist: Carpe Diem, which Dench got to celebrate her 81st birthday.

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