Sir Ian McKellen health: ‘You’re going deaf, Ian’ – star, 82, on his ‘declining’ health

The One Show: Ian McKellen asks if 'nobody is watching'

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At the age of 82, the star has already been knighted in the 1980s New Year Honours for services to the performing arts, and made a Companion of Honour in 2008. Renowned as a Shakespearian actor and later as popular wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, it would be a struggle to find anyone who does not recognise the star. Off-screen the actor has also been put through his paces with a prostate cancer battle, and most recently has revealed he relies on hearing aids as his “facilities” decline.

Speaking to The Mirror a few years back, McKellen discussed his hatred of actors mumbling and the importance of actors to enunciate their words clearly for the audience.

But soon after preaching about the importance of speech, conversation soon turned to the star’s health and why his hearing loss could be the reason why he dislikes mumbling so much.

“Whether it’s film, TV, radio, theatre or Shakespeare, the first responsibility for any actor is to the audience. They should not only be able to hear clearly but also understand clearly,” Ian boasts.

“I’m always saying ‘Why don’t these actors speak up?’ If it’s on television I have to turn up the sound. Then someone said to me ‘You’re going deaf, Ian’. And that’s the truth.

“But you have to be heard. Mumbling happens if an actor isn’t absolutely certain about what he or she is doing. They feel the easiest way out is not to commit themselves too much and say it very, very quietly.

“No! You have to speak out loud. As Hamlet says to the players ‘Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly upon the tongue’.”

When pushed by the interviewer on his own hearing loss, McKellen admits that a declining sense of hearing was “inevitable”.

“My facilities are declining. It is sort of inevitable but it doesn’t stop me doing anything,” he adds, talking about the extent of his condition.

“I did get some won­­derful hearing aids on the NHS but I’ve lost them, twice, and I’m a little bit nervous about going back and saying ‘I’m sorry…’!

“It does also take a bit longer to learn lines but I don’t find it harder. Once they’re in, they’re in.

“I’m doing Pinter’s No Man’s Land at the moment, something I did 18 months ago, and lo and behold the words are still somehow lodged.”

As well as hearing loss, the X-Men star has also spoken about his struggles with memory loss, which make his craft much harder as he ages.

In an interview with the Radio Times, the actor addressed the “issue” of age, admitting that learning his lines was a lot easier for him when he was younger.

He said: “We all have limitations, don’t we, however old we are. But there are times in life when the memory really does get worse and the mind doesn’t work as it should.

“And if you were to get to the stage where you couldn’t remember anything at all, well, that would be very distressing. Fortunately, I’m not there yet.”

Any person who is not able to hear as well as someone with normal hearing – hearing thresholds of 20 dB or better in both ears – is said to have hearing loss. It is estimated by the World Health Organization that one in every ten people suffer from disabling hearing loss.

Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. It can affect one ear or both ears, and leads to difficulty in hearing conversational speech or loud sounds. Slightly differing, ‘hard of hearing’ refers to people with hearing loss ranging from mild to severe. People who are hard of hearing usually communicate through spoken language and can benefit from hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices as well as captioning.

Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. As you age, hearing loss can lead to depression as individuals feel frustrated or embarrassed as they cannot understand what is being said.

Although often ignored, hearing problems can be treated or diagnosed relatively early by medical professionals. Sometimes a GP may be able to treat the cause, for example, an ear infection might be treated with antibiotics, or an earwax build-up might be treated with ear drops or removed. If not, hearing aids and implants aim to help make sounds louder and clearer, improving the individual’s quality of life.

The NHS explains that it is not always easy to tell if you’re losing your hearing, but common signs include:

  • Difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places
  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Listening to music or watching TV with the volume higher than other people need
  • Difficulty hearing on the phone
  • Finding it hard to keep up with a conversation
  • Feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening.

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