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*Illness & Forced Retirement

Throughout most of Andy's adult life he had suffered bouts of illness, and the time spent touring around the world was now placing extra strain on his health as the years passed. Warned by doctors more than once to ease up on his workload he was habitually unable to rest, finding the temptation to perform hard to resist.

His health problems dated back almost to the start of his career, and the public had a continuing interest in Andy's well-being, as ill-health seemed particularly at odds with the bright, energetic, full-of-life professional image he displayed to the public.

"I failed my Army medical because I had a duodenal ulcer at the age of twenty. When I went for an abdominal examination they laid one hand on me and I turned green and vomited so I was sent off to the Southern General for barium meals, X-Rays, etc. They turned me down because I had a perforated eardrum and a duodenal ulcer. My health rating was 4G and I don't think they went any lower than that. I mean where do you go from there?"

In 1962 Andy had his ulcer dealt with successfully and enjoyed a period of good health for the next decade until 1973.

"In 1973 I was on holiday in Banchory and had been feeling a bit stodgy in the tummy, but I didn't know what was wrong with me. One day I played golf, but every time I bent down to pick up the ball I got this terrible pain under my ribs. Later that day it got worse, until I was prostrate with agony at home and had a raging temperature. A doctor came and diagnosed appendicitis. I was rushed into St. John's Nursing Home in Aberdeen, where a surgeon also diagnosed the same.

I was on the operating table and the surgeon had actually made the incision to remove my appendix, when he discovered an abscess. So I had a hemicolectomy, which means I had my right ascending colon removed because of the huge abscess, then I took what they call obstruction in the tummy, and they had to open me up again and cut away the obstructions. Then I lost my gall bladder... Then I lost half my kidney... Then I lost all my kidney... I've had three transurethral re-sections of the prostate... It's got so that I'm frightened to go to the doctor's because every time they find something wrong with me!"

In 1974 Andy was taken ill after a show at the King's Theatre in Glasgow and admitted to the Western Infirmary, six months later whilst in Dublin he was again hospitalised during an Irish tour. The following summer's tour of New Zealand and Australia had to be completely cancelled after Andy had received treatment in Auckland and ordered to return immediately to Glasgow for further stomach surgery.

Image of Andy Stewart in the early 1980s

Andy Stewart in the early 1980s

His manager, Jimmy Warren, saw first-hand the problems that Andy had with illness, and the extremes that he went to, to please his fans and honour his contracts: "The first particular tour where Andy was really bad with ill-health, we were in and out of hospitals more-or-less in every city. I would take him in maybe at 12 o'clock at night and collect him at six in the morning. I remember we got to Edmonton (Canada) and we all thought there'll be no show tonight. They took Andy into hospital and they wired him up, he was like something out of The Bionic Man when I went in to see him. But he wanted to do the show. They unplugged him, they went up to the Edmonton Centre, he did the show, they took him back in the car, and plugged him back into the bed again. He wanted to do it, you know. I thought many a night, there'll be no way, but no - once he got on that stage he came alive."

Ian Powrie also recalled: "He loved the stage. All our close associates will have seen him many a time before he was due to go and do his spot in the show, sitting on a chair or lying back not looking very well. And yet when he went sparking across the stage there, with the tackets glinting and all that, it was a different man you know? He just seemed to be a different being."

In 1981 Andy was taken ill at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness an hour before he was due to go on stage with Andy Stewart's Show of The North. He was admitted into intensive care for observation at Raigmore Hospital. In 1984 another Australian tour had to be cancelled and an STV series was indefinitely postponed as Andy suffering with kidney and intestinal disorders, was told to rest for six months. A year later Andy was taken ill on a Manx Airlines flight on the way to perform in the Isle of Man. He managed to appear in the first of three Sunday night performances, but rest were cancelled due to stomach disorders.

*Forced Retirement

After feeling particular strain during yet another foreign tour, Andy officially announced his intention to retire in 1985, his health problems being a main factor in his decision:

"I had a rotten night in New Zealand, and I thought, you're not able to do this any longer. The doctor said "That's it. You're really asking for trouble". You know you can be standing in the wings feeling terrible and the minute your music sounds there is definitely adrenalin somehow lifts you up. Mind you, this is one of the reasons why I'm going to stop this kind of life travelling round the world with a handicap of not just the best heath, because there's no doubt about it the adrenalin may be going and you may give a performance and the audience may not realise that you're not all that well (although I have given performances when the audiences have realised that I haven't been too well) but the whole thing adds up to a big strain. But normally when I'm feeling fit and well, or even reasonably well, I don't feel any pain at all on stage. It's after I come off that I collapse.

It's a kind of sad day when mortality catches up with you and you no longer say "If I die", you say "When I die". And eventually, you wake up one morning and say, "Well I'm not 25... I can't do what I could do 20... 30... years ago." It's a very difficult thing for everybody to come to terms with. Half the books in the world would never have been written if it hadn't been so difficult. However, there you are. That's it."

Andy's retirement plans were widely reported in the press and on TV. He gave an extended interview with Scots actress Hannah Gordon in a BBC TV special Andy Stewart - The Entertainer, and it was advertised that he would make his final public appearance, fittingly, on Grampian Television with A Happy Hogmanay! However, on the day it was to be recorded, at the Aberdeen Beach Ballroom, Grampian's electricians went on strike and Grampian decided to scrap the whole programme and transmit The Hogmanay Show from Glasgow with Russ Abbot instead. Andy's "final stage appearance" would be a live appearance in Liverpool 31st December 1985.

However, after his much publicised announcement, had he actually retired? Those closest to him were doubtful. Now into 1986, he was still seemingly treading the boards. He appeared at a gala performance celebrating the opening of the refurbished Music Hall in Aberdeen, but in May 1986, one month before two planned shows at the HM Theatre in Aberdeen Andy Takes a Bow, he was admitted to Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen. At this point his wife Sheila stepped in: "It has become clear to me that he is gradually doing a wee bit here and there and it is all building up again. So I have cancelled everything planned. It is really quite worrying. I really do think he must take it easy and not just say he is going to." In August 1986 Andy hit the news again after being admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for a heart by-pass operation and - being told to "rest very quietly" - faced a long period of convalescence.


Andy's Freeman of Angus acceptance speech in 1987

But unbelievably, after only a year of "resting quietly", Andy announces to the media in 1987, that he is coming back out of retirement and is ready to resume performing in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and is planning to welcome in the year of 1988 by entertaining at a New Year banquet at the refurbished Central Hotel, Glasgow in an event produced by Jimmy Logan.

He appeared for Grampian Television on the "barndance" programme Shindig and the comedy panel quiz Shammy Dab, and in the same year Andy was awarded the "Freedom of the County of Angus", one of his proudest achievements. In 1988 Andy released an album going back to his roots Back to the Bothy, an LP that was easily his best for years.

However Andy would not be "back in active service", as he put it, for long. In June 1989 he announced that after all the years on the road he was making the final "road-trip" back to live in his home town of Arbroath. The reason for the move was that this time his retirement really was definite, he said. As he recovered at home from further heart surgery in a statement he revealed:

"Ill-health has finally forced me out of show business.

The operation I had last Friday was very successful but to go on now would be like driving down the M1 on the wrong side. If I work, I take my life in my hands.

I have been told by the doctors to take things very easy."

The root of Andy's health problems was high cholesterol levels, levels which continuing to stay raised, proved difficult to treat, possibly down to something in his chromosomes, the doctors told him.

"My cholesterol count at one time was 21. The normal is four or five. I'm down to seven and I'm still working on it. I have to stick to what would nowadays be regarded as a healthy diet. Cut down on animal fats, not too much fibre... all that sort of thing. I've had 20 years of almost non-stop surgery. Right now I'm coping with a hiatus hernia.

I must stop pestering the NHS."

At the end of the Eighties, Andy was probably at his lowest point ever health-wise. Over the previous two years he had suffered another two major "heart scares" and had undergone a further artery-widening operation. He needed 16 pills a day to keep him functioning and had an on-going problem with angina that saw him regularly in and out of hospital. It seemed that his life in the public eye was finally over - but the surprise reappearance of an old friend from the Isle of Skye was about to inspire him to make his final comeback.