Judi Dench Reveals Crippling Health Problem, Can No Longer Work

Judi Dench says her failing eyesight has progressed to the point where she can no longer read her lines or remember them.

By Nathan Kamal | Updated

judi dench

Dame Judi Dench recently revealed that her struggle with macular degeneration has reached the point where she is losing the ability to learn her lines of dialogue. The James Bond actress and defender of The Crown recently appeared on an episode of The Graham Norton Show (per People) where she told the host that her worsening vision caused her to be unable to read and accurately remember her lines. Judi Dench went on to say “I need to find a machine that not only teaches me my lines but also tells me where they appear on the page” and claiming to have a photographic memory.

Macular degeneration is the most common reason for loss of eyesight in the elderly, and can take two forms: “dry” (in which light-sensitive cells in the eye break down over time) and “wet” (in which abnormal blood cells develop in the eye). According to Judi Dench, the British actress actually suffers from both conditions, with one of her eyes being dry and the other being wet. Dench has been open about her macular degeneration since at least 2012 and reportedly has her scripts read to her, but it appears that this workaround is no longer sufficing. 

judi dench

While many 88-year-old thespians might take this as a sign to slow down or retire, Judi Dench has been a vocal critic of the film industry’s treatment of older actresses, saying that it enraged her for other people to assume her capabilities due to age. We can only hope that Dench finds some way to compensate for the advanced state of her macular degeneration and continues to work in film and theater.

Judi Dench is arguably most famous for portraying the British Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service M, James Bond’s boss, foil, and occasional ally. She is the seventh actor to portray the character, as well as the first woman; she also held the role for the second longest amount of time of any actor, surpassed only by the 17-year tenure of original M actor Bernard Lee. 

She is also notable for continuing to portray the character between transitions from one James Bond actor to another. Judi Dench initially appeared as M in 1995’s GoldenEye, the first movie to star Pierce Brosnan as 007, and continued through his departure, reappearing in the 2006 reboot Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. Her last performance in the role was in 2015’s Spectre, appearing in a video recording, and was replaced as M by Ralph Fiennes. Her flinty portrayal of the MI6 commander was key to bridging the gap between the two actors, as well as the success of their reboots.

Judi Dench began her career in British theater in the 1950s, alongside future legends like X-Men and Lord of the Rings actor Sir Ian McKellen and Harry Potter’s Dame Maggie Smith. Since then, she has been widely acclaimed as one of the great modern actresses in movies and stage productions as varied as the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love and the controversial film adaption of the musical Cats.