Terry Pratchett has rare, early-onset Alzheimer's

Terry Pratchett has addressed an open letter to his fans (on Paul Kidby's Discworld News) with some genuinely awful news -- he has a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's. His note is incredibly brave and chipper. The man's a real inspiration -- incredibly prolific, brilliant and talented, friendly and clearly as happy as anything with where he's found himself.

I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

Terry Pratchett

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.

Link (via MeFi)

See also:
Terry Pratchett's "Making Money" -- economic comedy
Pratchett's Discworld: a reading-order guide
Pratchett's "Going Postal": Graft, hackers, and a semaphore Internet
Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad trilogy (Truckers,
Pratchett's Lords and Ladies adapted to feature-length fan-film
Pratchett's Johnny and the Bomb coming to BBC TV
Discworld interrelations map
Wedding cake inspired by Discworld's Great A'Tuin


  1. This is sad news. I met him at a book signing, and not only is he a wonderful writer, he’s a very nice guy.

  2. Damn… :(

    Well, at least if HE can be as optimistic, I think we can too. So I’m really looking forward to any future books. ^_^

  3. Very upsetting news. Yet, I’ve a feeling the man will probably outlive most of us just to spite his critics (mind you – if there are ANY critics of Terry Pratchett, I’ve yet to meet them – the man is a bloody good author).

    I’m sure things will be okay, certainly with research and modern medicine. And it is an early diagnosis at that.

  4. Trying not to make a mental list of shitty authors who are still alive, healthy, and in full possession of their facilities…


  5. Alzheimer’s is not a death sentence. While he will likely lose some cognitive function, there are drugs like aricept that help protect the breakdown of memory function to nemenda which is for moderate/severe cases. My grandmother lived a happy life for 10 years (into her 90s) with Alzheimer’s on these drugs. She was a patient of Mayo in Rochester, MN, where some of the best minds in neuroscience are working on future treatments and a cure. Keeping focused on projects, getting regular, moderate excersize, and above all–using your brain, are good ways to develop and retain function.

    I wish him the best, but I won’t grieve for him just yet!

  6. This is, indeed, very sad news. Pratchet is probably my favorite author – the sheer amount of truly entertaining writing that this man creates boggles the mind. It is unfortunate that someone so sharp and clever should be stricken with this particular condition.

    Luckily, it’s still early and there’s a lot of very promising Alzheimer’s research going on right now. Things could be far worse.

  7. every time i hear something like this it always makes me think that these people like Terry Pratchett, creative geniuses, spend such time using their creative faculties and intellect, that in the end they burn out their noodles early.

    of course I know thats not actually the case, but i can’t help but think of the “the candle that burns brightest…” saying.

    well. heres hoping for a long life for Terry. How bout it stem cell research?

  8. Damn, that’s sad news.

    This reinforces my decision to buy Terry’s works rather than take them out from the library.
    NHS or no, his care needs will become rather expensive and he’ll need every bit of royalties that he can get.

  9. I work at a yearly convention, and Pratchett was the nicest guest of honor I’ve ever met. Humble, witty, polite and intelligent. Just an all-round amazing human being.

    I have no doubt he’ll keep going despite this bad news. Might even pour it into his work. I’ll be looking forward to the Discworld novel where Rincewind’s memory is starting to go.

  10. Of course, for a Terry Pratchett fan, this will come as shocking news. However, I would always bank, rather, on still reading and enjoying that — at some point in time — good ol’ Terry will write tons of laughs and good reads for us.

  11. Sad news, indeed. I’m running through the Discworld series and nothing can part me from my copy of Good Omens.

    Here’s cheer and good luck to him and his family.

  12. sigh. This IS a crap year for authors. If anything happens to Steven Brust, I’m just going to stop reading.

    That is so sad. I hope treatment works for him. He really brightened up my adolescence. I just started reading his books to my daughters.

  13. That’s harsh news.

    I’ve heard some good things lately from those brain chemistry scientists, so maybe there’s hope.

    I need at least 30 more Terry Pratchett books to last me for the rest my life!

  14. Well. That’s fucking devastating. My grandmother died of early-onset Alzheimer’s, but here’s hoping he’s not in quite the same boat, because she went from pretty much fine to nonverbal in about 6 months. Of course, that was more than 30 years ago. I’d like to think some major advancements have been made since then.

  15. Cpt. Tim, it only seems that way because we’re less likely to hear about less brilliant and beloved authors who get hit with devastating illnesses.

    Thordora (17):

    “sigh. This IS a crap year for authors. If anything happens to Steven Brust, I’m just going to stop reading.”

    Er. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Steve’s been having serious medical problems. A recurrent and hard-to-treat infection got into the bone behind one of his eyes. He doesn’t have NHS, and the last round of treatment wiped him out financially.

    It took some arm-twisting to get Steve to agree to it, but there’s now a fund that’s accepting contributions. If he continues to get treatment, his condition won’t maim or kill him, and if he’s not worrying about being out on the street (he’s losing his house), he’ll be able to keep writing.

    I’ve seen this happen to too many American authors.

    In the meantime, Jhegaala should be out soon. That’s some consolation.

  16. Hi:

    Recently I read an article in the local newspaper (wvgazette.com)about research relevant to this disease, and I insert a few graphs of the story:

    “WVU researchers find possible memory aid

    By Eric Eyre
    Staff writer

    West Virginia scientists have discovered that a drug developed to treat cancer patients may improve and restore memory among people with Alzheimer’s disease or stroke and brain injuries.

    In an article published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, two scientists at the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown found that the cancer drug Bryostatin stimulates brain connections in rats.

    The drug essentially rewires the brain, according to researchers Daniel Alkon and Jarin Hongpaisan, who conducted the study.
    “Bryostatin and other drugs in this class could introduce a whole new era for brain repair,” he said. “At the same time, we are now closer to understanding what controls the growth of synaptic connections in the adult brain. I don’t know any drugs that have been shown to create new synapses.”

    Within the next several weeks, the Institute plans to seek Food and Drug Administration approval to conduct clinical trials of Bryostatin as a treatment of neurological disorders. The trials, expected to start next year, will determine whether the drug’s promising results on rat brains will have similar effects on human brains.”

    Perhaps Mr. Pratchett or his medical folks should look into this research.


  17. Crappy crap crap! I just received The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch and I look forward to reading that and Making Money.

    I wish him all the best. Hang in there baby, take a nice injection of sweet, sweet stem cells.

    Steven Brust is sick too? Shit! I have to look into that donation page.

  18. Early onset Alzheimer’s is typically rapidly progressing and can be fairly drug resistent. I sincerely hope some of the newer drugs have some positive impact for Terry.

    I find many of his books laugh-out-loud funny. I’ve met him at a few Worldcons and generally found him amusing to be around.

  19. Terry is perhaps the greatest satirical writer of the last decade and a half. As well as being my personal favorite author, he has introduced a generation of fantasy fans to the art of satire and social commentary.
    Keep your heads high for him guys, he can beat this!

  20. That’s depressing news. I love his books. I have several by him that I have not read, that I’ll be diving into since my semester is over… In the mean time, I’ll go have a nice cry, I think… :-(


  21. hmm..sad news..I’m in the middle of reading Making Money and it’s my favourite part of the day. Makes me laugh. When I read his comment it made my heart grow due the optimism he can convey.

    So, I’ll be looking forward to the new books…

    I think that he has the same courage as Cohen the Barbarian…

  22. JRinWV, the trouble with bryostatin is that you need about one tonne of bryozoans for each gram of bryostatin, fortunately it seems to come from a symbiotic bacteria.
    So I wonder if there is going to be a black market for bryozoans in the near future until we learn how to cultivate the symbiotic bacteria.

  23. Wareq: I don’t think it’s a fate worse than death. When Alzheimers really kicks in, it’s more upsetting for the close friends & family than for the patient.

  24. Man–that was the worst news I’ve heard in awhile. His books have given me so much enjoyment since I discovered him six years ago. They are so much fun for an adult who never quite grew up. Laughing so hard you fall in the floor and can’t talk well enough to explain to anyone else what’s going on is the best thing you can do in a day!! May he be able to write many, many more books before he falls off the end of the world.

  25. Courage, Terry. Though you obviously have an abundance of it.

    Funny, I hadn’t thought of him for a long time and just happened to catch the first half of Hogfather last night on the strange Ion channel. I was trying to explain to my girlfriend what a weird, wonderful writer he is. Then I shut up and we enjoyed the show.

  26. This is very sad news, although I’m going to do my best to hope that “very rare form” may correlate with “slow and/or manageable symptoms”.

    A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure and privilege to be the moderator of a panel at the 2005 Worldcon that included Terry. It was on the subject of early home computing, and as an former hack-in-hex enthusiast from the era when users used to dream of having 64k, he was able to entertain and enthral a packed hall with his anecdotes of the ZX81 days. Truly a man of many parts.

  27. Yeah, ALS is a fate worse than death for the patient. Both ALS and Alzheimer’s are pretty horrific for the family.

  28. That sounds like exactly what happened to my Dad. He had something that seemed to be a stroke, but wasn’t diagnosed as such just after he turned 70, and started to decline mentally. He wasn’t diagnosed with dementia for another couple of years by which time it was hard to do anything, although Exelon kept him going for a few more years.

    I would expect that there is hope for Pterry in that it’s been caught so early on so there probably isn’t too much to worry about at the moment. One of the strongest defences against dementia and Alzheimers is an active mind, so I think he’ll be productive for a while yet.

  29. I met him once and learned more about writing in 45 minutes than in three years at the university. As he himself says: He ain’t dead. And I want to believe he’s as tough as Granny Weatherwax, though how he survived trying out Nanny Oggs recipes for the book I may never know, but these English men are a tough lot.

  30. In a room that seemed to have no ceiling the walls were lined with hourglasses. A dark figure stalked between the rows, bony white finger tracking the names until it stopped. The figure bent closer to read the name on this particular hourglass. There was more sand in the bottom than in the top of this one, and the figure picked it up and turned it over.

    He could feel beady eyes on him, and the hiss of frying bacon in a pan held by a suspicious hand reached him just before its scent did, but he didn’t turn around. As he put the hourglass back down, he merely said, NOBODY WILL EVER KNOW, ALBERT.

  31. Shitty news, but he seems to be facing up to it. So in that spirit:

    “Which would you rather have? Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s?”

    “Parkinson’s – I’d rather spill half my drink trembling, than forget where I put it.”


  32. That’s so sad. It is a bad year for authors, Robert Jordan, Wheel of time books also died. I depressed my sister greatly when I told her, I won’t tell her about Terry Pratchett. I hope he lives many more years as funny as ever.

Comments are closed.