'20/20': Dudley Moore Battles Brain Disease

WALTERS: (VO) So scared that Fruchter finally convinced him to seek medical help. Doctors in London and New York offered an array of theories, but each turned out to be a dead end. At the Mayo Clinic, doctors discovered a hole in his heart, but surgery didn't fix his increasing struggle to speak and walk. A team of neurologists and a battery of tests followed, but no one could figure out what was wrong. His illness remained a mystery, and his depression became intense.

(OC) Did you ever think of committing suicide?

MOORE: Yes. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know when it was.

WALTERS: But you remember thinking…

MOORE: Yes.

WALTERS: …You just wanted to give up and die?

MOORE: Yes.

WALTERS: But that wasn't going to happen, not as long as he had a friend like Rena and a doctor who would finally tell Dudley Moore what was wrong with him.

In 1994, Dudley Moore, the brilliant comedian and pianist, began to realize that he was losing control of his body. He had trouble talking, playing the piano, even walking. But the big question was why? It would take four years, one devoted friend, and the right medical specialist for Dudley Moore to discover, finally, what he was fighting and what it would take for him to survive.

(VO) In 1998, as his body continued to inexplicably break down, Dudley Moore was desperate. Finally, his friend Rena Fruchter, took him to see Dr. Martin Gizzi, a New Jersey neurologist.

DR MARTIN GIZZI: On Dudley's first visit, he was rather depressed about not being able to obtain a diagnosis. His major concern was being able to play the piano, though. And he wanted anything that would help him with that.

RENA FRUCHTER: He took one look … he checked the eye movements, and one of the symptoms is slow, vertical eye movements. And he said, "I think it's PSP."

WALTERS: (VO) Moore finally had his diagnosis; but the news wasn't good. PSP, or progressive supranuclear palsy, is an extremely rare and hard to detect neurological disorder. The cause is unknown, but an estimated 20,000 Americans suffer from this incurable and debilitating brain disease. It is sometimes compared to Parkinson's, but without the characteristic tremors.

MARTIN GIZZI: The classic symptoms of PSP include balance difficulty, rigidity of the limbs, slowness of movement, and loss of coordination of eye movements. Depression becomes quite common in later years. Additional symptoms include memory difficulties, slurring of speech, and difficulty swallowing.

WALTERS: (VO) For now, there are no drugs to cure the disease or stop its relentlessly progressive course. PSP is not fatal, but complications, like pneumonia or choking, could suddenly end Moore's life.

RENA FRUCHTER: From what I understand, there is a coughing, choking, and swallowing problem with this disease. And people ultimately can die from pneumonia from having this.

WALTERS: How do you feel when you hear this?

MOORE: I don't like it. I don't like it. The thought of choking to death must be awful. I don't find it very comforting.

WALTERS: (VO) Moore said he went public with his disease in order to reach out to other victims of PSP. He gave us extraordinary access to his new life, which includes weekly rehabilitation at the world-famous Kessler Institute.

DR. THOMAS GALSKI: Our goal is to maintain the quality of life as long as we can, as well as we can.

WALTERS: (VO) Dr. Thomas Galski is in charge of Moore's treatment, including their weekly psychotherapy.

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