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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health


Ernest Borgnine Lays it on the Line
Hollywood Hero Focuses on Macular Degeneration

A photograph of Ernest Borgnine standing in a doorway.

Academy Award-winning actor Ernest Borgnine is going strong at 91, and speaking out on macular degeneration for the National Eye Institute.
Photo courtesy of NIH/NEI

Actor Ernest Borgnine stars in an NEI video that informs Americans about the dangers of age-related macular degeneration and offers advice on getting your eyes examined regularly.

At 91, Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine is still going strong, making movies, and enjoying his role as grandfather to soon-to-be 3-year-old grandson, Anthony, whom he fondly calls "a real cooker." He has also become a spokesman for the National Eye Institute's Age-Related Macular Degeneration Study (AREDS2). AREDS2 is a nationwide study to determine whether a modified combination of vitamins and minerals can further slow vision loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in the United States for people over age 60. AMD doesn't slow the Oscar winner and longtime star of television's "McHale's Navy," as he recently told NIH MedlinePlus.

What's new for you these days?

I just finished my autobiography Ernie, and am very proud of my age. I always feel if you do things, don't rush it; you'll be surprised how long you can last. I expect to make it to 113.

We know that you take care of yourself and stay on top of your health.

If things bother me, I see my doctor. When I first saw Dr. Trotter, at UCLA (William L. Trotter, M.D., a leading cataract specialist), I couldn't see, even with my glasses. He said, "You've got cataracts." I asked, "What do we do?" He said, "Oh, we'll take care of them." And he did!

One eye was first, the other the next day. But he noticed a little something in the back that looked like macular degeneration. I asked what do we do, he said, "Wait and see."

What's become of the macular degeneration?

I have it, but not badly. I take a vitamin supplement and have my eyes checked regularly. I can still read my scripts without glasses, if the light is good. For a lot of people, however, it's so sad. That's why I tell people, if your eyes bother you, go to an eye doctor. Don't put it off.

Actor Ernest Borgnine's Autobiography

Actor Ernest Borgnine's Autobiography

What does having macular degeneration mean to you?

It's frightening. Something in the back of the eyes is going to affect them to the point where you can't see anymore except from the sides. Being an actor, naturally, I need my eyesight. To read the script, see what I'm doing and everything that is going on.

You have to have good eyes, that's all there is to it. What would you miss out on, otherwise? Your work. Television. Newspapers. Your wife's wonderful smile. That's what I would miss. We are happily married, going on 34 years. It's wonderful to see that smile. You miss out on those things if you don't pay attention to your eyes.

What do you think of the NIH AREDS 2 study?

I tell people to check it out. There are things going on in this world in eyesight research that are brilliant. The sooner people can get diagnosed [with macular degeneration], the more that can be done.

Summer 2008 Issue: Volume 3 Number 3 Page 16