May 14, 2019 -- Comedian Tim Conway, who cracked up audiences with his oddball characters and slapstick on TV’s long-running Carol Burnett Show, has died in Los Angeles. He was 85 and had a disorder known as normal pressure hydrocephalus, his representative said.
Conway first appeared on a single episode of The Carol Burnett Show in 1967, according to Variety, and became a regular member of the troupe, staying from 1975 until the show ended in its 11th season in 1978. One of his most famous characters was Mr.Tudball, who was constantly exasperated by the indifference of his secretary, Mrs. Wiggins, played by Burnett.
Conway was also in several Disney-produced comedies such as The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Shaggy DA. He won six Emmys over his 60-year career.
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
Normal pressure hydrocephalus causes excess fluid from the brain and spinal cord to collect in chambers of the brain known as ventricles.
"All of us have spinal fluid cavities inside the brain, called ventricles," says Michael A. Williams, MD, a professor of neurology and neurological surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He talked about the condition but did not treat Conway.
"In normal pressure hydrocephalus, that circulation is impaired. Over a long period of time, that causes the spinal fluid cavities to enlarge." Experts don't entirely understand the cause.
"Think of a water balloon filling up," he says.
The condition usually happens after age 60 and is even more common in the 70s and 80s. People with it have a hard time walking and staying balanced. "They have a slow, shuffling gait, and difficulty with turns," Williams says. "They can have trouble with thinking and memory."
About 700,000 Americans are thought to have the condition, according to the Hydrocephalus Association, but fewer than 20% receive an accurate diagnosis, says Williams. He is also director of the university's Adult & Transitional Hydrocephalus and CSF Disorders program and on the medical advisory board of the association.
It's usually detected on an MRI and by taking a history of the person's symptoms. The only effective treatment is to put a shunt into the brain. This allows the fluid to drain, Williams says.
Patients are more likely to die of complications, rather than the condition itself. Complications include bleeding in the brain and an infection caused by a shunt. Patients are also likely to have other conditions such as high blood pressure affecting the brain or Parkinson's disease, and that could play a role in their death, Williams says.
"It's very uncommon for people to die of normal pressure hydrocephalus per se,'' agrees Raj K. Narayan, MD, a professor and chairman of neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, NY, and Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY. He talked in general about the disorder.
Conway is survived by his wife of 35 years, his stepdaughter, six biological children, and two granddaughters.