Is Joni Mitchell sick? Her history of illnesses detailed

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell showed that she retains her musical prowess during her unexpected performance at Newport. It was the first time since 2000 that Joni had appeared for a full concert. Fans sang along as she belted out her hits Just Like This Train and A Case of You

Brandi Carlile has performed Joni’s Blue album in recent concerts. She said in one of them, “We didn’t live in the time of Shakespeare, Rembrandt, or Beethoven – but we live in the time of Joni Mitchell.”

“Having a brush with death kind of softens people towards me,” Joni tried to brush away the effusive praise she receives during an interview with CBS News. This piece looks at Joni’s illnesses and how they’ve affected her life. 

Joni suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 that forced her to relearn talking and walking

In December 2021, Mitchell addressed her health issues while receiving a lifetime achievement award at the 44th Kennedy Center Honors. She said that polio, which she contracted aged 9, prepared her for future complications. Joni explained:

“I always think that polio was a rehearsal for the rest of my life. I’ve had to come back several times from things. And this last one was a real whopper. But, you know, I’m hobbling along but I’m doing all right!”

Doctors diagnosed Joni with a brain aneurysm after people found her unconscious in her home in March 2015. A statement from her team revealed Joni had regained consciousness during the ambulance trip to the hospital. 

Via a June 2015 statement on Joni’s website, her team refuted reports claiming Joni had lost her speaking ability. “The truth is that Jani is speaking, and she’s speaking well,” the statement read, refuting an allegation by David Crosby, Joni’s former lover, that Mitchell was ‘not speaking yet.’

Joni’s camp expressed confidence that the singer would make a full recovery. Mitchell recovered in private for several years before giving a rare interview to The Guardian in October 2020. 

Mitchell said she hadn’t written music in a while, with recovery taking up most of her time. “You know what? I came back from polio, so here I am again, and struggling back,” she said. Joni continued:

“Polio didn’t grab me like that, but the aneurysm took away a lot more, really. Took away my speech and my ability to walk. And, you know, I got my speech back quickly, but the walking, I’m still struggling with.”

The disease temporarily took away Mitchell’s voice, as shown by her recent performance at Newport. Walking is still an issue, but she’s making steady progress. She said:

“Just inching my way along. I’m showing slow improvement but moving forward.”

Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell arrives for the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on April 3, 2022 | Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Mitchell diagnosed herself with a controversial skin condition dubbed Morgellons in the early 2000s

Mitchell diagnosed herself with Morgellons just as the disease became an internet sensation. It originated from a mother, Mary Leitao, who claimed her son, Drew, had the skin condition. However, despite numerous tests, doctors failed to find anything wrong with Drew.

Dr. Fred Heldrich, a specialist in medical mystery cases, concluded that Drew was healthy and Mary needed psychiatric help. He wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Ms. Leitao would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation and support, whether Andrew has Morgellons disease or not. I hope she will cease to use her son in further exploring this problem.”

Morgellons diagnoses proliferated after Mitchell posted Drew’s symptoms online. Interestingly, however, none of these diagnoses came from medical professionals: all patients diagnosed themselves based on the symptoms Leitao posted. 

Joni described it as a ‘weird, incurable disease that seems like it’s from outer space’ in a 2010 interview with the LA Times. She continued:

“Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer — a terrorist disease.”

In her 2014 memoir, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, Mitchell said she couldn’t wear clothing or leave her house for years due to the conditions. She claimed the disease forced her to crawl as ‘it hit all of the places where I had polio.’

Morgellons sufferers say the disease causes the growth of fibers from skin lesions. They also report crawling sensations under the skin, extreme itching, and fatigue. The medical community doesn’t recognize the disease as biopsies return negative results or reveal conditions like dermatitis. The CDC notes:

“The signs and symptoms of Morgellons are very similar to those of a mental illness involving false beliefs about infestation by parasites (delusional parasitosis).”

However, Joni denies that Morgellons patients are delusional or the disease is psychological. In 2013, she told The Star:

“I haven’t been doing much lately because I’ve just come through about seven years of a flattening kind of illness. I’m not cured but I’ve found a helpful physician way outside the box. Western medicine says this doesn’t even exist; it’s a psychotic disease. It’s not.”

It’s unclear if she still suffers from the condition.