At an orangutan orphanage on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, Judi Dench gently placed her hands on a young ape’s shoulders as he leaned to climb a tree. “It’s not often that this happens, that you walk along a corridor and a small, 3-year-old orangutan walks around the corner towards you,” she says. “Such a great sight.”

Judi, who traveled to Borneo to raise awareness about rainforest conservation, feels grateful to witness nature’s marvels. The acclaimed actress, 84, suffers from age-related macular degeneration which has compromised her eyesight. “I can’t read the paper now, I can’t do the crossword, I can’t read a book,” she confides, adding that she also gave up her driver’s license. “One of the most traumatic moments of my life,” she admits. “It was absolutely appalling. But I just know I’ll kill somebody if I get behind the wheel of a car now.”

Judi Dench
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

The widowed star, who has one beloved grandchild, has had to make other adjustments to her life as well. Unable to see a script clearly, she employs an assistant to help her learn her lines. She also never watches a movie alone. “A friend of mine usually has to say, ‘He’s kissing her now,’ or, ‘He’s walking away,'” she explains. “So a lot of things I miss — it’s not so much fun.”

Judi is undergoing treatment, but a cure hasn’t been found yet so she rarely asks her doctor for a prognosis. “I ignore it altogether,” she confides. Instead, she keeps busy doing work she loves. In 2020, Judi will star in three films and make a cameo in the 25th James Bond movie. “I can see enough,” she says. “You cope.”

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