Goell at peak of her physical comedy career

May 12, 2013

Tears of a clown: Comedian Julie Goell evolves with illness

What happens when a gifted physical comedian, in a cruel twist of fate, finds her motor skills being taken away by Parkinson's? If it's Julie Goell, she evolves. And keeps her sense of humor.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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“Nothing short of Parkinson’s could have slowed me down,” says Julie Goell, at home on Peaks Island.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Julie Goell has traveled the world playing often zany characters. She came to Maine 27 years ago at the urging of the man who would become her husband, fellow artist Avner Eisenberg.

Courtesy photo by Steve diBartolomeo

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"It feels like the same world, only smaller," she says. 


Goell has lived in Maine for 27 years. She came to Peaks on Christmas Day in 1985 at the urging of her love, Eisenberg. They were introduced by a mutual friend on the performance trail.

They fell in love, and Eisenberg prodded her to come to Maine -- but not without warning.

"He said, 'You'd better come up and see what it's like before you leave New York.' "

She came, she saw, she stayed.

They were both fairly young and new in their careers. They had to live somewhere. Why not on an island in Maine?

They raised a son here, and their community of friends is here. Eisenberg, whose stage name is Avner the Eccentric, travels out of the country much of the time. He is curtailing his travel schedule to care for his ailing wife, and Goell has a strong network of friends who help her with her daily routines.

Eisenberg is grateful for the island support system, nicknamed "Team Julie," without which he would not be able to balance his duties as a husband with his professional commitments. Team Julie members are on call to do everything from providing meals and being walking companions to lending an ear to Goell so she can air her frustrations. Anything Goell needs, they are prepared to provide.

Eisenberg, who returned home this week after a series of performances in Brazil, admires his wife's attitude.

"She has an unreasonably bright outlook," he says. "I can't even imagine how she copes with it.

"She is doing things that are keeping her as busy as she wants to be. I've known her almost 30 years, and I have never seen any anger at life. She is one of the most realistic and positive people I have ever met."

But she is not without fear. So far, the nights have been the hardest.

"That's when your mind is active, when you can't sleep," she says, tears welling. "You're trying to work through everything and trying to imagine the logical outcome of where things are going. I think, 'If it's this difficult to sit up now, what is it going to be like in two years?' "

The light of day helps. Goell gets herself up and goes about her business as best she can. But it's not easy.

"For all my corrigio," she says, using the Italian word for "courage," "there is constantly an underlying fear."

Goell has learned many things about this degenerative disorder, which attacks the central nervous system. Among them: She is not going to get better.

Especially during the process of her diagnosis, which involved many tests and long hours of consultations with her team of doctors beginning in fall 2009, she appreciated the well wishes of those who told her optimistically that "maybe it will pass."

"But you have to stick to the truth," Goell says. "The hard part is making room in your soul for the fact it could be bad news."

She accepted the truth, and made her final performance at the New York Clown Theatre Festival in October 2010 in her native Brooklyn, N.Y.

She did not tell anybody she was retiring. She just stopped taking gigs.

"It was my little swan song. I just put my head down and did the work, just like another other show."

But it was devastating. All her life, all Goell has ever wanted to do was perform. 


Born in Brooklyn, Goell spent much of her youth in Rome, Italy. Her mother, who is now 89 and living in Falmouth, took the family to Italy to explore Italian art and culture.

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Additional Photos

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Courtesy photo by Steve diBartolomeo

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A fall earlier this spring left Julie Goell with a broken hip, requiring weeks of rehab and physical therapy, which she now considers “my full-time job,” she says.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Julie Goell acknowledges that her days as a clown are over, so she has branched out into other pursuits, including puppetry.

Courtesy photo by Steve diBartolomeo

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Goell makes puppets in her home studio on Peaks Island, and is collaborating with others on a new show that she hopes will debut next month.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Goell in character.

Courtesy photo by Steve diBartolomeo

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Another of Goell's zany characters.

Courtesy photo by Steve diBartolomeo

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