Famous People with Disabilities

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Wheelchair closeupThe term disability can be used to apply to any number of physical or mental conditions that set us apart from each other. While many of us like to see famous people as being some type of superhuman race, the truth is that disabilities can affect them too. In this article we will discuss some of the disabilities that affect current celebrities of the past and present including: mood disorders, Tourette’s, speech differences, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders can vary but include bipolar depression and clinical depression. Bipolar depression is a psychological disorder that is characterized by periods of manic behavior, depressed behavior and occasional periods of mixed mania. Depression is a psychological disorder that is characterized by periods of severe depression that have no reasonable explanation such as grief over a lost friend or family member.

Famous People Affected by Bipolar Depression

Richard Dreyfuss, Stephen Fry, Britney Spears, Adam Ant and Carrie Fisher.

Famous People Affected by Depression

Harrison Ford, Abraham Lincoln, Billy Joel, Boris Yeltsin, Buzz Aldrin, Drew Carey, Jim Carrey, John Denver, Diana Princess of Wales, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Amy Tan, Billy Corgan and Winston Churchill.

Tourette‘s Syndrome

Tourette’s syndrome is recognized by a number of names including: Tourette syndrome, Tourette’s disorder, GTS, Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, TS or Tourette’s. This syndrome is characterized by a number of tics that come and go throughout the daily life of the individual affected. Tics generally include a vocal tic as well as motor tics. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that is inherited, yet to date researchers have been unable to identify its cause other than to say that it is largely inherited. An individual affected by Tourette’s may or may not pass the syndrome on to their own children, current research suggests a 50/50 chance of passing the syndrome from parent to child.

Famous People Affected by Tourette’s Syndrome

Tim Howard (goal keeper for Manchester United soccer team,) Dan Ackroyd, Howard Huges, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Michael Wolff (American Jazz pianist,) and Jam Eisenreich (professional baseball player.)

Speech Differences

Speech differences can include any disability that affects the method of speech. The most commonly recognized of this category of disability is the stutter. Stuttering is characterized by a disruption of the “normal” speech pattern by the interjection of involuntary pauses and blocks in speech and the involuntary repetition of sounds, words and phrases. Many years ago it was believed that those affected by a stutter were of a lower intelligence level; however, this has been proven time and again to be untrue. Stuttering does seem to be linked to anxiety levels though and often times where individuals may find that their stutter worsens as their anxiety level rises. Stuttering is frustrating for those affected and will often come and go depending on a number of factors such as anxiety as mentioned above or the pressure felt to “perform.” Most individuals affected by a stutter undergo speech therapy in order to make living with a stutter more bearable; in some cases these individuals are able to overcome their speech difficulties.

Famous People Affected by a Stutter

Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Tiger Woods, Mel Tillis (an American country music figure who developed his stutter after suffering from malaria,) Robert Merrill (a New York singing star,) Jermain Taylor (a boxer,) Anthony Quinn, Rubin Carter (a boxer,) Bill Walton (an NBA star,) Jimmy Stewart, John Melendez (a radio and television star,) Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Shane Yellowbird (a Canadian country music star,) Rowan Atkinson, Samuel L. Jackson, Winston Churchill, Aristotle, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt, Sir Isaac Newton, Washington Irving, Thomas Jefferson, Bo Jackson, Emily Blunt, James Earl Jones, Marilyn Monroe, Nat King Cole, and Virgil.

Video: Famous People with Disabilities

A collage of celebrities suffering, or that suffered, from a disability or handicap.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is actually a term used to describe a group of diseases, all of which cause physical disability. This group of diseases is believed to originate in the connection between the cortex and other areas of the brain despite being named for the cerebrum. Cerebral palsy occurs in approximately two out of every one thousand live births and is characterized by: abnormal posture, abnormal muscle tone, abnormal reflexes and abnormal coordination and motor development. Most commonly these individuals experience involuntary movements, muscle spasticity, reduced muscle mass in areas of the body, deformities and contractures of the bone and joints and difficulties balancing and walking. Unfortunately for those suffering from cerebral palsy there is no current cure for the disease and the most that the medical community can offer is treatment of the complications that arise from the disease itself.

Famous People Affected by Cerebral Palsy

Geri Jewell (actress and comedian,) Christy Brown (Irish author,) Anne McDonald (Australian author,) Chris Fonseca (American comedian,) Chris Nolan (Irish author,) Steady Eddie (Australian comedian,) Jerry Traylor, Thomas Ritter (brother of John Ritter,) Nicolas Hamilton (UK motor racer) and Josh Blue (American Comedian.)

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis was at one time also recognized as disseminated sclerosis and encephalomyelitis disseminate. This disorder is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath covering nerves within the central nervous system. As these sheathes are destroyed the signals that travel along them as your brain sends messages to parts of the body are prevented, destroyed or warped. As the disease progresses lesions begin to form in the brain and on the spinal cord which interfere with normal data transmission within the central nervous system. There are currently four types of Multiple sclerosis that range in terms of their severity, these include: Relapsing-Remitting MS, Primary-Progressive MS, Secondary-Progressive MS and Progressive-Relapsing MS. There is currently no known cure for MS however there are treatments which help to address symptoms of the disease as well as slow down the degenerative process. The symptoms of MS are extremely varied, making it a particularly difficult disease to diagnose. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to: muscle weakness, changes in sensation, bladder and bowel control difficulty, nystagmus, diplopia, optic neuritis, chronic pain syndrome, cognitive impairment, depression, lack of coordination, lack of balance, trouble speaking and trouble swallowing.

Famous People Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

Richard Pryor, William Hartnell (English actor known best for playing Doctor Who,) Donna Fargo (country music star,) Clive Burr (Iron Maiden drummer,) Alan Osmond, Margaret Leighton (English actress,) Jonathan Katz, David “Squiggy” Lander, Barbara Jordan (American politician,) Annette Funicello, Montel Williams, David Humm (NFL player,) Jacques Raverat (French painter,) Adam Riedy (US speed skater,) Alison Peebles, Brian Irvine (Scottish soccer player,) Bryan Forbes, Clay Walker, Deborah Bruening, Jacqueline Creed Archer (civil rights activist,) James LaRocca (guitarist,) Joan Sweeney, Kelly Sutton, Madeline Rhue, Natalie Mandzhavidze (NASA physicist,) Neil Cavuto, Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, Wally Wakefield and William Newman.

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a commonly misunderstood psychiatric disorder in which sufferers experience severe impairments in the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. These individuals also experience difficulty in expressing reality and frequently suffer a number of symptoms including: paranoia, delusions, disorganized thinking and speech, general dysfunction in “normal” life patterns and behaviors, experiencing bizarre delusions and frequently auditory hallucinations. A number of factors are thought to play a role in the development of schizophrenia including genetics, environment and psychological and social processes. Since symptoms of schizophrenia are most commonly self reported, obtaining accurate data in reference to this psychological disturbance can be particularly difficult. There is currently no “cure” for Schizophrenia; however, there are medications and therapy groups designed to work specifically with these individuals to help to improve social functioning. Unfortunately for those diagnosed with schizophrenia the medications used to treat their condition are often stopped as a result of delusions or hallucinations in which they are told not to take the medication or that the medication is poison.

Famous People Affected by Schizophrenia

John Nash (American mathematician,) Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd band member,) James Beck Gordan, Lionel Aldridge (NFL player,) Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac guitarist,) Mary Todd Lincoln, Andy Goram, Tom Harrell (American jazz musician,) Vaclav Nijinsky (Polish ballet dancer) and Rose Williams (sister to Tennessee Williams.)

Club Foot

Volleyball player with prosthetic legClub foot is also recognized by the name talipes equinovarus or TEV. This disorder is more common in males and is characterized by an inward and downward twisted foot which greatly impedes an individual’s walking ability. This birth defect occurs in approximately one out of every one thousand live births. There are a few known causes for this birth defect including the presence of a third copy of the eighteenth chromosome. Individuals with club foot can undergo a number of treatments to help to fix their affected foot, these range from range of motion stretches to surgery to correct the position of the foot. Even after correction of a club foot regular exercised may be required for years following surgery in order to maintain the new foot position.

Famous People Affected by Club Foot

Damon Wayans, Charles Woodson, Claudius, Lawrence Sherry, Dudley Moore, Gary Burghoff, Freddy Sanchez, Jim Mecir, David Lynch, Mia Hamm, Kristi Yamaguchi, Troy Aikman, Pat Summerall, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome is usually referred to as high functioning autism and can be particularly difficult to understand due to the abilities of these individuals. Asperger’s patients commonly present with deficits in social skills that are often misdiagnosed as a “rebellious stage” or a simple shirking of rules. This is not the case however, and these individuals genuinely experience difficulty with social skills, difficulty understanding two-way relationships and an inability or reluctance to listen to and follow commands. Many of these symptoms are often confused with other diagnoses such as ADD or oppositional defiant disorder. Although Asperger’s syndrome appears to be relatively prominent throughout the world, there are still relatively few who really understand this syndrome. It is believed that Asperger’s syndrome affects the development process in the human brain and as a result the areas of the brain responsible for communication and social interaction are not fully developed.

Famous People Affected by Asperger’s Syndrome

Carl Soderholm (neuropsychiatrist,) Dan Akroyd (this is argued by some,) Dawn Prince-Hughes (a doctor in primate anthropology,) Gary Numan, Heather Kuzmich, Lizzy Clark (actress,) Michael Burry (U.S investment fund manager,) Luke Jackson, Richard Borcherds, Robert Napper (British murderer,) Tim Page, Satoshi Tajiri, Vernon L. Smith, Travis Meeks and Jerry Newport.

It is also speculated but not documented that the following famous people were also affected by Asperger’s syndrome: Bobby Fischer, Carl Jung, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, Bertrand Russell, Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, George Bernard Shaw, George Washington, Marilyn Monroe, H.P Lovecraft, Henry Ford, Isaac Newton, Henry Thoreau, Jane Austen, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Mark Twain, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison, Thomas Jefferson, Vincent Van Gogh and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is one of the most prominent neuromuscular diseases throughout the globe. Individuals with Lou Gehrig’s disease experience progressive degeneration of motor neurons which are responsible for the control of the movement of voluntary muscles. ALS tends to present in individuals between 40 and 60 years old and is estimated to affect around one in every one hundred thousand individuals. Researchers studying Lou Gehrig’s disease believe that the cause is a product of either exposure to neurotoxins, contraction of a virus, exposure to heavy metals, abnormalities in the immune system, defects in DNA or abnormalities in enzymes. This disease usually begins with symptoms that are ignored like twitching, stiff muscles, cramping of muscles, asymmetrical muscle weakness or slurred speech. As the disease progresses individuals will become paralyzed.

Famous People Affected by Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Lou Gehrig, Stephen Hawking, Huddie Willian Ledbetter or Leadbelly (folk and blues musician,) Mao Zedong, Lane Smith, Charles Mingus (jazz musician,) David Niven, Jason Becker (composer,) Don Revie(soccer player,) Fokko du Cloux ( mathematician and computer scientist,) Dieter Dengler (U.S Navy pilot,) Hans Keller (British musician,) Stanley Sadie(British music critic,) Michael Zaslow, Chris Pendergast (ALS awareness advocate) and Jacob Javits (New York politician.)

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder in which nerve cells responsible for producing dopamine break down. Dopamine is responsible for sending signals to the brain to initiate smooth movements made with purpose; however, when these nerve cells break down over time movement becomes less voluntary. The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremor, rigidity of the muscles, slow physical movement and sometimes a complete loss of physical movement. There is not currently any cure for Parkinson’s disease but there are medications and surgical procedures that can help to treat the debilitating symptoms such as tremors.

Famous People Affected by Parkinson’s Disease

Michael J. Fox, Adolf Hitler, Roger “Mad Dog” Caron (Canadian bank robber and author,) Muhammad Ali, Francisco Franco, Anna Neagle, Jim Backus, James Doohan, Deborah Kerr, Albert J. Whitlock, Mao Zedong, Chester Himes, Mary Jackson, Joe Cook, Ba Jin (Chinese writer,) George Wallace, Vincent Price, John Lindsay, Luis Marden (American explorer,) Owen Chamberlain, Kenneth More, Pope John Paul II, Janet Reno, Salvador Dali, Sir Alec Issigonis and Whit Bissell.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that is characterized by seizures that reoccur and are not contributed to any particular cause. The seizures that characterize epilepsy are due to neuronal activity within the brain that is synchronous, abnormal or excessive. There is currently no cure for epilepsy; however, surgery and medication are used in many cases to help to reduce the frequency of seizures.  The most common form of treatment for epilepsy is the administration of medications; however, in more severe cases brain surgery can be performed and in extremely severe cases hemispherectomies are considered.

Famous People Affected by Epilepsy

Hugo Weaving, Sir Isaac Newton, Vincent Van Gogh, Napoleon Bonaparte, Neil Young, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Danny Glover, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Alfred Nobel, Julius Caesar, Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred the Great, Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis Carrol, Bud Abbott, George Frederick Handel, Richard Burton, Charles V of Spain, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Hannibal, Pythagoras, James Madison, Lord Byron, Martin Luther, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sir Walter Scott, Truman Capote, Socrates and Chanda Gunn.

Dementia

Dementia is characterized by declining cognitive function that results from brain disease or brain damage that cannot be contributed to that expected from the normal aging process. Dementia can affect a number of areas of cognitive functioning including language, attention, problem solving and memory. There are currently medications available to help to delay the progression of dementia; however, there is currently no cure for it.

Famous People Affected by Dementia

Charles Bronson, Rita Hayworth, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, Sugar Ray Robinson, Alfred Von Vogt, Iris Murdoch, Burgess Meredith, Barry Goldwater, Dana Andrews, Norman Rockwell, Perry Como, Thomas Dorsey and Rudolph Bing.

Disabilities Know No Bounds

When it comes to disabilities the people mentioned above go to show that there are no boundaries when it comes to who can be affected. The examples listed above also go to show that there are no limits on what you can and can’t do regardless of limitations placed upon you by the “average” case of a disability. If anything these individuals go to show that there really is no such thing as average and success can be pursued and indeed snatched up by anyone willing to take the chance to reach for it. Certainly some of the disabilities listed above place more constraints physically or mentally on individuals, but for those who want true success there is nothing that can stand in their way.

Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is a congenital disorder that occurs when the embryonic neural tube does not close completely, this can result in a number of problems. Children with this disability can be born with vertebrae that are not completely formed. If the hole in the neural tube is big enough it can result in spinal cord malformations. While the hole in the neural tube caused by spina bifida can be closed through surgery both intrauterine and after birth, the damage to the spinal cord cannot be repaired. There are three classifications of spina bifida: spina bifida occulta, spina bifida cystica with meningocele, and spina bifida cystica with myelomeningocele. Of the three classifications, spina bifida cystica with myelomeningocele is the most commonly observed and malformations are most often seen in the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine. Spina bifida occulta is a variety of spina bifida in which some of the spinal vertebrae are not closed but the hole is so small that the spinal cord does not come through it. This is the mildest variety of this disability and it is asymptomatic. Meningocele is the least common type of spina bifida where the vertebrae form normally but the meninges are pushed between the vertebrae gaps. Individuals with meningocele do not experience significant health effects from their disability. Myelomeningocele is the most common type of spina bifida and results in the most complications as the spinal cord is permitted to poke through the opening in the spinal column. Individuals with this type of spina bifida experience a wide range of symptoms depending upon the degree of damage to the spinal cord.

Famous People Affected by Spina Bifida

Hank Williams Sr. (singer born with spina bifida occulta,) John Cougar Mellencamp, Jean Driscoll (athlete and motivational speaker,) Paul Monette (author and poet,) Bruce Payne (actor and producer,) Frida Kahlo (painter,) Judy Woodruff (chief White House correspondent for NBC,) son of Gilbert M. Gaul (Pulitzer Prize winner,) Robert Hensel (poet and author,) and Rene Kirby (actor.)

A Cleft

The term “cleft” can refer to two different congenital “deformities,” a cleft lip and a cleft palate. A cleft is an opening or gap that is caused by structures in the body not fusing together. Around one in every seven hundred children is born with a cleft lip or a cleft palate or both. This type of deformity occurs during pregnancy and can occur in various facial structures including the eyes, nose, ears, forehead, lips, ears and palate. Cleft palate is a gap in the soft palate and cleft lip is a gap in the top lip. Both of these clefts can occur to different degrees and can almost always be treated with surgical intervention.

Famous People Affected by a Cleft

Tutankhamun (Egyptian Pharaoh,) Doc Holliday (Old West gun fighter,) Cheech Marin (American comedian,) Peyton Manning (NFL player,) Carmit Bachar (Pussycat Dolls singer,) Jesse Jackson (American civil rights activist,) Lee Raymond (ex-CEO of Exxon,) Geoff Plant (Canadian lawyer and politician,) and Nikki Payne (Canadian comedienne.)

Blindness and Sight Impairment

Individuals that are born without the ability to perceive light or physical form are considered to have total blindness. Sight impairment is recognized as a varied degree of sight loss. Both blindness and sight impairment can be present from birth or can be developed over time as the result of an accident, severe, progressive or sudden illness. Blindness and sight impairment both can be limited to one eye or can affect both eyes and may or may not be reversed by surgical intervention. Over the years a variety of developments have improved the ability for the sight impaired to integrate in to the seeing community including audio computer prompts, the inclusion of Braille on a variety of everyday tools and the provision of seeing eye dogs.

Famous People Affected by Blindness or Sight Impairment

Helen Keller (American author and activist,) Stevie Wonder (American singer and songwriter,) Harriet Tubman (Underground Railroad activist,) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States,) Galileo Galilei (Italian astronomer,) Andrea Bocelli (Italian singer,) Claude Monet (French painter,) Horatio Nelson (British naval admiral,) Ray Charles (American musician,) Thomas Gore (American politician,) Joseph Pulitzer (Hungarian-American publisher,) Doc Watson (American guitar player and singer,) Sue Townsend (English author,) David Alexander Paterson (American politician,) Annie Sullivan (American teacher,) Apl.de.ap (Black Eyed Peas rapper,) Adurrahman Wahid (Indonesian president,) Eamon de Valera (Irish president,) Ella Fitzgerald (American jazz singer,) Johann Sebastian Bach (composer,) Judi Chamberlin (mental patients liberation activist,) and Zohar Sharon (professional golfer.)

Deafness and Hearing Impairment

Deafness is a complete loss of hearing where hearing impairment is a lesser degree of hearing loss. Complete hearing loss as well as hearing impairment can be present since birth, but they can also be the result of sudden or progressive illness. Hearing loss can be inherited. Cochlear implants and hearing aids can sometimes reduce the degree of hearing loss or in some cases eliminate it completely!

Famous People Affected by Deafness or Hearing Impairment

Helen Keller (American author and activist,) Pete Townshend (English singer, composer, and guitarist,) Ludwig Van Beethoven ( composer,) Thomas Edison (American inventor,) Johnnie Ray (American singer and pianist,) Foxy Brown (American rapper,) William Elsworth (American major league baseball player,) Gertrude Ederle (American swimmer,) Ryan Adams (American singer and song writer,) Heather Whitestone McCallum (former Miss America,) Juliette Gordon Low (American founder of the girl scouts,) Ayumi Hamasaki (Japanese singer and song writer,) Signmark (Finnish rapper,) Georgia Horsley (Miss England 2007,) and Luis Bunuel (Spanish film maker and poet.)

Wheelchair Use

Wheelchairs are utilized by individuals for any number of illnesses and diseases that can cause both temporary and permanent mobility concerns. In the case of the famous people listed below their wheelchair use is or was permanent as the result of a variety of conditions present since birth and developed over time.

Famous People Who Use Wheelchairs

F.D Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States), Stephen Hawking (British physicist), Christopher Reeve (American actor, producer, director and writer), Itzhak Perlman (Israeli-American conductor and violinist) and Teddy Pendergrass (American drummer).

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990’s moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy’s personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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3 Comments on "Famous People with Disabilities"

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Prof. Alan Feldstein
Prof. Alan Feldstein

Error: Stephen Hawking is a British physicist, not an American physicist. He is a Professor in DAMTP, Cambridge Univ.

Sadie Cornelius
Admin
Sadie Cornelius

Prof Alan, thanks for noticing, you are indeed correct and we have updated the article. Thanks again for helping us out!

Daniel
Daniel

aewsome and inspiring!

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