10 High-Profile Celebrities with Learning Disabilities7
By Aydrea Walden
10 High-Profile Celebrities with Learning Disabilities
School is hard enough: difficult classes, bullies, bad cafeteria food. It can be even more difficult with a learning disability – in part because unlike physical disabilities, which have very obvious symptoms, learning disabilities can be harder to identify, diagnose and treat. But kids with learning difficulties can go from being the kids who were laughed at or ignored to the people we admire, want to be, and want to be with.
Some of the most famous people in the world had a rocky start due to learning disabilities. Some admit they’re still dealing with their disabilities. But with time, patience and tenacity, these 10 high-profile celebrities learned to look beyond their challenges and discovered their talent to wow the world.
When someone has won six Grammy Awards, two Emmys and produced a slew of hit singles, it might be hard to believe he has a hard time finishing important tasks. But that’s exactly what Justin Timberlake has said he’s dealt with for years. The singer/actor/businessman says that he suffers from both Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The Pirates of the Caribbean actress often plays well-to-do and upper class roles. This is ironic once you know that at age six, Knightley could neither read nor write. Long before Knightly was discovering furtive secrets of the seas with Johnny Depp, pining for true love in a Jane Austen story or corseting herself into oblivion to play an 18th century aristocrat, she was getting called “stupid” by kids at school because of her dyslexia.
It might come as no surprise that the guy who was made famous for playing wildly zany roles like Ace Ventura and The Cable Guy has ADD. But it’s not all fun and games for him. Carrey has said that though his ADD fuels his comedy, it also has its downsides. “I’m up all night walking around the living room,” Carrey has been quoted as saying. “It’s hard for me to come down from what I do.”
The couch-jumping Mr. Katie Holmes has said that through school and the production of his first few films, he was essentially a “functional illiterate” because of his dyslexia. Because he could not learn his lines by reading them, he would piece together what he could and chat up the director and producer to fill in the blanks. One of the reasons Cruise came to appreciate Scientology, in fact, was that it provided a way for him to complete his education and relearn the skills he had missed because of his disability.
Sir Richard Branson
Some people might think you’d have to be crazy to want to fly to space on your own private plane. But it’s not craziness that made Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Group, what he is today. It was dyslexia. What he lacked in the ability to take tests and make decent grades, he more than made up for in social skills and the ability to connect with people.
“Perhaps my early problems with dyslexia made me more intuitive: when someone sends me a written proposal, rather than dwelling on detailed facts and figures, I find that my imagination grasps and expands on what I read.” – Richard Branson, from Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way, Times Business, 1998
Read: The World’s 10 Most Successful Men That Didn’t Grow Up – #3 Richard Branson
Take a Grammy Award, add an Oscar, an Emmy, three Golden Globes, a Cannes Film Festival Award, a People’s Choice Award, a 50-year career and 100 million records sold worldwide and anyone would have trouble keeping up with those numbers. And it was numbers that gave Cher trouble in school. She suffered from a condition called dyscalculia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult for people to recognize, understand and organize mathematical information or mathematical symbols. Considering music is based in math… wow.
Environmental activist, legalized-marijuana-supporter and member of a self-sustaining community in Hawaii, Harrelson gives off a laid-back hippie vibe. But that relaxed attitude did not come naturally as Harrelson was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a child. With a historic television career followed by an award-winning film career, you’d never guess.
Like others on this list, the late night host and comedian says that having a learning disability inspired him to work extremely hard to prove himself. A dyslexic, Leno had a hard time making good grades in high school. Still, he found a way to get accepted into the highly-ranked Emerson College in Boston before moving on to become one of the most successful comics of all time and hold a coveted spot on a short list of legendary television talk show hosts.
The fast-talking, charming rogue who gave us great lines like, “You’re so money,” was once the one being laughed at, not with. In school, he was put in special education classes because of his dyslexia. It was there that he learned to make himself feel better by making others laugh at his jokes, not at him.
Even The Fonz’s parents made fun of him when he was a kid. Because of his dyslexia and dysgraphia (a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to write), his German parents gave him a nickname that translated into “dumb dog” in English. Winkler didn’t find out what was ‘wrong’ with him until he was in his 30s. Winkler once told a group of students in 2009: “How you learn has nothing to do with how great you are. Your job is to find out what your gift is, what your contribution will be.”
Aydrea Walden ten Bosch, a former news reporter, has also written for Nickelodeon, NBC/Universal, Hawaii Film Partners, Highlander Films, the Now Write! Screenwriting book series, Improv Olympic, The Second City Los Angeles and Disney. She regularly performs sketch and improv comedy and runs the satirical blog, The Oreo Experience, about her life and times as a super white black person.