29+ Famous Figures Who Have Learning Disabilities
| LAST UPDATE 05/26/2022
From Lady Gaga to Steven Spielberg, several stars battle learning disabilities. But despite the hurdles they faced along the way, they've become some of the most renowned figures in history. Here are their inspiring stories.
Keanu Reeves has starred in many films, including Point Break and, of course, The Matrix. But what fans may not know is that this Hollywood actor has struggled nearly all his life with dyslexia.
The A-lister explained to Handbag magazine, "Because I had trouble reading, I wasn't a good student," he said. "I didn't finish high school. I did a lot of pretending as a child. It was my way of coping with the fact that I didn't really feel like I fit in."
Maroon 5 lead singer, Adam Levine, has openly discussed the struggles he's had with ADHD. The artist was diagnosed when he was still in high school, and since then, he's had a hard time focusing. "When I can't pay attention, I really can't pay attention," Levine revealed.
Although some kids outgrow the learning disabilities, the artist, unfortunately, did not, and till today it influenced his day-to-day life. "It was affecting my career the way it had affected me in school," he wrote in an earlier piece in ADDitude magazine. Yet still, Levine has become one of the industry's greatest musicians.
Sure, Justin Timberlake spent the majority of his life on stage and in the recording studio. But throughout all his fame and success, the singer was dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In fact, he's even admitted the diagnosis has affected many aspects of his life.
"I have OCD mixed with ADD. You try living with that. It's complicated," he confessed during an interview with Collider. Yet it never stopped him from becoming the well-known musician he is today. Timberlake's career started when he was 14 years old. He then went on to become the lead singer of the popular 90s band NSYNC.
Salma Hayek has embraced her dyslexia diagnosis since she was young. Things were tough, but the actress wouldn't have it any other way. "I'm very lucky I didn't have it easy, because I've learned so much from having to figure out everything on my own and create things for myself," Hayek said.
And even though she had to read scripts slower than others and constantly practice lines repeatedly, the Frida star has landed many big roles. “Some people read really fast, but you’ll ask them questions about the script, and they’ll forget. I take a long time to read a script, but I read it only once,” Hayek said.
Tommy Hilfiger's dyslexia hasn't stopped him from becoming a top designer in the fashion world. In fact, he's never hidden his diagnosis and instead has openly spoken up about his struggles. Hilfiger spoke for the Child Mind Institute (CMI) campaign to raise awareness surrounding the learning disorder.
He advised children to seek out help as soon as they can because he avoided it until he was much older. “I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and my family about it,” he confessed. “But if something is bothering you, if you think you have a challenge, reach out to an adult and allow them to help you.”
Bella Thorne shared her experiences with dyslexia back when she was a teenager on Disney Channel. She confessed that she had never been properly taught how to read or write. And of course, as an actress, she needed to know how to do these things when she received scripts from directors.
Over time she taught herself how to read from said scripts. And once again she taught herself how to count by using physical money rather than numbers on a piece of paper. "I learned how to count from counting my dad's cash. So, I'm obsessed with money and literal cash," she explained.
Charles Darwin is probably best known for his theory of evolution. The author introduced the world to the idea that all life forms were created through natural selections. But despite his influential books that changed the world, Darwin had difficulties as a child in school.
Due to his poor grades and disinterest in studying, he was believed to have struggled with ADHD. Such learning disabilities are classified as neurodevelopmental disorders that cause kids to have a hard time focusing and paying attention. But yet, still, he was able to create a revolutionary concept.
Although Agatha Christie was identified as having dyslexia, she became one of the world's most renowned writers. Her novels have been sold more than 100,000,000 times internationally. And they have even been printed in more languages than Shakespeare novels.
Throughout her career, Christie wrote nearly 66 detective books and countless romantic ones under a false name. She was able to accomplish writing these stories even though she struggled with the mere concept of writing. How impressive! The writer even referred to herself as the "slow one in the family."
Arguably one of the most recognized names is Albert Einstein. To this day, children in elementary school learn about the theoretical physicist. We can probably all recognize his unruly white head of hair. Possibly his greatest achievement was winning a Nobel Prize for his work in quantum theory.
Yet the mathematical genius has been suggested to have dealt with numerous learning disorders, mainly because he wasn't able to speak until he was roughly 3 years old. While he was never diagnosed, it's been said he struggled with dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, and more. But of course, if it were true, it didn't stop him.
Thanks to his leadership skills, George Washington has been referred to as "The Father of Our Country." He wasn't just in the Continental Army in the American Revolution but also became the very first president of America. He did all this while struggling with spelling and grammar.
Washington, according to many historians, didn't attend schooling, which left him with problems when it came to writing and reading. But he did eventually teach himself what he needed to know. But despite his undiagnosed dyslexia, he majority impacted the world we know today.
Leonardo da Vinci
It was never officially confirmed that Leonardo da Vinci had dyslexia, but due to his bad spelling, many historians believed he had a learning disability. In fact, they actually think the disorder may have helped spark the iconic artist's brilliance and creativity.
Just because he had a had time reading didn't mean his intelligence was lacking. "Dyslexia is probably one of the things that made da Vinci so creative, made him Leonardo," noted Salvatore Mangione, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College-Thomas Jefferson University.
When Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was in 6th grade, doctors told him he had ADHD, which explained why he could never fully sit still during his classes. But what he could focus on was his swimming lesson - which later proved to be worth it. By the time he was 10, Phelps was a nationally ranked swimmer.
But he wasn't just spending hours in the pool for the awards, it also helped his learning disability. "Once I figured out how to swim, I felt so free," Phelps recalled. "I could go fast in the pool, it turned out, in part because being in the pool slowed down my mind. In the water, I felt, for the first time, in control."
Helen Keller may arguably be best known as the woman who struggled with being both deaf and blind. And yet, regardless of these hardships, she was able to not only earn a college degree, but she was a humanitarian and a writer. Keller published 12 books during her lifetime.
But that wasn't all, Keller was a prolific speaker and spent many years as a lecturer and a political rights activist who gave many speeches about her life. Her learning disabilities never stopped Keller from becoming one of the world's most influential famous figures.
It's possible that Beatles legend John Lennon had dyslexia, but he was never diagnosed when he was alive. The assumption that the singer had the learning disability stems from biographer Albert Goldman. He believed Lennon showed symptoms of the disorder.
But regardless, he became a world-renowned star. Lennon was an inspiration to thousands: "My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all," he noted.
Vincent van Gogh
It seems like learning disabilities may help spark creativity in many cases. For example, Vincent van Gogh has been said to have suffered from acute intermittent porphyria. This disorder is classified as caused by an over-accumulation of porphyrin, which helps hemoglobin - the protein that carries oxygen in our blood.
But despite this, Gogh created some of today's most internationally famous paintings, such as the Starry Nights, 1889. The self-taught artist's mind was brilliant and helped him create the incredible pieces. "I dream my painting, and I paint my dream," he once confessed.
Ludwig van Beethoven was the composer of some of the arguably most well-known classical music, including Symphony No. 9. But even though he was a musical genius, Beethoven was diagnosed with hearing loss. The condition affected his learning abilities, but that never stopped him.
It was never certain what the cause of it was, but many have come up with different theories as to what could have happened to the talented musician. "My hearing has grown steadily worse over the last three years, which was said to be caused by the condition of my belly," he allegedly explained.
Frida Kahlo was a renowned painter who was arguably best known for her daring and provoking portrait of herself. But the Mexican painter was diagnosed with a few different disabilities. And they weren't just learning struggles. At age 6, she was diagnosed with polio.
Yet that never stopped her from becoming an incredible artist of the 20th century - even though the polio caused her immense pain due to weakening of her body. "My painting carries with it the message of pain," she said. "At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can."
Edgar Allan Poe
Without a doubt, most people get chills up their spine when reading a story or poem written by Edgar Allan Poe. And while he didn't suffer from grammar or learning problems, it's been assumed that the world-renowned writer might have struggled with epilepsy.
Historians believed he dealt with constant seizures because, in his frightening stories, he often wrote about unconsciousness, confusion, and paranoia, which led them to think the writer himself suffered from these struggles. But of course, we may never know the truth about Poe's possible disabilities.
Lady Gaga is talented in many fields, from songwriting to singing, acting, fashion designing, and dancing. And yet, through all her accomplishments, the famous star has had to deal with fibromyalgia - a disorder that causes pain all throughout the body.
She only recently revealed the truth to her fans, which arguably made them more impressed with all of her Grammy and Oscar wins. The condition causes extreme fatigue, increased sensitivity to pain, and muscle stiffness. But despite her pain, Lady Gaga continues to amaze us with her talent.
Growing up, legendary director Steven Spielberg was bullied by peers in his class because it took him longer to finally learn how to read. It took nearly two years for him to catch up with his classmates' intelligence level. The reason he struggled so much was due to the dyslexia.
We can't help but be curious as to what the bullies think now - as Spielberg is possibly one of Hollywood's most admired directors. He's worked on many iconic films, including Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan.
Possibly the most recognized inventor is Thomas Edison. From the lightbulb to the movie camera, he gave us many things that we still use nearly every day in modern times. But despite his creativity and innovation, Edison struggled with hearing after being left deaf when he was hit with scarlet fever.
Yet, being hard of hearing never bothered Edison. "I have been deaf ever since, and the fact that I am getting deafer constantly, they tell me, doesn't bother me. I have been deaf enough for many years to know the worst, and my deafness has not been a handicap but a help to me," Edison once confessed.
As he was getting his master's degree, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Sadly, as the disease progresses, it causes the motor neurons in the brain to degenerate, and it's more difficult for the neurons to send signals to the muscles in the body.
Yet he never let the diagnoses stop him from achieving his remarkable achievements as a theoretical physicist. And that wasn't all: over the years, the late theorist wrote numerous books about the theory of how the universe began, including A Brief History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell, and A Briefer History of Time.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
While he didn't exactly have a learning disability, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was diagnosed with polio, which greatly impacted the strength of his muscles - especially the ones in his legs. Sometimes he even needed extra help from a wheelchair or a brace to hold himself up.
He learned that he had the condition in 1921 - before he was ever elected to be the president of the United States. Yet through all the pain, he managed to lead the U.S. through World War II. And despite political rivals trying to put the disease against him, he was regarded as one of the most adored leaders the country has had.
When Cher was a young girl in school, she never understood why her classmates had an easier time reading and writing than she did. Later she learned she had both dyslexia and dyscalculia. "Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said that I was not living up to my potential."
But her learning disabilities never stopped her from being the iconic Cher we know today. The singer has won a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, the Billboard Icon Award, and awards from the Kennedy Center Honors and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Talk about impressive!
John Nash is recognized worldwide for his genius abilities in math. In 1994 he was awarded the Noble Prize in Mathematician and his “Nash equilibrium” theory. He also made many achievements in Cryptography and Economics. But through it all, he suffered a lifelong battle with schizophrenia.
But maybe his diagnoses helped him in certain ways. Nash said, "I would not dare to say that there is a direct relation between mathematics and madness, but there is no doubt that great mathematicians suffer from maniacal characteristics, delirium, and symptoms of schizophrenia."
Not long after he was born, Stevie Wonder was declared legally blind. But that never stopped him from going on to become a world-renowned musician. At age 9, he was already learning how to play the piano, drums, and even the harmonica. He wasn't gonna let his blindness hold him back from pursuing his dreams.
In fact, the Isn't She Lovely singer has never seen it as a setback. "Sometimes, I feel I am really blessed to be blind because I probably would not last a minute if I were able to see things," Wonder confessed. "'I never thought of being blind and Black as a disadvantage."
From a young age, Danny Glover struggled with his literacy. The actor was diagnosed with dyslexia but never felt he got the support he needed as a kid with the learning disability: "In San Francisco in the '50s, there was no test for dyslexia. I don't believe there was a real discussion about the idea of dyslexia."
He continued, "I think that people were naive at that time. I was tested in L.A. at a clinic later on in life, and at that time, I was diagnosed as dyslexic… By that time, I had found different ways to manage my sense of… inadequacy." Yet still, he became of Hollywoods's finest stars.
Nearly all her life, she had problems when it came time to read and write, but it wasn't until she was an adult that Whoopie Goldberg learned she had dyslexia. Before her diagnosis, she was often called "lazy" and "dumb" in high school. Luckily, the rude names didn't stop her from achieving her dreams.
It was life-changing to learn why learning was hard for her. When Goldberg was asked how she thinks dyslexia affects her, she responded, “I think perhaps it made me more introspective. Made me more thoughtful, maybe slightly slower in how I do things because it takes me a minute sometimes to figure things out.”
Earvin "Magic" Johnson
Los Angeles Lakers star, Earwin "Magic" Johnson has helped the basketball team walk home with 5 championships. But many fans of the athlete may not know that he was diagnosed with ADHD. But his difficulties with focusing never held him back from his successful career.
"The looks, the stares, the giggles… I wanted to show everybody that I could do better and also that I could read," the basketball star said about his childhood with a learning disability. "You're the only one who can make the difference. Whatever your dream is, go for it," he advised fans.
The infamous mathematician and philosopher had a hard time as a boy in school. He was extremely successful despite many historians believing he could have struggled with dyslexia. But of course, hardships with reading and writing don't affect intellectual levels.
We have the innovator to thank for the creation of the telescope, calculus, theories of gravity, motion, light, and color, and many more incredible concepts. He is arguably one of the most influential geniuses - and he has majorly shaped the technological advancements we have today...