You’d be surprised how many of your favorite celebrities have struggled with basic learning skills growing up. [The image above illustrates how a dyslexic sees words: blurry and incomprehensible]. And yet despite the ridicule they often suffered in school, in social situations, and sometimes at home, they had the inner strength to persevere. What follows is a list of celebrities who struggled with various disability issues before hitting it big. Actors, businessmen, sports heroes, they can and should serve as inspiration to us all.
Keira Knightley (Dyslexia)
Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 6, Pirates of the Caribbean star Keira Knightley has said her struggles with reading at an early age only made her tougher. Knightley’s mother told her that she could only act if she read every day during the holidays and kept her grades up. With her dream of acting now on the line she wouldn’t be stopped, and in her own words, ”I drove myself into the ground trying to get over dyslexia and when I finished school I had the top grades.” Proving that perseverance is key.
Orlando Bloom (Dyslexia)
Best known for his role as Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, Bloom was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 7. Despite his mother’s best efforts in getting him to read more, Bloom’s struggles left him looking for a creative outlet, so he turned to the stage. He eventually mastered reading out loud in drama school, and even turned his dyslexia to his advantage. “The gift of dyslexia was that I learned everything forward and backward, inside out, so I was fully prepared,” he said. “I had to learn everything so that I wouldn’t have stage fright or the lines wouldn’t fall out of my mind.”
Michael Phelps (ADHD)
Growing up, champion swimmer Michael Phelps was continually criticized by teachers for his inability to sit still, and was formally diagnosed with ADHD when he was in fifth grade. After being on Ritalin for over two years, Phelps chose to stop using the drug and instead used swimming to help him find focus. His choice clearly paid off, as he ended his Olympic career as the most highly decorated Olympian of all time, boasting 22 medals (18 of them being gold).
Daniel Radcliffe (Dyspraxia)
Most notable for his role as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has lived with a mild case of dyspraxia for his entire life. Dyspraxia is a common neurological disorder that affects motor skill development, meaning that at 25 years old and the star of one of the largest franchises in movie history, Radcliffe still has trouble tying his shoelaces. In an interview regarding his Broadway debut, he once jokingly stated ‘I sometimes think, Why, oh why, has Velcro not taken off?’
Whoopi Goldberg (Dyslexia)
Actress, writer, and producer Whoopi Goldberg was actually called “dumb” while growing up due to her dyslexia. “I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I knew I wasn’t dumb. My mother told me that,” she said in a 2004 interview. With leading roles in movies like Sister Act, The Color Purple, and Jumping Jack Flash, and being one of the only ten people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award; she has certainly proven her critics wrong.
Steven Spielberg (Dyslexia)
Indiana Jones, E.T., Saving Private Ryan, and Jurassic Park are just a few of the movies that legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg is responsible for. Despite only being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60, Spielberg struggled with it his entire life. He learned to read two years after all of his classmates and was bullied so much that he dreaded going to school. He offers this advice to students and young adults with learning disabilities, “You are not alone, and while you will have dyslexia for the rest of your life, you can dart between the raindrops to get where you want to go. It will not hold you back.”
Justin Timberlake (ADD and OCD)
In a 2008 interview with Collider.com, singer, songwriter, and actor Justin Timberlake revealed that he has both Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and is quoted as saying “I have OCD mixed with ADD. You try living with that.” His OCD manifests in the need to have things line up correctly, and only allowing certain foods in his refrigerator. Despite battling his obsessive thoughts, Timberlake has had an incredibly successful career in the entertainment industry, even winning nine Grammy Awards and four Emmy Awards.
Christopher Knight (ADHD)
Known best for playing Peter on the original Brady Bunch television series, Christopher Knight had problems focusing and speaking slowly when he was younger, ADHD symptoms that went undiagnosed until 1997. Since his diagnosis at age 39, Knight has sought treatment for his condition and served as a spokesperson for the National Consumer League’s AD/HD campaign.
Jamie Oliver (Dyslexia)
Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver has authored over twenty cookbooks, and currently holds the title of world’s richest chef, with a net worth of over $230 million. With that in mind, it might surprise you to learn that he only finished reading his first book in 2013. He was quoted as saying “I’ve never read a book in my life, which I know sounds incredibly ignorant but I’m dyslexic and I get bored easily.” What did he choose as his first book to finish? Catching Fire, the sequel to the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Ty Pennington (ADHD)
Ty Pennington is, in his own words, “about as ADHD as you can get.” The former host of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition had a great deal of trouble in school. “I mean, I was so out of control that I spent most of the time in the hallway or in detention,” he said. Pennington was formally diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as an undergrad, and taking the prescribed medication was followed by an immediate upturn in his grades, to the point where he was getting straight A’s.
Keanu Reeves (Dyslexia)
Star of The Matrix trilogy, Point Break, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and most recently John Wick, Keanu Reeves’ dyslexia caused him to struggle in school. In an interview with Handbag Magazine he said, “Because I had trouble reading, I wasn’t a good student … 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.” His gift for pretending has served him well in his acting career, which is still going strong after 30 years.
Charles Schwab (Dyslexia)
Due to his struggle with undiagnosed dyslexia, Charles Schwab bluffed his way through his early years of schooling by reading Classic Comic Book versions of books like Ivanhoe and A Tale of Two Cities. While attending Stanford University, Schwab was initially floundering, failing both Freshman English and French, “To sit down with a blank piece of paper and write was the most traumatic thing that had ever faced me in life,” he admitted. At 77 years old, Businessman and investor Charles Schwab has a net worth in excess of $5.1 billion, and yet still finds reading and writing tedious.
Paul Orfalea (Dyslexia and ADHD)
Paul Orfalea struggled the entire way through school due to being unable to focus read properly, which even lead to his expulsion from four of the eight schools he attended. In the end, Orfalea graduated high school with a 1.2 GPA and went on to attend the University of Southern California. While still only getting C’s and D’s in college, he was working part time on a business venture he called Kinko’s. In an interview, he attributed his success in part to his conditions, “My learning disability gave me certain advantages, because I was able to live in the moment and capitalize on the opportunities I spotted,”
Jay Leno (Dyslexia)
Jay Leno is a man of many talents; he is a comedian, actor, writer, producer, voice actor and former television host of NBC’s The Tonight Show. Leno’s dyslexia has led him to become a firm believer in low self-esteem, in that “If you don’t think you’re the smartest person in the room and you think you’re going to have to work a little harder, and put a little more time into it to get what everybody else does, you can actually do quite well. And that’s been my approach.” His approach to dyslexia has clearly paid off.
Vince Vaughn (ADD and Dyslexia)
Notable for his roles in movies like Dodgeball, The Break Up, and Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn has a history of making people laugh. As a child Vaughn struggled to read, and consequently ceased caring about schoolwork in order to avoid embarrassment. When he was diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia and prescribed medication for them, his father refused that form of treatment. Vaughn credits his acting career, “But when you have these setbacks, you develop a really good work ethic, because you have to try harder.”
Richard Engel (Dyslexia)
Journalist, author, NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent, and recipient of the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, Richard Engel struggled through school due to his Dyslexia. While working harder to achieve his goals wasn’t an issue, the act of being coddled and meeting with specialists caused his self-confidence to plummet. His confidence issues caused him to stick to the sidelines for a time, before attending a wilderness survival camp at age 13 restored his confidence. “Confidence is everything,” according to Engel. “Once you start having success, you build on success.” Engel went on to graduate from Stanford, and despite being told that he would never learn another language is now proficient in French, Spanish, and four dialects of Arabic.
Henry Winkler (Dyslexia)
Best known as Arthur Fonzarelli, aka “The Fonz,” on the classic television show Happy Days, Henry Winkler didn’t read a book until he was 31 years old. Due to his dyslexia Winkler struggled as a child, both with reading and the criticism that was heaped upon him for his failure, “They thought I was lazy. I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential. And all the time inside I’m thinking, I don’t think I’m stupid. I don’t want to be stupid. I’m trying as hard as I can. I really am.” Since his diagnosis at age 31, Winkler has become a champion for those suffering from dyslexia, and has even authored a series of books about a child with dyslexia that is based upon his own experiences with the disorder, Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever.
Karina Smirnoff (ADHD)
Throughout her life, Karina Smirnoff has struggled with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, all symptoms of ADHD. The Dancing With The Stars performer was diagnosed when a friend noticed her symptoms and pointed out how they were affecting her life, at which point she sought a formal diagnoses and treatment. Karina’s parents tried to provide her with creative outlets that would hold her interest, activities like figure skating, ballet, gymnastics, and playing the piano. When speaking about how ADHD has impacted her life, she said, “After speaking with my doctor and getting diagnosed with ADHD, I realized that having tools — such as medication and organizational strategies — would help manage my symptoms.”
Tim Tebow (Dyslexia)
Former University of Florida star football player Tim Tebow was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, a condition that both his father and brother suffer from. In order to reach where he has, Tebow has had to find alternate methods of learning things that others grasp in seconds. “It has to do with finding out how you learn, and you really get it done quickly,” Tebow said. “I’m not somebody that opens a playbook and just turns and reads and reads. That doesn’t do it for me.” Instead, the former All American quarterback makes flashcards and memorizes them over time, especially when traveling.
Anderson Cooper (Dyslexia)
Well-known journalist and CNN TV personality, Anderson Cooper has struggled with a mild case of dyslexia from a very early age. Cooper’s family placed heavy importance on reading and hired a special reading instructor in order to help Anderson. Cooper persevered by finding books that he was incredibly passionate about, including Helen Keller’s biography and Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American.” While speaking at the National Center for Learning Disability’s annual luncheon in 2010 he said “Luckily I went to a school that caught the problem very quickly and was able to figure out the problem and diagnose it, and luckily I had access to people who could really help”
Howie Mandel (ADHD and OCD)
Actor, comedian, and game-show host, Howie Mandel has coped with ADHD and OCD his entire life, but only consciously recognized what he had in his 40s. As a child Howie was unmanageable both at home and at school, and though he forewent earning a high school diploma he has gone on to have a long and fruitful career in the entertainment industry, where he has incorporated his conditions into his comedy and how he performed on Deal or No Deal. In an interview discussion of his ADHD he said, “Deal or No Deal works nicely with my ADD/ADHD symptoms. I show up, meet the contestants, and move around the set. I’m not stuck behind a pedestal reading trivia questions.”
Cher is well known for both her singing and acting career, though not many people are aware she has had problems with dyslexia her entire life. As her dyslexia went undiagnosed in school, her teachers simply thought that she wasn’t trying, she said in an interview “When I was in school, it was really difficult. Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said that I was not living up to my potential.” She also admitted that dyslexia had made it more difficult to read movie scripts, but that though it slowed her down she refused to let it stop her.
Richard Branson (Dyslexia)
Entrepreneur, billionaire, and “The only person in the world to have built eight billion-dollar companies from scratch in eight different countries.” Richard Branson is a model for success, he is also dyslexic. Unlike many, who consider dyslexia a curse, Branson calls it his “greatest strength.” Growing up in a time when dyslexia was largely misunderstood, Branson’s teachers simply labeled him as lazy or “not very clever.” After starting up a successful alternative newspaper in high school, he was confronted by his headmaster who said, “Congratulations, Branson. I predict that you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.” Looking back on the incident Branson said “That was quite a startling prediction, but in some respects he was right on both counts!”
David Neeleman (ADD)
JetBlue CEO David Neeleman has turned his ADHD to his advantage, using it to help him focus on the things that he is passionate about. In an interview with Attitudemag, Neeleman said “”If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADD, I would take ADD.” In this spirit, Neeleman refuses to take medication to treat the condition, “I’m afraid of taking drugs once, blowing a circuit, and then being like the rest of you.” Instead of allowing his ADD to derail his thoughts, he uses the condition to find more streamlined methods of accomplishing his tasks.
Tommy Hilfiger (Dyslexia)
While his name and clothing brand are known across the globe, not many people are aware that fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger has struggled with dyslexia for his entire life. As a child he was perceived as stupid due to his problems reading, and in the end he decided to forgo attending college. Hilfiger attributes much of his success as a clothing designer to his lack of formal training, which he claims allows him to see things in a way that other designers wouldn’t.