Fame, fortune, millions of adoring fans. Life certainly comes easy for celebrities, doesn’t it? Well….not always. Quite a few celebs have overcome challenges over the course of their lives, including these 30 who you didn’t know have learning disabilities.
For better or worse, actress Jennifer Aniston is often put onto the pedestal of perfection. Still, the actress has never shied away from discussing the many hardships she has had to face throughout her life — including her struggles with dyslexia. Growing up, Aniston recalls feeling as if she were stupid. It wasn’t until she took an eye exam in her 20s that she was ultimately diagnosed as dyslexic. While Aniston has stated that her dyslexia keeps her from reading much, she ultimately doesn’t let her diagnosis define her or hold her back. Sounds pretty perfect to us.
Orlando Bloom certainly hasn’t let his struggles with dyslexia hinder his acting career. In fact, the Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings star credits some of his success to his learning disability. “The gift of dyslexia,” says Bloom, “was that I learned everything forward and backward, inside out, so I was fully prepared. I had to learn everything so that I wouldn’t have stage fright or the lines wouldn’t fall out of my head.” Bloom was first diagnosed with dyslexia at age seven, and was put into acting classes to help him channel his creativity and build his confidence.
Richard Branson, one of the richest men in the world, is dyslexic. The billionaire entrepreneur is the only person in the world to have built eight billion-dollar companies from scratch, and believe it or not, he credits his learning “disability” for much of his success. Says Branson, “The reason why I think people who are dyslexic seem to do well in life, having struggled at school, is that we tend to simplify things.” Recalling the ways in which his school teachers treated him for his dyslexia, Branson states, “It is time we lost the stigma around dyslexia. It is not a disadvantage, it is merely a different way of thinking. Once freed from archaic schooling practices and preconceptions, my mind opened up. Out in the real world, my dyslexia became my massive advantage: it helped me to think creatively and laterally, and see solutions where others saw problems.”
Maybe this one is not so surprising. But in all seriousness, legendary comedian Jim Carrey has long been honest about his struggles with various learning disabilities and the ways in which those differences have affected his mental health. Diagnosed with both dyslexia and ADHD as a child, Carrey recalls experiencing myriad behavioral issues while growing up in school. Treatment such as medication has helped Carrey immensely, as has focusing his energy into his very physical comedy and being a spokesman for those with ADHD.
“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.” Well, the joke is on those teachers, as Cher has certainly managed to live up to (and exceed) her potential! The legendary actress and singer reports that she struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia for most of her life, even admitting that her learning disability has sometimes proven a challenge when reading movie scripts. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 2012 that Cher officially revealed her dyslexia. She took to Twitter to say, “ITS TRUE IM DYSLEXIC & some of u have a problem following me! I am who i am! Dyslexia is no joke! If i had Some1 twt 4 me whats the point.”
He routinely reports from the frontlines, interviews the world’s most famous (and infamous) people, and has written a bestselling book. He also has dyslexia. Journalist and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper was diagnosed at an early age. Fortunately, his wealthy family had the resources to hire Anderson a special reading instructor. While speaking at a 2010 luncheon at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Cooper summed up his experience with dyslexia by saying, “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.” Cooper also used his natural perseverance to work through books he found especially interesting, such as The Quiet American by Graham Greene and the autobiography of Helen Keller.
Big time star Tom Cruise was first diagnosed with dyslexia at age seven. Despite this early diagnosis, Cruise reports having had a rough childhood. Not only was he bullied by his peers for his learning disability, he was often frustrated and bored. According to Cruise, he remained “functionally illiterate” even through high school and his earliest film roles. In fact, the Mission:Impossible star insists it was only after he joined the Church of Scientology that he learned to read well.
Apparently school wasn’t always “McDreamy” (Sorry! We had to!) for Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey. Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 12, Dempsey struggled with reading throughout his childhood, high school years, and early acting career. In fact, Dempsey has admitted that even today he sometimes has trouble reading scripts for work. Still, the heartthrob actor has managed to remain positive. Says Dempsey, “I think it’s made me who I am today. It’s given me a perspective of ‘you have to keep working.’ I have never given up.”
Bubbly and oh-so-charming, Zooey Deschanel is well known for playing Jess on the hit sitcom New Girl. The actress managed to surprise a lot of people when she used her popular blog to reveal that she had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. In addition to discussing the ways in which ADHD has affected her day-to-day life, Deschanel revealed that she had found success in managing her extra energy by crafting, and writing and performing with her band, She&Him.
Over the course of his career, Richard Engel has racked up the titles and accolades: journalist, author, winner of the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. But get this: Engel is dyslexic. Diagnosed as a child, Engel recalls being coddled over his learning disability to the point that his confidence plummeted. “Confidence is everything,” he has said. “Once you start having success, you build on success.” Engel credits a survival camp he attended at age 13 for helping him regain his confidence. Oh, and did we mention he also speaks three other languages, including four different dialects of Arabic?
Actress, producer, and writer Whoopi Goldberg is one of only 15 people to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. This is despite having dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to decipher letters and words. Though she had trouble reading as a child and was often called “dumb,” Goldberg insisted in a 2004 interview, “I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I knew I wasn’t dumb.” Some of Goldberg’s best known films include Sister Act; Corinna, Corinna; The Lion King; and Ghost.
Though most people know his name, few know that Tommy Hilfiger has dyslexia. In fact, the designer behind one of the world’s most successful clothing brands has struggled with reading and writing for most of his life. A lack of understanding from his teachers and peers convinced Hilfiger that school wasn’t the place for him, and he ultimately decided to skip attending a university. Still, Hilfiger credits this unorthodox path to the work force as part of the reason for his success. He’s even attributed his dyslexia to allowing him to see designs and the clothing marketplace in a way other designers aren’t able.
For Christopher Knight, childhood wasn’t quite as idyllic as it may have appeared on The Brady Bunch. Knight, who is perhaps best known for playing Peter Brady, struggled with ADHD. The young actor’s Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder caused Knight to have trouble focusing and speaking slowly — two big challenges for a child actor. And yet, Knight wasn’t officially diagnosed until age 39! Today, Knight serves as a supporter and spokesperson for the National Consumer League’s ADHD campaign.
Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley is not one to let a challenge stop her. That includes her dyslexia, with which she was diagnosed at the age of six. According to the Pirates of the Caribbean star, it was her mother who insisted she overcome her struggles with reading by doing so every single day. Says Knightley, “I drove myself into the ground trying to get over dyslexia, and when I finished school I had the top grades.”
Jay Leno has spoken extensively about growing up with dyslexia. Of course, according to the legendary comedian and former host of The Tonight Show, “We didn’t call it dyslexia then. It was called, ‘Smarten up, smarten up, smarten up.” Leno was fortunate enough to have a supportive teacher who opened his eyes to creative writing. That outlet almost certainly contributed to Leno’s success in Hollywood. Today, Leno remains optimistic about his dyslexia. Says the comedian, “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.”
Adam Levine is no stranger to success. The Maroon 5 frontman has won Grammys, performed at the Super Bowl, and is even happily married to a supermodel. Thus, some may find it rather surprising that Levine has had ADHD since childhood. Though he’s been supported and properly medicated since first being diagnosed, Levine admits he still struggles at time. As he shared with ADDitude, “My struggles continued as an adult. I had trouble sometimes writing songs and recording in the studio. I couldn’t always focus and complete everything I had to. I remember being in the studio once and having 30 ideas in my head, but I couldn’t document any of them.”
Howie Mandel makes no secret of his learning disabilities. In fact, the Hollywood legend even incorporates some of his unique tendencies into his television persona — anyone remember the famous fist bump greeting Mandel used while hosting Deal or No Deal? The fist bump is a direct result of Mandel’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, with which he was diagnosed as a child. The actor/comedian/writer/producer/host was also diagnosed early on with ADHD. Still, Mandel has managed to overcome his learning challenges. While working on Deal or No Deal, Mandel told a reporter, “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.”
Ever since she was a child, Alyssa Milano has struggled with dyslexia. And yet, the Who’s The Boss? and Charmed star has managed to find ways by which to overcome the challenges brought on by her learning difference. One trick was even taught to her by legendary British actor Sir John Gielgud when Milano was just 14 years old. Recalls Milano, “When I asked him how he memorized his monologues, he said, ‘I write them down.’ I use that method to this day. It not only familiarizes me with my words, it makes them my own.”
According to the celebrity chef himself, Jamie Oliver wasn’t able to finish reading a book until 2013. This may be surprising considering Oliver has authored more than 20 cookbooks and boasts a net worth of some $230 million. But as Oliver explained prior to 2013, “I’ve never read a book in my life, which I know sounds incredibly ignorant, but I’m dyslexic and I get bored easily.” Oh, and in case you are wondering which novel it was that managed to hold the attention of the world’s richest chef, that would be The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Ty Pennington is “about as ADHD as you can get.” Don’t worry, those are the television host’s own words. According to Ty, school was a big constant struggle, and not a whole lot of learning was being done. As he told one reporter, “I was so out of control that I spent most of the time in the hallway or in detention.” It wasn’t until Pennington was a freshman in college that he was finally diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. Fortunately, the medication he was prescribed resulted in an immediate improvement in his grades and behavior, and the rest, as they say, is history.
After years of frustrating teachers with his lack of focus and inability to sit still, Michael Phelps was finally diagnosed with ADHD as a fifth grader. It wasn’t until he had been on Ritalin for two years that Phelps decided to become serious about competitive swimming in an effort to wean himself from the drug. Just think: Had Michael Phelps not been diagnosed with ADHD, he may never have found swimming, and we would never have gotten to experience his absolute dominance in the pool!
He is nearly 30 years old, will forever be known as Harry Potter, and has experienced massive success on the Broadway stage. And yet, Daniel Radcliffe still has trouble tying his own shoes. This is the result of Radcliffe’s dyspraxia, a neurological disorder that affects the development of motor skills. Radcliffe was diagnosed as a child with a mild case of this surprisingly common learning disability, and he certainly hasn’t let it get in the way of his success. Still, he has been known to make the joke, “Why, oh why, has Velcro not taken off?”
Actor Keanu Reeves had a good reason to hate school as a child: dyslexia. As he once told Handbag Magazine, “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.” That knack for pretending certainly turned out well for Reeves. His 30-year acting career has resulted in such hits as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Speed, Point Break, and The Matrix franchise.
The name Charles Schwab has practically become synonymous with financial success. After all, the businessman and investor boasts a net worth somewhere north of $5.1 billion. But Schwab’s success hasn’t come easy. He spent most of his education struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia. Says Schwab, “To sit down with a blank piece of paper and write was the most traumatic thing that had ever faced me in life.” Still, the resourceful Schwab managed to get through high school and then Stanford University before becoming the success he is today.
Can you believe that the man behind such films as Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and E.T. has a learning disability? It’s true. Visionary director and producer Steven Spielberg grew up struggling with schoolwork. It took him two years longer than his peers to learn to read, a fact for which he was often bullied. Finally officially diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60, Spielberg has managed to find some inspiration in his diagnosis. He often encourages young artists with their own learning disabilities, telling them, “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.”
Dyslexia isn’t anything new for star football player Tim Tebow. In fact, both his brother and his father also suffer with the common learning disability. Still, the former All-American hasn’t allowed the challenge to keep him down. When it comes to learning new things, Tebow takes his time and uses flashcards, a tool he learned early on as being helpful to him. Says the champ, “I’m not somebody that opens a playbook and just turns and reads and reads. That doesn’t do it for me.”
Grammy- and Emmy-winner Justin Timberlake exudes confidence with just about anything he does. Yet, that wasn’t always the case. In a 2008 interview with Collider, Timberlake stunned his fans by admitting that he struggles with both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder. “You try living with that,” he challenged. According to Timberlake, his OCD mostly manifests itself in needing things to line up correctly. He has also admitted to banning certain food items from his refrigerator. Still, the father of one manages to control his disabilities, as they haven’t stopped him from becoming one of the most successful singer-songwriters of all time.
Known for comedy classics like Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn is another celebrity who turned to acting as a creative outlet during a tough childhood. Vaughn’s childhood challenges stemmed from the fact that he exhibited a number of behavioral problems and struggled to read while at school. Though he was ultimately diagnosed with both ADD and dyslexia, Vaughn’s father refused to allow his son the medication prescribed to help. Instead, Vaughn learned to overcome his challenges, saying, “[W]hen you have these setbacks, you develop a really good work ethic, because you have to try harder.”
Though she hasn’t been quite as vocal about it as some of the other celebrities on our list, actress Emma Watson has long dealt with attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, or ADHD. Reportedly, Watson was first diagnosed as a child, and has since remained on medication to help her focus and control her behavior. Of course, Watson’s ADHD has done anything but stop her. The star of Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast has not only become a highly respected actress, she’s also a U.N. Ambassador and Ivy League graduate.
Henry Winkler may be most famous for playing the epitome of cool, “The Fonz” on Happy Days, but growing up, Winkler was thought of as anything but. “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.” Little did anyone know, Winkler was struggling with dyslexia, with which he was finally diagnosed at age 31. That’s the same age the actor admits to reading his first book. Speaking of books, Winkler has authored a bestselling series of children’s novels called Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever, based in part on Winkler’s own experiences growing up with dyslexia.