microphone on stageCelebrities with Disabilities

Adapters, over comers and the just plain lucky fill the roles of celebrities who have lived their lives disabilities. Often when we see an actor, politician or other “big name” person on the television screen we don’t see the struggle they go through each day in order to make that flawless looking performance. Below are only a few of the dozens of famous people who accomplished stardom despite their physical and mental disabilities.



Founding Father James Madison who filled in as our fourth president was a frail man. Although standing about five and a half feet tall, he barely weighed 100 pounds. In addition to frailty he suffered with epileptic episodes in which he would become physically immobile for a period of time. Despite his looks and health issues he was instrumental in crafting the United States Constitution and finished his term as president at 66 years old.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd president, contracted polio as a middle-aged adult. The disease struck without warning and within three days permanent muscle damage ranging from his chest through his legs was done. The former senator and vice presidential running mate soon found himself in a battle to return to a new normalcy.  This drive continued and enabled him to become president just twelve years later.


Blindness has failed to stop the career of many artists. Who has not heard the love songs sung by Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Millsap, Andrea Bocelli or Ray Charles? By age seven Ray Charles Robinson had slowly lost his sight over the previous two to three years, possibly due to glaucoma. He began formal piano lessons at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, eventually starting his own band as a child at the school. Although he got off to a slow start and found making a living in music quite difficult, veracity finally paid off after he moved to Seattle, joined a band and recorded two national hits.


Trying to believably bring a character to life in a movie is difficult enough, but if you are trying to fight your own demons at the same time the job can become unbelievably harder. Such was the case with Vivian Mary Harley, better known as Vivian Leigh who won two Academy Awards for Best Actress. Vivian’s performance as Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’ is still considered a stellar performance more than a half century later but lesser known is that at the time of filming she was in the beginning stages of manifesting bipolar disease with manic episodes.

While we are in the actress category we should also mention another Academy Award for Best Actress. Marlee Beth Matlin won this prestigious award for her leading role in ‘Children of a Lesser God’. Marlee has been deaf since she was 18 months old yet her first stage performance was at the age of seven in a production of the Wizard of Oz. Matlin keeps herself busy acting, writing and helping out in numerous charities. In 2011 she raised $1 million for charity during a Celebrity Apprentice show.    


Chris Burke is probably one of the best-known actors with a disability on TV. Chris was born with Down syndrome, but his family collectively nurtured him and helped him achieve his dream of acting. From 1989 to 1993 he portrayed a character with Down syndrome and help thrust both the disease and the capabilities of people with disabilities into the national spotlight. In 1990, while this show was airing on primetime, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which has allowed people with disabilities to do more now than ever before in the history of the world.


Admittedly, Bonner Paddock’s cerebral palsy is mild, but it still causes him problems when he tries to walk. Dragging his feet or losing his balance is common due to the disconnect between his brain and his legs. However, despite the clumsiness, he played soccer and other sports as a child. He began running marathons while in his 30’s to raise awareness and funds for cerebral palsy foundations. But then he went even further and completed two extreme challenges. First he climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and then raced in the  2012 Ironman Triathlon, a grueling race comprised of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26 mile run. It took the winning male just shy of 8 ½ hours to complete the race. Paddock, however, struggled along the course for over 16 hours before crossing the finish line.

Our list if celebrities with disabilities could go on for many more pages, however, I feel the point has been made. Often we don’t have much say in the disabilities that life hands us. However, we do have a say in what we do with our lives to adapt and overcome the inequalities of life.  





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Recognized as one of the nation’s premier law firms, The Cochran Firm handles cases on behalf of clients seeking a Personal Injury Lawyer, Criminal Defense, Medical Malpractice, Bankruptcy Attorney in Atlanta or Social Security Disability Lawyer.The Firm can be reached at 1-800-THE-FIRM (1-800-843-3476) or fill out the form on this page. “Working for You.” Article by Benjamin A. Irwin, Esq.


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