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12 Successful Stars with Learning Disabilities

Patty Murray

Learning disabilities can create educational and social challenges to those who struggle with them.  Despite their learning obstacles, the following stars are living proof that students struggling with learning disabilities can achieve their dreams.

Here are the top-12 successful, inspiring stars who live with a learning or communication disability: 

12 Successful Stars with Learning DisabilitiesKeira Knightley:  British star Keira Knightly wanted to be an actress since she was a toddler, but it wasn’t an easy task.  Knightely was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 6. Her parents forced her to focus on reading skills if she wanted to act. In a Boston Globe Article, Knightly credited her struggle with dyslexia for making her tougher and teaching her how far tenacity could take her.


Tom Cruise: This producer, director, actor, dominates the big screen, but he wasn’t as successful as a student. In a People Magazine interview, Cruise described himself as a “functional illiterate” due to his young diagnosis as a dyslexic. Because of this struggle, he focused his skills less on studying and more on sports and theatre, where he excelled.  He is now a founding board member of the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project (H.E.L.P.), an organization that offers free tutoring in communities all over the world.

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12 Successful Stars with Learning Disabilities Bruce Willis:  Although this mega movie star often kicks butt on the big screen, he struggled as a student. Willis suffered from a severe stutter for the first 20 years of his life. According to a 2001 biography, Willis explained that acting helped him overcome his obstacle.  He said, “A big part of my sense of humor came out of my stuttering, in trying to overcome that and have some dignity. I said, 'Yes, I stutter, but I can make you laugh.'”


Jim Carrey:  Jim Carrey’s unique comedic abilities have catapulted his successful acting career. The funny man is known for his wild mannerisms on screen, and off.  Carrey is one of many adults who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as ADHD.  He admits that in school he would get in trouble for disrupting other students.  Carrey learned to channel his energy and creativity into his acting career.


12 Successful Stars with Learning DisabilitiesOrlando Bloom: 

Like his former Pirates costar Keira Knightely, Orlando Bloom is a diagnosed dyslexic.  Bloom spent his youth struggling with his learning disability and turned to the stage for an outlet.  Bloom believes his disability helped create a strong work ethic, which helped launch his successful career.  While speaking to a crowd about his dyslexia, Bloom said, "I had to work three times as hard to get two-thirds of the way.”


Cher:  This multi-talented Diva has won an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy, and Golden Globe all without finishing high school.  At age 16, Cher found school too difficult and dropped out.  It wasn’t until she was an adult that she realized she had suffered from dyslexia her whole life. Cher describing how learning with dyslexia was a challenge, stating “Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening.”  Her learning disability did not stop her from becoming a worldwide super star.


12 Successful Stars with Learning DisabilitiesVince Vaughn::  Vince Vaughn is great at making people laugh, but he was often the target of laughter growing up.  As a student, Vince was sent to special education classes due to his dyslexia, which caused him embarrassment amongst his classmates.  Looking back, Vince credits his learning disability for aiding in his success.  He stated, “when you have these setbacks, you develop a really good work ethic, because you have to try harder."


Michael Phelps

This record-breaking swimmer was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age.  As a student, teachers told Phelp’s mom that he would never be able to focus on anything.  Phelp’s proved everyone wrong.  He focused all his attention and energy on swimming and we know the outcome of that: 6 gold medals and 2 bronze medals all in one Olympics.

12 Successful Stars with Learning DisabilitiesWhoopi Goldberg: This multi-talented star can do it all, but she didn’t always feel like she could succeed.  Whoopi was an undiagnosed dyslexic up until her adult life.   Many of her teachers told her she was slow and dumb.  Despite her childhood struggles with dyslexia, Whoopi went on to find great success as a performer.  She is one of only ten people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award and is now a children’s author of two books, Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners and Alice.

Jay Leno: Jay Leno gets laughs easily while on stage, but getting good grades in school was not as easy. Because of his dyslexia, Jay’s grades consisted mostly of C’s and D’s. His struggle in school did not stop him from wanted to be a college graduate and even influenced his chosen degree. Leno earned his B.A. in Speech Therapy from Emerson College in Boston.  He also contributes his dyslexia for enabling him to succeed in his comedy career.

12 Successful Stars with Learning Disabilities Henry Winkler:  Henry Winkler played the cool character The Fonz on Happy Days. While he played this confident character on screen, Winkler had little confidence in the classroom due to his unidentified dyslexia.  His disability was often mistaken as laziness and stupidity.  Despite his long struggle with dyslexia, Winkler is now co-author of the children’s book series, Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever.  This series is inspired by his experiences growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia.  He is also the Honorary Chairman of Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities organization.


Dan Aykroyd:  Before he busted out his musical talents in the film Blues Brothers, Dan Akroyd was diagnosed with two major disabilities: Tourette’s and Asperger’s.  Though Aykroyd's case was considered mild and had mostly subsided by his adult life, he said he struggled with it through much of his childhood.


Do you know any other inspiring stars or success stories of people living with a learning disability? Share with us!

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