10 Celebs Who Suffer from a Learning Disability

Posted June 11, 2010

Staff Writer: Aniya Wells

Learning disabilities affect millions of individuals — including children and adults — in the form of ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions. And even if uneducated teachers, counselors or administrators brush you or your child off as lazy, stupid or slow, having a learning disability doesn’t mean that you are any less equipped to become a successful, engaged member of society and even earn a college degree. These 10 celebrities all struggle with learning disabilities but have chosen to work hard and ignore those who’ve put them down. From TV stars to Olympians, here are 10 celebs who suffer from a learning disability.

  1. Tom Cruise: Tom Cruise has been one of the most powerful, recognizable movie stars for decades, and despite controversy surrounding his personal life, he has managed a successful career that has earned him millions upon millions of dollars. The Golden Globe Award-winner was born in Syracuse, NY, but moved to Ontario, Canada after elementary school. Sadly, Cruise remembers being abused as a child, and partly blames his dyslexia for aggravating his father. Cruise attended 15 schools in 12 years and was a victim of bullying in school, but found his place as a teenager when he won the starring role in Guys and Dolls at his high school.
  2. Henry Winkler: Best known as the tough but lovable "the Fonz" from Happy Days, Winkler continues to act in TV shows, movies and in theatre today. The Emerson College, Massachusetts graduate also attended the elite Yale School of Drama, but his unidentified struggle with a learning disability at a young age prompted teachers to <a href=”>call him lazy and stupid. Winkler’s own son also has dyslexia, and the actor collaborated on a series of nine young adult novels about a fourth-grader overcoming dyslexia.
  3. Bruce Willis: Action hero, ladies’ man and entrepreneur Bruce Willis has made millions of dollars for himself and for studios through his work on movies like Pulp Fiction, Die Hard, The Sixth Sense, Armageddon, and many, many more. The actor has been working steadily in Hollywood for three decades, but Willis had a tough upbringing in New Jersey. Willis suffered from a stutter and was called "Buck-Buck" by classmates. When he discovered theater, however, he lost his stutter, gained more confidence, and even became student council president.
  4. Cher: Entertainer Cher has found immense success and popularity in music and acting since the early 1960s, and her concerts are still some of the highest grossing productions in the world. Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian in El Centro, CA, in 1946. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother gave her up to foster care when she couldn’t support the family financially. Cher dropped out of high school when she was 16 because of a serious struggle with dyslexia, although at the time she and her teachers didn’t understand her disability.
  5. Whoopi Goldberg: Another multi-talented entertainer with a learning disability is Whoopi Goldberg, who has uniquely earned a Tony, a Grammy, an Oscar, and an Emmy. Also an author and UN Goodwill Ambassador, Goldberg grew up with dyslexia, but her teachers brushed off her disability as just being slow or even retarded. Goldberg became addicted to drugs as a teenager and was a wife and mother at just 18, but she kept performing and eventually earned her break in The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg.
  6. Michael Phelps: Olympian Michael Phelps has set many records in two Olympic Games, but at one point in his life, his mother wasn’t sure how to handle him. Phelps suffers from ADHD and as a child, was unable to focus and concentrate the way his classmates could. His mother signed him up for swimming lessons at age seven as a way to release his energy, and he quickly became a champion swimmer in his age group.
  7. Patrick Dempsey: Dr. McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy struggles with his own disability: dyslexia. In 2006, Dempsey revealed his struggle, which was a challenge for him as a child and even as a successful actor today. His dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed until he was 12 years old, and the Maine native says that he still has trouble learning his lines and "reading them off the page…I need to memorize it, in order to go on," he told Barbara Walters.
  8. Bruce Jenner: Olympic champion turned reality TV star Bruce Jenner suffered in school due to his severe dyslexia, and was even dismissed by teachers as being lazy. But after turning to sports, he found self-confidence and motivation, and has given talks around the country about overcoming his disability.
  9. Ty Pennington: Extreme Home Makeover host and one of TV’s most popular DIY guys Ty Pennington, a Georgia native, hasn’t been shy about sharing his troubling experiences with ADHD. The 45-year-old star wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until he was 17 years old, and he still takes medication to keep his learning disability in check.
  10. Tommy Hilfiger: Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger has built a lifestyle brand based on the classic, sporty American look, but he hated school as a child and teenager because of his battle with dyslexia. Teachers and students thought he was stupid, and Hilfiger even admits to skipping classes so that he wouldn’t have to deal with reading. Hilfiger opted to work in retail after high school instead of going to college, and he soon opened his own clothing store.


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