Did you know that many successful and famous people grew up with learning disabilities (LD) and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD)? Actor Danny Glover, business leader Charles Schwab, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, to name a few, are all inspirations. Talk with your child about some of these successful people whose interests he shares or whose accomplishments he may admire. This will help him understand that he’s not alone with his struggles and will foster hope for his future goals.
Note: You may notice that we haven’t included some of the people mentioned on other lists of people suspected of having LD and/or AD/HD. While they may have struggled with certain aspects of learning, we can’t confirm that they had a specific disability because they lived before these diagnostic categories came into use.
Look for information about successful people with LD and/or AD/HD, in the following categories:
Artists and artisans
- Chuck Close is one of the nation’s most celebrated contemporary artists.
- Andrew Dornenberg, an award-winning chef, says that cooking “saved” him from his struggle with dyslexia.
- Sculptor Robert Graham struggled with dyslexia. His wife, actress Anjelica Huston explains, “Robert didn’t realize he had a form of dyslexia until his own son was diagnosed. But Robert’s artistic gift immeasurably outstripped his difficulty.”
- Tommy Hilfiger is an internationally known fashion designer.
- Robert Rauschenberg was a multimedia artist who had significant influence in the world of modern art and was even called the “Picasso of the 21st century.”
- Mackenzie Thorpe, a world-famous painter, urges people at an exhibit of his work to “stop looking with your eyes and see with your feelings.”
- Acclaimed artist Robert Toth has had paintings, sculptures, and bronzes on display in museums throughout the world, including the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
- Acclaimed artist Willard Wigan is the creator of the smallest works of art on earth. He is emerging as the most celebrated micro-miniaturist of all time.
- Billy Blanks, a world-class martial artist and a television and movie actor, has created a foundation to promote self-sufficiency among high-risk women and children.
- Terry Bradshaw, a former NFL quarterback and now host of Fox’s NFL pre-game show, wrote a book in which he reveals that he has AD/HD.
- Nate Davis, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has dyslexia.
- Scott Eyre, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants and now the Philadelphia Phillies, was diagnosed with AD/HD at age 30.
- Cammi Granato is a two-time Olympian in ice hockey and a U.S. National Women’s Team member since 1990.
- Bruce Jenner, the 1976 gold medalist in the Olympic decathlon, is described as the “world’s greatest athlete.”
- Tim “Lumpy” Herron is a pro golfer who runs a program to teach youth about ethical leadership in a fun, engaging way.
- Chris Kaman is the center for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.
- Hank Kuehne, a PGA star, used golf as an escape from his troubles at school.
- Mike Lorenz is a lineman for the New England Patriots.
- Greg Louganis received an Olympic gold medal in diving in the 1984 and 1988 games and advocates for AIDS awareness.
- John E. Morgan, PGA champion, was bullied as a kid because of his learning disabilities.
- Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps made history by breaking records and winning eight gold medals. He also inspired thousands by speaking candidly about having AD/HD. His mother has also been very public about telling their story.
- Jim Shea Jr. earned a gold medal competing in the skeleton (a small sled) event at the 2002 Winter Olympics, making him the first third-generation Winter Olympian in U.S. history.
- Former Olympic fencer Molly Sullivan Sliney has made it her mission to speak to students and encourage them to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. She rose above her own struggle with dyslexia to become a world-class athlete.
- Neil Smith, an NFL professional football player, is defensive end for the San Diego Chargers.
- Jackie Stewart is a race car driving champion who has been inducted into the Grand Prix Hall of Fame.
- Richard Branson is an enormously successful entrepreneur and founder of 150 enterprises that carry the Virgin name, such as Virgin Airlines.
- John T. Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, has revolutionized the technology industry and is recognized as one of the most fascinating business leaders of our times.
- Barbara Corcoran, founder of one of New York City’s largest residential real estate agencies, wrote the book Use What You’ve Got and Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom.
- Ingvar Kamprad, the Swedish founder and chair of IKEA stores, claims he adapted the inner workings of his business to compensate for his dyslexia.
- David Neeleman, founder and CEO of Jet Blue Airways, started his first airline while he was still in college.
- Paul Orfalea is the founder and chairperson of Kinko’s, an international, billion-dollar copy service company.
- Charles Schwab is the founder, chair, and CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation, the largest brokerage firm in the United States. He also has dyslexia.
- Diane Swonk is senior managing director and chief economist for Chicago-based Mesirow Financial, one of the nation’s largest banks.
- James Levoy Sorenson is a Utah entrepreneur who brings his talents to a wide range of ventures.
- Donald Winkler, business author and former CEO of Ford Financial, has inspired businesses to overcome obstacles to success. He actively supports individuals with LD.
Community advocates and activists
- Erin Brockovich, the inspiration for the movie of the same name, now runs her own environmental consulting firm and is a popular public speaker.
- Dexter Scott King, the son of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is president and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, GA. His memoir, Growing Up King, was published in 2003.
- Valli Kugler, Miss Tennessee 2002, who set up a summer camp for children with learning disabilities when she was a student at the University of Tennessee, used the pageant as a platform to increase understanding of LD.
- Kelly McCorkle, legislative correspondent for Representative Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), is a former Miss South Carolina who made learning disabilities part of her pageant platform.
Entertainers and celebrities
- Princess Beatrice of England, daughter of Prince Andrew and fifth in line to the throne, speaks out about dyslexia.
- Daniel Bedingfield, a British pop star and composer, recorded his first hit record in his bedroom.
- Singer Tony Bennett, best known for his hits Rags to Riches, Fly Me to the Moon, and I Left My Heart in San Francisco, is a 2005 Kennedy Center honoree and the recipient of 15 Grammy Awards.
- Orlando Bloom, a popular English actor, played Legolas, the elf warrior, in the film Lord of the Rings.
- Cher, an Academy Award-winning actress, is also well-known for her pop music and 1970s hit TV variety show. (Source: Barbara Walters Special excerpted in Everybody Has a Song, 2001.)
- Patrick Dempsey‘s 25-year acting career includes leads in the films Sweet Home Alabama and Scream 3. He currently stars in the television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.
- Danny Glover, an acclaimed actor, has used his celebrity status to advance many community programs and worthy causes, such as AIDS awareness in South Africa and the advancement of minority youth. (Source: On a Roll — Talk Radio about Life and Disability, October 29, 1999)
- Whoopi Goldberg is an actress and comedian who has used her stardom to raise money to eliminate homelessness.
- Brian Grazer, a successful producer of movies such as A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, recalls his personal struggle with dyslexia. (Source: Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 2002.)
- Actor Woody Harrelson rose to fame as Woody on the hit TV series Cheers. His movie career includes many starring roles and an Academy Award nomination.
- Salma Hayek is a Mexican-born actress who coproduced and starred in the film Frida, about artist Frida Kahlo.
- English film actress Keira Knightley starred in Bend It Like Beckham and Pirates of the Caribbean and played Guinevere in the film King Arthur.
- Jay Leno is a popular comedian and late-night talk show host.
- Brad Little, star of the Cincinnati production of Phantom of the Opera, also works to preserve African wildlife.
- Steve McQueen, one of the most emulated actors of all time, had dyslexia.
- Jamie Oliver, Britain’s “Naked Chef”, whose programs appears on the Food Network, is known for his lively personality and easy-to-prepare recipes.
- Edward James Olmos is a celebrated actor, entrepreneur, and activist who supports and advocates for Latino culture in the United States.
- Joe Pantoliano, a television actor who appeared on The Sopranos, survived life on the streets as a kid.
- Celebrity designer Ty Pennington was diagnosed with AD/HD as a teenager and now talks openly and publicly about his experience managing the disorder. He wants to “help other kids and families understand that there are people out there ready to help them and that it’s possible to live a productive life with AD/HD.”
- Suzanne Somers is an actress and Las Vegas entertainer who has also become a successful entrepreneur.
- British singer Joss Stone talks openly about having dyslexia.
- Vince Vaughn is a movie actor who starred in The Break-Up, Wedding Crashers, Thumbsucker.
- Lindsay Wagner, most famous for her title role on the hit 1970s TV series Bionic Woman, has dedicated much of her time to raising awareness about learning difficulties.
- Henry Winkler, also known as “The Fonz” from the hit TV series Happy Days, is a producer, author, Yale graduate, and children’s advocate.
Explorers and adventurers
- Ann Bancroft, an honoree in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, was the first woman to travel to the North Pole and lead an all-woman dogsled team to the South Pole.
Legal and political figures
- David Boies, a runner-up in 2000 for Time‘s Man of the Year, is a prestigious lawyer involved in high-profile cases.
- James Carville is one of the most famous U.S. political consultants. According to E. Clarke Ross, CEO of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), “Mr. Carville is perhaps one of the best-known people in Washington, and he lives with AD/HD.” Carville is also an author, restaurateur, and cohost of radio and television shows. Today he concentrates on international political and corporate consulting.
- Gavin Newsom is the youngest mayor of San Francisco in 100 years and has dyslexia.
- Nelson Rockefeller served as governor of New York for 12 years and as vice president of the United States under Gerald Ford.
- Peter Wright is an attorney and advocate who represents children with special educational needs.
- Harvey Cushing, M.D., (1869-1939) a world renowned neurosurgeon, had dyslexia.
- Helen Taussig, M.D. (1898-1986), was a successful cardiologist who struggled with dyslexia, which made school difficult for her. Even so, she graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School.
- Delos Cosgrove, M.D., is a cardiothoracic surgeon, inventor of several medical devices, and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. He says, “I didn’t know I was dyslexic until I was 33 years old. I went all the way through medical school without knowing it.”
- Harry Belafonte is a famous singer, actor, entertainer, and political activist who, even into his seventies, uses his position as a celebrity to promote human rights worldwide.
- Jon Finn is active in the music business as a musician, songwriter, and engineer/producer.
- Stephan Jenkins is a former University of California at Berkeley valedictorian and the singer-songwriter for Third Eye Blind, a rock group with two platinum albums to its credit.
- Jewel is a young pop-music sensation who recently wrote an autobiography of her life growing up in Alaska.
- Phillip Manuel, one of the country’s leading jazz vocalists, was diagnosed with AD/HD in 2000 and says only then did his life journey begin to make sense to him.
- Bob Weir, a guitarist and vocalist, formerly with the Grateful Dead, is now bandleader of RatDog.
Scientists, engineers, and technology experts
- Engineer and inventor William “Bill” Hewlett (1913-2001) co-founded with David Packard the Hewlett-Packard Company in 1939, which became the second-largest computer company in the world.
- Dr. John (Jack) Horner is a famous paleontologist, or dinosaur expert, who advised Steven Spielberg on films such as Jurassic Park and The Lost World.
- Don Johnston, CEO of Don Johnston, Inc. His mission is to support diverse learners with proven instructional models, effective literacy strategies, and innovative technologies to help them reach grade-level performance.
- John Roberts, CEO and co-founder of SugarCRM, is seen as a pioneer in commercial open-source software applications that businesses use for tasks such as managing sales and keeping track of customers.
- Richard Rogers, one of Britain’s most-admired architects, is known for his many stunning buildings and his pioneering views on sustainable cities.
- Bill Wilson, a fire investigator with a “seventh sense,” has a reputation for solving the unsolvable in car crash mysteries.
Writers and media professionals
- Avi, is the award-winning author of more than 50 books for children and young adults.
- Robert Benton, a three-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director who is dyslexic, still finds reading and writing laborious.
- Gareth Cook is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for the Boston Globe newspaper.
- Stephen J. Cannell is a successful novelist and an Emmy Award-winning TV writer and producer who has created or co-created over 40 different shows.
- Anderson Cooper is a CNN news anchor who gained public attention for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
- John Dunning is a Denver mystery writer and a bookstore proprietor.
- Fannie Flagg is a writer and actor who is most famous for her novel Fried Green Tomatoes, which was later produced as a movie.
- Richard Ford is an author who won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel Independence Day in 1996 — a first in the literary world. (Source: Newsday, March 20, 2002)
- Jackie French is the author of numerous kids’ books, as well as books about gardening and Australian history.
- Terry Goodkind is the author of eight best-selling fantasy novels.
- John Irving is a novelist and screenplay writer of World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, and Cider House Rules, a movie that recently won acclaim and award nominations.
- Poet Richard Moore has struggled with dyslexia all his life, yet it hasn’t kept him from doing what he loves. A graduate of Yale University, he has published a novel, a book of literary criticism, and 12 books of poetry — the first of which, A Question of Survival, earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in the 1970s.
- Patricia Polacco, prolific children’s author and illustrator, didn’t learn to read until she was 14.
- Victor Villaseñor is a Mexican-American author who has written nine novels, 65 short stories, and a critically-acclaimed screenplay.
- Art Rodriguez is a California author who documents his challenging childhood in children’s and young adult books.
- Atoosa Rubenstein, who has dyslexia, was successful as the editor in chief of Seventeen magazine. Today she has her own digital business and a consulting firm advising companies how to speak to the teen market.
- Poet Philip Schultz, a recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize, suffers from dyslexia and didn’t learn to read until he was in the fifth grade.
- Ahmet Zappa, son of the late rock musician, Frank Zappa, has authored the first book in a planned trilogy of monster stories.
Updated August 2009
© 2008 GreatSchools Inc. All rights reserved. Originally created by Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation.