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Famous people with LD and AD/HD

Could you and your child use a little inspiration? Read about famous folks who overcame the challenges of LD and AD/HD.

By GreatSchools Staff

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.


Business leaders

Community advocates and activists

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

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.

Medical professionals

  • 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.

Comments from readers

"i luve this it tells so much!!! "
"gud list!! "
"this was a very interesting:) "
"Hello... one of the greatest minds this world has ever known was a severe dyslexic - ALBERT EINSTEIN! His dyslexia was so bad that he had to paint his front door bright red so that he could find his house (no joke!). The guy could get lost in a paper bag - but he was by far one of the most amazing scientists and mathematicians the 20th century has ever known. Also, the dearly departed Stephen J. Cannel – novel, TV, and screen writer. "
"My son has a great time reading through this list. He realizes he is not the only one, and said "I could do any of these things!". Thank you so much for compiling this list. "
"@ 03/10/2010: Women with ADHD : Salma Hayek (on this list aswell), Liv Tyler, Karina Smirnoff, Scout Taylor-Compton, Hilary Duff, Madeline Zima, Emma Watson."
"I have a learning disability and it was cool to see that many people who are very successful became successful even though they are living with a learning disability"
"As an ADHD adult Special Ed teacher I LOVE feeling like I belong to a community. I know how my students feel when the meds are missed. My students struggle to belong, as I always did."
"WHERE are the FAMOUS WOMEN with adhd or learning disabilities?????? I am looking for role models for my daughter."
"this whole web site could be done alot better and you need 2 add more people on here that have a learning disablitys u was not @ much help 2 me sorry and ty 4 ur time"
"I'm a retired teacher, but I taught children with dyslexia for several years. I used a program called 'Sounds in Syllables' and the children made grreat progress in reading, writing and spelling. They can learn to read, but it takes time and patience."
"Isnt is sad that so many are disquallified as intelligent because of societies need to punnish illiteracy.All Stars and then some on this List magnificent!"
"I really do love this, I now feel better about myself, and its good to know that even famous people have learing problems too. thanks "
"Henry Winkler (the Fonz or Arthur Fonzarelli) also writes books for children. His 'Hank Zipzer' series is for grades 3 - 5 and deals with a young boy with learning disabilities. Good series, looks like quite a few. They're funny and definitely on the level for that age group. Here's the character's website if anyone's interested: Does state that Henry too dealt with learning issues. "
"I love this this list! But I don't think it is necessary to label children as LD and/or AD/HD. They way I see it, every child has genius, but schools are only concerned with academic success. If a child does not measure up academically, then they are put to shame and given a label. The good news is that academic success and success in the real world are two different things, and anyone is capable of the latter, regardless of how they did in school. Every person on this list is fortunate that they had enough confidence in themselves, despite their failures in school. Many students in similar situations would simply believe what they are told - that they will fail because of their academic lack, and thus not even try. So many more children would be better off if they were appreciated for the genius that they have, rather than put to shame for the genius they don't. -Heather Martinson"
"This is a fabulous list, many thanks for compiling it. "
"its amazing all the knowlege I can find on this page.....I work for kids with disabilities....and help me a lot in my labor.thanks.. by the way I read all the famous people you got here you know Joss Stone (sensation famous british singer) is dislexic? could you add her on your list? thanks a lot"