Did you know that many successful and famous people grew up with dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other learning disorders? Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, actress Keira Knightly, billionaire Richard Branson, to name a few, are all inspirations. Talk with your children about some of these successful people with LD whose interests they share or whose accomplishments they may admire. Whether it’s famous athletes with learning disabilities or historical figures with learning disabilities, this list will help your kids understand that they’re not alone in their struggles and will foster hope for their future goals.
Look at this list below for the names of celebrated people with LD and/or ADHD who have become successful artists, athletes, business leaders, scientists, celebrities, and more.
Chuck Close is a photo-realist artist and one of the most celebrated artists in the world today. He is dyslexic and unable to recognize faces.
Andrew Dornenburg, an award-winning chef, says cooking saved him from his struggle with dyslexia.
Tommy Hilfiger is a famous fashion designer. He says, “I performed poorly at school… and was perceived as stupid because of my dyslexia. I still have trouble reading.”
Robert Rauschenberg was one of the most influential and prolific artists of the twentieth century. He had a difficult time in school with reading, grammar, and concentration.
Mackenzie Thorpe, a world-famous painter, struggled with dyslexia throughout his childhood.
Robert Toth had dyslexia and ADHD. He repeated fourth grade three times, and didn’t learn to read until he was 12. Now his paintings, sculptures, and bronzes are on display throughout the world, including at the Smithsonian.
Willard Wigan is an English sculptor who creates microscopic art that he situates on the head of a pin. When he was a child with dyslexia, his teachers “told him that he was stupid and would never amount to anything.”
Famous athletes with learning disabilities
Ann Bancroft is a polar explorer and the first woman to cross the ice to both the North and South Pole. After being diagnosed with dyslexia in seventh grade, she received constant tutoring and attended summer school each year. Through hard work, she graduated from college and was a special education teacher before she embarked on her adventuring career. She has said that her dyslexia was the “absolute perfect training for an expedition … What better way to get the work ethic than by having a learning difference?”
Billy Blanks is a world-class martial artist and an actor in action films. He has always struggled with reading, due to dyslexia that was not diagnosed until he was 37.
Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls as an NFL quarterback and now he hosts Fox’s NFL pregame show. In his best-selling autobiography, Keep It Simple, he discusses his ADHD.
Cammi Granato is a two-time Olympian in women’s ice hockey and a member of the International Hockey Hall of Fame. She’s had ADHD since she was a child, and has undergone several psychiatric treatments and medication to make her feel comfortable.
Caitlyn Jenner, born Bruce Jenner, was described as the “world’s greatest athlete” after winning the 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medal. Caitlyn, the world’s most famous transgender woman, had trouble in school with reading and writing and was diagnosed with dyslexia in junior high.
Magic Johnson is a world-famous basketball player turned activist, entrepreneur, broadcaster, and motivational speaker. He struggled with reading due to dyslexia and had to take summer school to catch up.
Chris Kaman is an All-Star center in the NBA. He was misdiagnosed with ADHD as a child and put on Ritalin because he was “always so wild and getting into trouble.” As an adult, Chris was diagnosed with “an anxious brain,” not ADHD.
Greg Louganis won four gold medals in Olympic diving and was the first athlete ever to win perfect tens at a World Championship. He had trouble reading in elementary school and was placed in special education classes.
John E. Morgan, PGA champion, was bullied as a kid because of his learning disabilities.
Michael Phelps won 28 Olympic swimming medals and is the most decorated Olympian of all time. He talks candidly about his ADHD in his autobiography, No Limits: The Will To Succeed. As a child, he had attention and focus problems at school, and one of his teachers said he would “never succeed at anything.” His mother has been very open about telling their story.
Jim Shea Jr. won a gold medal competing in the skeleton (bobsled) event at the 2002 Winter Olympics. As a child, Jim’s dyslexia put him in special education classes; he was also teased, bullied, and suffered from low self-esteem and depression.
Neil Smith was an NFL defensive end who won two Super Bowls and made the Pro Bowl six times. His autobiographical children’s book, Yes I can!: Struggles from Childhood to the NFL, describes his difficulties with dyslexia as a child.
Sir Jackie Stewart is a three-time world champion race car driver and an international celebrity. As a child growing up in a small town in Scotland, he dreaded going to school, where he was humiliated for not being able to read due to his dyslexia.
Molly Sullivan Sliney was an Olympic fencer. She is now a motivational speaker, sharing her experience of growing up and overcoming dyslexia to become a world-class athlete traveling all over the globe.
Sir Richard Branson is a billionaire entrepreneur from the United Kingdom. Due to dyslexia, his teachers considered him “stupid and lazy.” Today, he regards his cognitive condition as his “greatest strength.”
John Chambers is the former CEO of Cisco. His mother cleaned houses to pay for tutoring to help him overcome his dyslexia. He believes his condition enables him to approach problems differently than others.
Barbara Corcoran is a real estate businesswoman, speaker, author, columnist, and television personality. As a child, she “struggled to read and believed that she was stupid.” She was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade, and graduated from high school with a D average.
Ingvar Kamprad is the Swedish founder of IKEA, one of the largest furniture stores in the world. He invented the store’s creative product-naming system because it was the only way he could remember and visualize each product due to his dyslexia.
David Neeleman is the founder and CEO of four airlines, including Jet Blue. He has talked about his ADHD as an asset.
Paul Orfalea is the founder and CEO of Kinko’s. He regards his dyslexia and ADHD as “blessings that allow him to see the world differently than his peers.”
Charles Schwab is the founder, chair, and CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation, the largest brokerage firm in the U.S. He is also a slow reader, he flunked English twice, and had extreme difficulty taking notes in class due to dyslexia. He started Schwab Learning to help the parents of children diagnosed with dyslexia.
James LeVoy Sorenson was a Utah entrepreneur, inventor, and one of the richest men in the state. As a child with dyslexia, he talked slowly, and his “first grade teacher told his mother he was mentally retarded and would never learn to read.”
Diane Swonk ranks among the top forecasters in the U.S. and the most influential people in business. She’s an advisor to the Federal Reserve Board and she recently completed her second term on the Congressional Budget Office’s panel of economic advisors. As a dyslexic, she says she “can’t read a speech… couldn’t memorize the times tables or add a column of numbers… didn’t know left from right, but calculus and algebra was a piece of cake.”
Celebrities and entertainers
Tony Bennett is an American singer, best known for his hit I Left My Heart in San Francisco and his 19 Grammy awards. Bennett’s dyslexia has been “an ongoing struggle” that caused “difficulty in reading and writing.”
Orlando Bloom is a popular English actor, famous for the film series Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Pirates of the Caribbean. He describes his dyslexia as both “a gift and a bit of a cross to bear… struggling with spelling and writing.”
Erin Brockovich is an environmental activist. The movie, Erin Brockovich, is about her work in a legal action against PG&E. Famous for her persistence, she says her most difficult challenge was reading due to dyslexia. She “endured a lot of teasing from other kids.”
Cher is a pop music icon, television star, fashion trendsetter, and Academy Award-winning actress. Due to dyslexia, she “struggled with reading all through grade school” and dropped out of high school in the 11th grade.
Tom Cruise is an actor and producer. He was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 7 and put in remedial classes. He could barely read in high school and described himself as a “functional illiterate.”
Patrick Dempsey is an American actor famed for his role in the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. He was placed in a class for slow and retarded children until he was 12 years old, only to discover he had dyslexia.
Danny Glover is an African-American actor and political activist. Due to dyslexia, he was once described by a guidance counselor as “retarded.”
Whoopi Goldberg is an African-American actress, comedian, and TV host who has won an Emmy, an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Tony Award. She struggled in school and was often called “dumb” and “stupid.”
Woody Harrelson is an award-winning American actor and activist, famous for his roles in Cheers, White Men Can’t Jump, and The Huger Games. As a child, he was diagnosed with both ADHD and dyslexia.
Salma Hayek is a Mexican-born actress, producer, and humanitarian activist. She was diagnosed with dyslexia in her teens.
Keira Knightley is an award-winning English actress, starring in Bend It Like Beckham and Pirates of the Caribbean. She was diagnosed as dyslexic when she was 6 years old and needed constant tutoring to help her read. She is still a slow reader and is rather famously quoted as saying, “Sometimes I just sit on the bathroom floor and burst into tears.”
Jay Leno is an American comedian and TV host. He struggled in school with dyslexia, but he overcame it by working “a little harder than the other kids.”
Steve McQueen is the English film director of 12 Years A Slave. He’s also a producer, screenwriter, and visual artist. At 13, he was taken out of mainstream classes and put in a special remedial class due to dyslexia. “I was so ashamed,” the Oscar winner says. “I thought it meant I was stupid.”
Jamie Oliver is a British celebrity chef, TV star, food author, and nutrition activist. He has severe dyslexia and didn’t read a complete novel until he was 38, when he finished Catching Fire.
Edward James Olmos is an American actor, director, and activist for greater Hispanic presence in U.S. media. He struggled in school with dyslexia.
Joe Pantoliano is an American actor best known for his roles in The Sopranos and The Matrix. He also appears in Diklecksia: The Movie. He struggled in school because he didn’t know how to read.
Ty Pennington is an American artist, carpenter, and the charismatic television host of Extreme Makeover. He says he was “out of control” in school due to ADHD until he was prescribed medication.
Daniel Radcliffe is an English actor best known for playing the title role in the Harry Potter film series. He had trouble in school due to dyslexia and dyspraxia — a condition that impairs his ability to handwrite and tie shoelaces.
Keanu Reeves is a Canadian actor best know for the movies Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, My Own Private Idaho, Speed, Point Break, and The Matrix. He struggled with reading due to dyslexia, and was expelled from high school.
Mark Ruffalo is an American actor best known for playing The Hulk. He struggled with undiagnosed ADD and dyslexia as a child.
Suzanne Somers is an American actress best known for her role on Three’s Company. She’s also a best-selling author and a health spokesperson. But as a child, she was a poor student due to dyslexia.
Channing Tatum is an American movie star. He did poorly in school due to ADHD and dyslexia and was put “in classes with kids with autism and Down syndrome.”
Vince Vaughn is an American actor, comedian, and political activist. He was put into special classes for kids with learning disabilities due to his ADHD and dyslexia. To succeed, he developed “a really good work ethic, because you have to try harder.”
Lindsay Wagner is an American actress who starred in the TV dramas The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman. She had low grades in high school because she had so much trouble reading due to dyslexia.
Henry Winkler was “the Fonz” on the hit television show Happy Days. His parents called him “lazy” and “stupid” and he says he was “grounded for most of high school.” Winkler didn’t recognize his dyslexia until he was 31.
James Carville is an American political analyst, consultant, educator, and media personality. He flunked out of college, largely due to his ADHD.
Gavin Newsom is the 40th Governor of California and was mayor of San Francisco. Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 5, he says reading aloud was “most humiliating… my self-esteem started to collapse.”
Nelson Rockefeller was Vice President during the Gerald Ford administration and Governor of New York. He struggled with reading and writing due to dyslexia. In college, he woke up every day at 5 am to study.
Ben Carson is an American neurosurgeon, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a 2016 presidential candidate. He claims he was “the dumbest kid in his fifth grade class” due to dyslexia.
Delos Cosgrove is CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, inventor of medical devices, and a former cardiac surgeon. He struggled with dyslexia but overcame it by applying “the rules of perseverance and a strong work ethic.”
Helen Taussig was a leader in pediatric cardiology and one of the most celebrated physicians of the 21st century. Due to lifelong dyslexia, reading was never easy for her, and she “was sometimes regarded by teachers as being retarded.”
Harry Belafonte is an award-winning American singer, musician, actor, and activist. He struggled with dyslexia and dropped out of school at 17. In 2013 he was a keynote speaker at the Yale symposium on dyslexia.
Stephan Jenkins is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and guitarist for the rock band Third Eye Blind. He flunked first grade because he couldn’t read, and his sixth grade teacher called him “a loser.”
Jewel is a singer, songwriter, actress, author, and poet. She is also dyslexic.
Adam Levine is an American musician, songwriter, actor, and lead vocalist for the rock band Maroon 5. He says, “I struggled with ADHD… It was hard for me to sit down, focus, and get the schoolwork done… Remember that you are not alone.”
Justin Timberlake is an American singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer. He has ADD and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Bob Weir is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and co-founder of The Grateful Dead. He had trouble in school due to severe dyslexia and “was suspended or removed or expelled from school on at least eight occasions.”
Scientists, engineers, and technology experts
William “Bill” Hewlett was an engineer, inventor, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, and one of the “founding fathers of Silicon Valley.” His undiagnosed dyslexia made him struggle with written assignments, but he compensated with “exceptional memorization and logical skills.”
Dr. Jack Horner is a famous paleontologist and advisor on the Jurassic Park movies. As a dyslexic, he had difficulty reading and sitting for timed exams. He entered college with a 1.2 GPA and flunked out seven times. Although he never finished his bachelor’s degree, his hands-on research has lead to groundbreaking scientific discoveries, like the first dinosaur embryo.
John Roberts is an American software engineer, Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and co-founder of X2Engine CRM and Sugar CRM. He says, “I had a really bad case of dyslexia… I literally… could not really learn to read and write until I had a PC.”
Richard Rogers is an award-winning British architect who has designed landmarks like the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Of his dyslexia, he says, “In my youth… I was called stupid. Not only could I not read, but I couldn’t memorize my school work. I was always at the bottom of my class.”
Writers and media professionals
Avi is the pen name of Edward Irving Wortis, the award-wining author of more than 50 children’s books, including The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Crispin: The Cross of Lead. As a child with dyslexia, he was “constantly reprimanded for his poor writing and spelling skills… and tendency to reverse letters on papers and homework.”
Robert Benton is an Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director most famous for Kramer vs. Kramer and Bonnie and Clyde. He was a “seriously dyslexic child” who was called “slow” and he still finds reading and writing laborious.
Stephen J. Cannell was an Emmy Award-winning TV writer and producer (The Rockford Files, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street). He “struggled through school, unable to spell” due to dyslexia.
Gareth Cook is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist and editor for New York Times magazine, Wired, Scientific American, Boston Globe, and other publications. Writing about his dyslexia, he says, “Reading is slow for me… If I try to read aloud it is halting… I can’t spell… I was never able to learn cursive, and I am virtually unable to take handwritten notes while someone is talking.”
Anderson Cooper is an American news correspondent and TV personality. He had a mild form of dyslexia that “makes some letters appear backwards.”
Fannie Flagg is an American actress and the author of the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café that was adapted into a 1991 movie. She told CNN, “I was, am, severely dyslexic… (I) still can’t spell.”
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. He told NPR, “I’m dyslexic, and I read really slowly. And one of the advantages to reading really slowly is things get in your brain and then they stay there.”
Jackie French is an award-winning Australian writer of dozens of children’s books. Her dyslexia “comes from focusing;” words blur quickly when she stares at them.
Terry Goodkind is an epic fantasy writer, known for The Sword of Truth series and The Law of Nines. His dyslexia made reading and writing difficult, he says, and he was ridiculed and humiliated by teachers and peers.
John Irving is a novelist and Academy Award-wining screenwriter who is famous for The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules. Growing up, he was called “lazy” and “stupid” by many of his teachers. Due to dyslexia, he was placed in a remedial spelling class.
Patricia Polacco is a children’s book author and illustrator. Her book Thank You, Mr. Falker describes her struggle with dyslexia. She didn’t learn to read until she was almost 14.
Art Rodriguez is the Mexican-American author of East Side Dreams and The Monkey Box. Due to dyslexia, he didn’t learn to read and write until he was 45.
Atoosa Rubenstein is the youngest person ever to be hired as editor in chief at a Hearst magazine, CosmoGIRL! Among her difficulties in childhood — including feeling left out, no one asking her to prom, being shunned because she was an Iranian immigrant — were troubles in grade school because of dyslexia.
Philip Schultz is the prize-winning author of numerous poetry books; he’s received a Pulitzer, a Fullbright, an NEA Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His book My Dyslexia reveals he was exiled to the “dummy class” in school because he did not learn to read until he was 11.
Steven Spielberg is the Academy Award-wining director of many films, including Jaws, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Raiders of the Lost Ark series, and Schindler’s List. In school, he struggled to read aloud and he was often two grades below his peers in reading. His classmates bullied him and school administrators called him lazy. His dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed until he was 60.
Victor Villaseñor is a Mexican-American author of numerous children’s books, including the national bestseller Rain of Gold. Due to severe visual and audio dyslexia, he flunked third grade. Later, he dropped out of high school in his junior year.
These historical figures with learning disabilities and ADHD are just a small sampling of the successful people with learning disabilities. And this list proves that sometimes what makes us different can be the thing that helps us succeed. Use this list not only to inspire your child, but help them see their neurodiversity as a source of strength.