There are brilliant brains everywhere but they don’t all learn in the same way, just like these stars who overcame dyslexia. Welcome to October, Dyslexia awareness month. Let’s celebrate our amazing brains by looking at some famous people who have figured it out.
Molecular biologists Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn recently became the first two women to share the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Greider also joined Pierre Curie and Archer Martin among the handful of individuals with dyslexia who have won a Nobel Prize.
In honor of Greider’s accomplishment and National Dyslexic Awareness Month, here’s a brief background on dyslexia and 11 other dyslexic celebrities.
Dyslexia in Brief
According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability (or difference, if you prefer) that may affect an individual’s ability to read, write, spell, and pronounce words. It is the most common learning disability.
While the effects of dyslexia range from mild to severe, an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the population has some of the symptoms of dyslexia. It’s unclear what causes dyslexia, but imagery studies reveal that a dyslexic person’s brain develops differently than someone without symptoms of dyslexia.
Contrary to popular belief, people with dyslexia do not read “backwards,” though many dyslexics do a variety of other interesting things, as you’ll read below.
1. Henry Winkler
With his greased hair, leather jacket, and jeans, Winkler was the epitome of cool during his decade-long run as Fonzie on “Happy Days.” If only Winkler, who was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was 35, knew how to ride the motorcycles that were as much a part of the Fonz’s character as his signature two thumbs up.
“One of the effects was being unable to make my brain understand how to coordinate the clutch, throttle and brake on a motorcycle,” Winkler said of his dyslexia in 2008. “There was just no way I could figure it out, so I never got to ride that cool Harley-Davidson.”
Instead, the motorcycle was mounted on a wood base with wheels for all of Winkler’s riding scenes.
Winkler was ridiculed for his dyslexia as a child — his parents called him Dumb Dog — so it’s no surprise that he’s become an activist for others with dyslexia. Since 2003, he has published more than a dozen books about a fictional 10-year-old boy with dyslexia named Hank Zipzer. The books have sold more than 20 million copies.
Knightley, who starred alongside fellow dyslexic Orlando Bloom in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, has her dyslexia to thank for jumpstarting her acting career. Well, sort of.
Knightley took an interest in acting at a very young age, but struggled to learn to read. When she was six years old, her mother bribed her with a promise to get her an agent if she practiced reading every day during the summer.
“She felt so guilty at having made a six-year-old daughter do this that she had to get me an agent at the end of it,” Knightley recalled in 2003.
Bizarrely, Knightley’s former school headmaster questioned the veracity of her claims that she was dyslexic in 2004, to which Knightley replied, “Of all the things you could lie about, I’m not quite sure you would lie about that one.”
3. Whoopi Goldberg
Goldberg dropped out of high school, became addicted to drugs, married her drug counselor, and had a child by the time she was 19. She wouldn’t be diagnosed with dyslexia until years later.
“You don’t want to be retarded all your life,” Goldberg told Ebony magazine in 1991. “I was retarded for a good part of mine, according to all the paperwork, and I just couldn’t handle it.”
Goldberg eventually got her life on track, catching her big break when Steven Spielberg, a dyslexic himself, cast her in “The Color Purple.”
“I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I knew I wasn’t dumb,” Goldberg said in 1994. “…If you read to me, I could tell you everything that you read. They didn’t know what it was.”
4. Ingvar Kamprad
Ever wondered why IKEA products are named after Swedish places and things? Kamprad, the company’s wealthy founder, is dyslexic, and thought it would be easier to remember product names that way. The acronym IKEA is made up of the initials of his name, the family farm where he was born (Elmtaryd), and the nearby village of Agunnaryd.