America’s heartthrob, honorary Secretary of Defense and USMNT goalkeeper, Tim Howard became a national sensation for his incredible performance during this year’s World Cup. Yet few know Howard suffers from Tourette’s syndrome– a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and sounds.
The extra effort Howard must exert in order to control his muscles and reflexes has in fact made him better at his job; this year he broke the tournament’s record for most saves in a single match in the US exit game against Belgium.
Howard is not the first celebrity to succeed despite physical limitations, and he’s certainly not the last. We continue to celebrate the Helen Keller’s, Stephen Hawking’s, and Beethoven’s of the world. But there are many great figures with hidden or lesser-known conditions.
Here are a few well-known celebrities overcoming real-life health issues every day:
Stephen Colbert: Deafness
When he was 10, Colbert underwent a tumor removal that caused permanent damage as well as loss of hearing in his right ear. This, however, did not make him less attuned to the right-wing politics that he champions. With sharp eyes and sharper quips, Colbert continues to be one of the leading commentators on contemporary America.
Frida Kahlo: Polio
Because of this acute viral infectious disease that has no known cure, Kahlo suffers from muscle atrophy. As a result, her right leg is weaker and smaller than the left. But this deformity by no means stopped her from celebrating her physique and expressing her sexuality in those now iconic self-portraits.
Charles Mingus: Lou Gehrig’s disease
Revered for his anti-racist activism, Mingus himself is physically debilitated by the degeneration of motor neurons and cells in his central nervous system. The progressive wastage of muscle eventually cost the Jazz extraordinaire his ability to play the bass. He then continued to compose and produce records for other musicians till his death in 1979.
Max Brooks: Dyslexia
The bestselling author of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War recently revealed on Real Time with Bill Maher that he was dyslexic and taught himself to read using comic books. He recently published The Harlem Hellfighters, a graphic novel about the legendary black infantry regiment back in WWI.
Halle Berry: Type II diabetes
Berry was diagnosed at the age of 22 when she was starring in the TV show “Living Dolls” that launched her Hollywood career. Serendipitously, the early diagnosis steered her onto the right track both career- and health-wise: regular exercise and a healthy diet help her stay in shape and remain the radiant woman she has been all these years.
Michael J. Fox: Parkinson’s Disease
First diagnosed in 1991, Fox did not disclose his condition to the public until 1998. He has since then become an advocate for Parkinson’s, starting a foundation named after himself to support research on stem cell studies and finding cures for his fellow patients. Last year, Fox returned to television with a semi-autobiographical show on NBC.
Joan Didion: Multiple Sclerosis
MS is a chronic, potentially debilitating disease that attacks the patient’s brain and central nervous system. The lurking threat of paralysis prepares Didion for further misfortunes in her life, such as her husband’s sudden death during her daughter’s unconscious spell in the ICU, which she chronicles in her award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.
Rowan Atkinson: Stuttering
Sometimes knowing your weakness can be your biggest strength. Growing up with a stutter propelled Atkinson to create Mr. Bean, a well-loved character known for excessive physical humor and wildly exaggerated facial expressions. He overcomes his difficulty in pronouncing the letter B by over-articulating it and making it part of Mr. Bean’s comic trope.
River Cuomos: Leg asymmetry
The frontman of Weezer was born with one leg two inches shorter than the other. He went through the corrective procedure as an adult and wore a steel brace for months. Finding the experience to be as grueling as “crucifying [his] leg,” Cuomos channeled his pain into creativity and wrote the hit song “The Good Life.”
Robert David Hall: Leg amputation
Best known as the coroner Dr. Albert Robbins on CSI, Hall had a close call in 1978 when his car was T-boned by an 18-wheeler truck.
The accident cost him both legs, and he was left with burns on over 65% of his body. He now uses prosthetic limbs and is a prominent advocate for disabled Americans.