Top 10 Entertainers Who Succeeded Despite Natural Disadvantages

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Getting the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful and lasting way to our culture is really, really hard. For every successful film director, musician, actor or athlete, there are about six thousand people with comparable levels of talent who will never be recognized. Others will only be recognized for fifteen minutes, because Andy Warhol said so.

Picking one of these career paths is therefore illogical and borderline insane for just about anyone- but especially so for the following people, who had innate disadvantages that should have specifically excluded them from said paths. Good thing nobody told them.

10. Pioneering 3-D Film Director Couldn’t See In 3-D

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The 1952 independent feature Bwana Devil was the mainstream’s first exposure to 3-D. Major studios scrambled to respond, and Warner Brothers’ 1953 House Of Wax was the first color 3-D effort from a major studio. Up and coming star Vincent Price was cast as the film’s villain, and to direct, Warner picked Andre De Toth, a Hungarian-born veteran of gritty, two-fisted Western and crime pictures. This seemed like a great choice on paper, but De Toth was missing something significant for the job- as a child, he had lost an eye.

Recalls Price: “When they wanted a director for the film, they hired a man who couldn’t see 3-D at all! Andre de Toth was a very good director, but he really was the wrong director for 3-D. He’d go to the rushes and say, ‘Why is everybody so excited about this?’ It didn’t mean anything to him. But he made a good picture, a good thriller. He was largely responsible for the success of the picture.”

The film firmly established the 3-D horror genre and Vincent Price as a horror star, even if its director never really knew what the fuss was all about.

9. Pioneer Of “Fast Rap” Is Asthmatic

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Many of the greatest rappers ever will tell you that they would not be the lyricists they are if not for Big Daddy Kane. Along with Rakim, KRS-One and fellow Juice Crew member Kool G Rap, Kane pioneered a style with complex, multi-syllabic rhymes and internal rhyming schemes. He’s probably the first acknowledged master of “fast rap,” and aspiring rappers would do well to treat his first two albums as textbooks.

Kane was also a dynamic live performer, dancing along with his backup dancers while spitting his machine-gun lyrics. This would be difficult in the extreme for just about anyone, but should have been impossible for a severe asthmatic like Kane. You read that right.

Asthma can inflict its sufferers with crippling and sometimes life-threatening breathing problems, which logically should prevent asthmatics from choosing professions requiring superhuman levels of breath control. So maybe Kane wasn’t the only MC to help develop this style, it’s just that none of the other pioneers did it while battling a medical problem specifically designed to prevent them from doing so. None of them were hot dancers, either.

8. Academy Award Winning Actress Is Deaf

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Marlee Matlin lost her hearing at 18 months of age, which did absolutely nothing to prevent her from overachieving in ways that make the rest of us feel really, really lazy. She discovered acting as a child, landing the lead role in a children’s theater company production of Wizard Of Oz, and continued acting into adulthood while earning a law degree in her spare time.

As a teenager, she played the female lead in a Chicago theater production of Children Of A Lesser God, and was chosen to reprise the role opposite William Hurt when it was adapted to film in 1986. For her role, 20-year old Marlee won the Academy Award for Best Actress- the youngest performer, and the only deaf one, to ever win that award.

Marlee has gone on to a long, successful career in TV, film and as an author of children’s books as well as her own biography; she’s also played herself on “Family Guy” and appeared on “Seinfeld,” proving that she’s funny too. Honestly, we’re starting to feel really threatened now.

7. Bruce Willis Stuttered Until He Was 20

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As a kid, Bruce Willis admits to being a bit of a troublemaker. Since you’re familiar with Bruce, you’re probably not terribly surprised, but like a lot of class clowns it was a defense mechanism; “If I can make you laugh,” said Bruce in a 1990 interview, “you won’t notice that I stutter.”

It was a huge problem throughout Willis’ childhood and teens, and persisted until he was twenty. He’s been quoted as saying it “took (him) three minutes to complete a sentence” and he was involved in speech therapy all throughout school; fortunately, he discovered drama in high school, and realized that when he was acting, the stutter would vanish.

Of course, he is now one of our most beloved actors ever, has won a bunch of Emmys and Golden Globes, and starred in one of the most successful action film series ever; and while the stutter is long gone, the smartass sense of humor it helped produce thankfully remains.

6. Pitcher Of MLB No-Hitter Was Born Without A Right Hand

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Fewer than 300 no-hitters have been thrown in the 135-plus year history of professional baseball, and only one was thrown by a guy with one hand. But then, Jim Abbott was the only one-handed pitcher to ever play pro baseball, and those who had followed his amateur career were hardly surprised.

Jim was born with no right hand, but people probably stopped trying to tell him he shouldn’t be playing baseball around the time he was named the nation’s best amateur athlete of 1987. His team defeated the Cuban National team in Cuba, a feat no TWO-handed pitcher had accomplished for 25 years, and finished up by winning an unofficial (baseball being a demonstration sport at the time) gold medal for the US in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Then it was on to the majors- an unprecedented career choice, sure, but so what? Abbott never won a championship, but won several awards, posted very respectable numbers, and recorded his historic no-hitter, which we feel safe in saying will probanly never be done again by a guy with one hand. He makes his living these days as- you guessed it- a motivational speaker, a job for which his qualifications really can’t be disputed.

5. Iconic Author Wrote In A Blackout Stupor

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Stephen King is one of the most popular authors in history, having sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 million copies of his novels over almost 40 years. His legendary descriptive powers, and ability to wring terror from the mundane, have made him an incredibly successful novelist, despite the fact that he can’t remember writing a great deal of his early work.

You see, King is an alcoholic with a capital A, and also struggled with cocaine throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Some of his most iconic works- “The Shining,” “The Stand,” and “Pet Sematary,” to name a few- were written through the kind of haze that would cripple all but the most dedicated of drinkers. How bad did it get? King muses that he can barely remember writing two novels in particular, “Tommyknockers” and “Cujo.

He got clean in the late 80’s, and after a brief but intense period of writers’ block, went back to producing brilliant fiction- many works (“The Green Mile”, “Under The Dome”) considered among his best. Despite a serious and debilitating car accident in 1999, he has not relapsed, and remains prolific as ever to this day.

4. One Of Rock’s Greatest Composers Is Deaf In One Ear (And Probably Schizophrenic)

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The driving creative force behind the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson is inarguably one of the most important composers ever in American pop music. His struggles with mental illness are quite well known; while genius chord structures and harmonies would constantly pop into his head, so would disembodied voices telling him he was going to die.

But that’s not all. The Beach Boys seminal work, 1966’s Pet Sounds was recorded at the advent of stereo and produced by Wilson, who is deaf in one ear. Its dense arrangements and groundbreaking production techniques should have been difficult for a producer with three ears, let alone one.

Though Wilson’s demons have at times threatened to overcome him (the follow-up to Pet Sounds, Smile, had to be scrapped in late-1966, due largely to his mental state), he has consistently bounced back, actually completing Smile in 2004, and he remains a creative force like few others.

3. Most Beloved U.S. President Had Addison’s Disease

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Being President of the United States is famously the toughest job in the world. It has been said that anyone who wants the job and thinks they could perform it adequately has to be just a little bit insane, because of the superhuman stamina, mental energy and snap decision making abilities required for it.

John F. Kennedy, possibly the most beloved of all U.S. Presidents, should have been short on all of those things for a very specific reason. Addison’s is a brutal autoimmune disease, and Kennedy had it. It attacks the adrenal glands, which produce adrenaline. You may recognize that as sort of the fuel that makes people go, and one of the primary symptoms of the disease is extreme fatigue. Also dizziness, muscle weakness, nausea and difficulty standing- in other words, it kind of seems like in retrospect, Kennedy should have just been in bed all the time.

He was diagnosed in the 1940’s, but was able to keep it a secret until after his 1960 election. Kennedy proved capable of withstanding the physical challenges of the Presidency, and despite the mood swings and depression which also accompany Addison’s, he successfully negotiated the most tense diplomatic situation in the history of civilization. We thinks it’s safe to say the disease didn’t hold him back much.

2. Grammy Award Winning Multi-Instrumentalist Is Blind

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Stevland Morris (yes, Stevland), better known as Stevie Wonder, has been blind since shortly after birth. He is, of course, the creator of some of the greatest pop music of all time, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and one of the greatest vocalists to ever stand in front of a microphone. Most people know that Stevie can play piano, but that’s the tip of the iceberg.

You see, despite never having technically seen an instrument, Stevie can play them all. ALL of them, including drums, which he played on his #1 smash hit (and one of the greatest songs of all time) “Superstition.” He also played bass, guitar, clavinet and every other instrument on the whole damn record, except for trumpet and saxophone, which he conceded to a couple studio musicians. This was not an isolated case.

Needless to say, most sighted musicians aren’t this gifted. Most of them also haven’t had a number one hit by the age of 12. Or released five classic albums in a row, created the most indelible pop songs this side of the Beatles, or won 25 Grammys. That is to say, he didn’t just pull his stage name out of a hat.

1. Best Selling Fiction Author Was Dyslexic

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Agatha Christie’s name is synonymous with riveting mystery and crazy plot twists; she practically invented them, along with the rest of the modern mystery genre. To say she’s one of the most successful authors of all time is a bit of an understatement- by some counts, Christie’s novels have sold four BILLION copies worldwide. This number is second only to William Shakespeare, who you may have heard about in passing.

Christie accomplished all of this even though the mere act of writing (or reading) should have been supremely difficult for her- Christie had dyslexia, a learning disability characterized by difficulty distinguishing between sounds within written words. She also suffered from depression, and yet was able to establish herself quite quickly as a respected author in a time period when women were not exactly taken seriously.

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While Christie is not the only author to overcome dyslexia, she IS the only author- dyslexic or otherwise, male or female, human or alien– to nearly outsell the Bard while establishing literary conventions that are still in use nearly a hundred years later. And now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to go and get much, much better at life.


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12 Comments

  1. 9 of the 10 are great examples, but putting Stephen King on this list seems to be glorifying his drunken stupors or at least putting them in the same category of those who overcame disabilities is out of place. Come on, you can do better than that.

    • Maybe it’s because he succeeded despite the struggles of being a bad alcoholic – it doesn’t necessarily glorify it.

      • eternalblueneon on

        How is King’s alcoholism a natural disadvantage? I don’t believe he was born with it. Agreeing with Ronnie, King is out of place on this list.

        • Why, of course. Who WOULDN’T choose to live the miserable existence that is the life of an alcoholic! No-brainer!

        • It’s caught in a gray-zone, somewhat like type two diabetes. You don’t choose to have it, per se, but your actions will significantly influence whether you do. And like diabetes, alcoholism is strongly hereditary. King’s father (although generally mysterious) was described by his mother as quite the drinking fellow. It’s no mystery that Alcoholism is deeply encoded genetically, but, like you said, it is a choice to a certain degree.

    • I agree – but for some reason, in this country many people idolize the stereotypical drug-addled, alcoholic Hollywood star or other celebrity , unlike in most parts of the world where they would be looked down on and and shunned.

  2. I can think of many more for this list. These people, despite, or should I say in spite of their conditions, achieved a lot of stuff, even for most normal-ish people. Just remember, if someone tells you “you can’t do this because….” just remember you can if you really believe in yourself – these entertainers did and then some.

  3. I’m less impressed that Jim Abbott can pitch and waaay more impressed with the speed in which he puts his glove on, fields a hit, drops the glove and throws to first…THAT is amazing. Look him up on youtube and try to keep your jaw off the floor.

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