8 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Deaf or Hard of Hearing
According to the World Health Organization, over 5% of the world’s population suffers from some kind of hearing loss. From video closed captions to audio transcripts, there are many accessibility solutions and that allow those who are deaf or hard of hearing to thrive in their professional careers.
Part of this 5% includes many notable deaf celebrities. Read on to see how these famous athletes, singers, and actors have overcome the odds to find success.
- Stephen Colbert
- William Shatner
- Whoopi Goldberg
- Halle Berry
- Lou Ferrigno
- Derrick Coleman
- Jodie Foster
Perhaps you’ve noticed that comedian Stephen Colbert’s right ear sticks out at an angle. As a child, he had surgery to repair a severely perforated eardrum, he told The New Yorker. “I had this weird tumor as a kid, and they scooped it out with a melon baller.”
In order to safely remove the tumor, doctors had to remove Colbert’s eardrum — so he is completely deaf in his right ear. This new reality forced him to shift his career goals — he had dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. He told The Charleston Post and Courier, “Now I can’t get my head wet. I mean, I can, but I can’t really scuba dive or anything like that. So that killed my marine biology hopes.”
Fortunately, he was able to pursue interests in acting and comedy to become the success he is today.
Best known as Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk, William Shatner has suffered from tinnitus for decades, caused by a pyrotechnics accident while shooting a Star Trek episode.
He described to The Baltimore Sun: “Some years ago, we had an explosion on the set of one of our ‘Star Trek’ movies. We got this ringing in our ears, and it never really went away…it’s like a radio left on, but just the static. And you can’t turn it off.”
Tinnitus affects up to 20% of the population and is a symptom of an underlying condition — including ear injuries like Shatner’s. The Mayo Clinic describes this disorder as “the perception of noise or ringing in the ears.”
Today, sound therapy has helped him adjust to his new normal, and Shatner is an active supporter of the American Tinnitus Association as they search for a cure.
Award-winning actress, host, singer, and comedian Whoopi Goldberg believes her hearing loss is a result of listening to loud music.
In 2011, she told the National Enquirer, “I attribute my own hearing loss — which, by the way, is suffered by thousands of people in varying degrees, to years of listening to music so loudly and so close to the delicate eardrum.”
She now wears hearing aids in both ears to help her hear low tones.
Claire Boucher, professionally known as Grimes, is a Canadian singer who suffers from tinnitus. When she was just 24, she had to cancel her European tour due to hearing loss issues and tinnitus – she was advised to stay away from loud music.
She tweeted about her struggle, mentioning that the ringing in her ears was so loud that she couldn’t sleep at night.
The Oscar-winning actress lost 80% of her hearing in her left ear after being physically assaulted by an abusive boyfriend.
In a 2011 speech at The Mayor’s Fund Benefit in New York City, Halle Berry addressed her hearing loss. “It was only when I was in an abusive relationship and I lost 80 percent of my hearing in my ear that I realized, I have to break the cycle. I want women to stand up and break the silence and get rid of the shame and the fear and find a way to stand up for themselves.”
Today, she continues to be an advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Better known as the Incredible Hulk, actor, and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno lost 75% of his hearing when he was just three years old — the result of an ear infection.
Growing up, Ferrigno was bullied because he couldn’t hear and had a hard time speaking. But he found refuge and inspiration in comic books. “I was very introverted as a child. I would read Superman comics because I was fascinated with power. That saved my life. In fact, that led me to a path to get involved with bodybuilding fitness and then eventually the film business, and it also gave me the motivation and discipline to work on myself.”
Today, he’s a role model in the deaf community. “I think my hearing loss helped create a determination within me to be all I can be, and gave me a certain strength of character, too.”
Super Bowl champion Derrick Coleman, Jr. is the first deaf offensive player in NFL history. He lost his hearing when he was three years old, but pursued his love for football despite the odds.
“If you have a disability, and you’re letting that disability affect your performance, you make excuses,” Coleman told CNN. “Football was the first thing [where] I didn’t want to make excuses for this. I just want to play.”
Though Coleman uses hearing aids, he’s become adept at reading lips — in games, he positions himself close to the quarterback so he can see his lips moving and follow the call.
“Every now and then, people forget,” Coleman said in an interview with ESPN. “I have friends back home that forget I have hearing aids because at the end of the day, I don’t change myself. Just because I have hearing loss doesn’t mean you have to do anything differently.”
In a 2002 interview with The Chicago Tribune, actress Jodie Foster admitted that she’s let her own health slide – including missing a doctor’s appointment to deal with a self-described “hearing-loss thing.” She also suffers from vertigo – a potentially related condition.
Today, she’s often seen wearing in-the-ear hearing aids as she pursues her career.