Though the general population of the United States isn’t necessarily aware of it, aphasia is relatively common. It is estimated that 2 million people in the U.S. live with aphasia, so it might not be surprising to learn that some famous celebrities have lived with aphasia. Their stories, like so many of the aphasia stories we hear, are full of inspiration in difficult times. Read on to learn about four celebrities and their unique experiences with aphasia.
English actress Emilia Clarke starred in the culture-consuming HBO show “Game of Thrones” as Daenerys Targaryen. In 2019, she penned a powerful essay that detailed her two aneurysms she suffered years earlier and her subsequent experience with aphasia.
While recovering from her first life-threatening aneurysm in 2011, her brain trauma left her “muttering nonsense” and unable to recall her own name at just 25 years old. The popular actress has since recovered, and even founded a charity called SameYou that focuses on ending brain injury recovery inequality.
Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan comedy on the popular TV show Parks and Recreation catapulted the actor to fame in the early 2010s. But in 2004, she had a stroke at just 20 years old. The stroke, which she says was “kind of a freak thing,” left the young performer with a short bout of expressive aphasia in the days that followed. She’s recovered completely, but said “it was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
In March 2022, the family of Bruce Willis, beloved actor known for his roles in “Die Hard,” “Pulp Fiction,” and many more, announced that he would be stepping away from acting due to a diagnosis of aphasia. In February 2023, his family announced a more specific diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia, or FTD.
In early 2024, the team of Wendy Williams, the dynamic host of “The Wendy Williams Show,” disclosed her diagnosis with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and aphasia. These conditions, impacting brain regions associated with language, behavior, and personality, have “presented significant hurdles in Wendy’s life.” As a result, Williams has taken a step back from her television career and public appearances. The press release ended, “Most importantly she maintains her trademark sense of humor and is receiving the care she requires to make sure she is protected and that her needs are addressed. She is appreciative of the many kind thoughts and good wishes being sent her way.”
Sharon Stone has starred in a number of notable films, including Basic Instinct, Casino, and The Mighty. In September of 2001, at the height of her career, she experienced a rare ruptured vertebral artery, leading to a brain bleed. During the months that followed in her recovery from stroke, she experienced many of the common issues, including aphasia. The movie star struggled to memorize lines, but her cognitive health improved over time with regular therapy and practice. Now 63 years old, Stone is an active actress, performing in movies and television shows alike.
For over 15 years, Mark McEwen reached Americans all across the country as a weatherman and entertainment reporter for CBS This Morning and The Early Show. His coverage was extensive, from awards shows, the Olympics, and even presidential interviews. In 2005, McEwen survived a stroke. He couldn’t walk, and he could barely talk. He documented his recovery from aphasia and other stroke-induced medical issues in his book Change in the Weather: Life After Stroke.
Randy Travis is a seven-time Grammy Award winner and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2013, he suffered a massive stroke that left him with aphasia. He has written about his struggles with stroke and aphasia recovery. While still largely affected by aphasia and limited in his ability to speak, he explores singing as an alternative to some success. His public appearances are always cherished by his adoring fans.
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