Did you know that 20% of adults in the United States (around 48 million) suffer from some type of hearing loss? September is National Deaf Awareness Month and as we wrap up the month we take a look at some celebrities who are deaf or hearing impaired.
Long before she became one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood, Halle Berry suffered from severe hearing loss. The “Their Eyes Were Watching God” star grew up watching her mother be physically abused at the hands of her father and when she got older, Berry found herself repeating the cycle and was in a relationship with an abusive boyfriend that beat her so bad she lost 80% of her hearing in one ear. While some initially thought singer Christopher Williams was the culprit, others have pegged the abusive boyfriend to be fellow actor Wesley Snipes, but Berry has never publicly confirmed this. After becoming famous, Berry has been very outspoken against domestic violence.
In 2001, conservative right wing radio host Rush Limbaugh declared he was completely deaf and had lost all of his hearing in both ears in a matter of three months. Doctors were able to restore some of his hearing after performing cochlear implant surgery. Though he has never explained why he suddenly lost his hearing, some experts in the field said it could have been caused as a result of his addiction to opiates.
Few actors have played more characters than the legendary Leslie Nielsen. The Canadian born actor/comedian, who was legally deaf and wore hearing aids for much of his adult life, has been in more than 100 films and 150 television programs, portraying more than 220 characters. Perhaps best known for his deadpan delivery in “Airplane!” or his slapstick comedy in “The Naked Gun” franchise, Nielsen has also taken on more serious roles. He passed away at the age of 84 in 2010.
When she was just seven years old, little Jane Lynch realized she was deaf in one ear. It turned out it was nerve deafness and doctors concluded that it probably happened when she had a very high fever as a baby. Lynch didn’t let the hearing loss stop her from achieving a career in Hollywood. Making a name for herself in mockumentaries such as “Best In Show,” Lynch caught the eyes of many in the “40-Year-Old Virgin.” She currently stars on “Glee” as the no nonsense cheerleading coach turned high school principal.
Despite losing all hearing in her right ear and 80% of the hearing in her left ear at just 18 months old, Marlee Matlin has enjoyed a very successful career in Hollywood. She made her stage debut at the tender age of seven in a children’s theater group and it was there that Henry Winkler discovered her and it ultimately led to her film debut in “Children of a Lesser God.” Her first film role out of the gate helped Matlin win an Academy award for Best Actress, the only deaf performer to win the award. The former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant also has a Golden Globe. She currently has a recurring role on ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth.”
As one-fourth of the supergroup the Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am has become a star. His career reached an even higher status when the group took a break and he launched a solo career along with producing hits for some of the biggest acts in music. But all of that has come with a price. will.i.am suffers from tinnitus, which is a permanent ringing in his ear that can be caused by loud noise. “I don’t know what silence sounds like any more,” said will.i.am. “Music is the only thing which eases my pain.”
Rapper Foxy Brown made some noise in the music industry but she made even more as a result of all of her legal drama. In 2005, Foxy’s lawyer announced that his client was slowly losing her hearing after being diagnosed with a rare condition that only affects 1 in 10,000 and he couldn’t communicate with her verbally anymore. The “Ill Na Na” rapper opted not to wear a hearing aid and had to resort to having someone tap to the beat on her shoulder while she was in the booth recording. Her hearing was restored a year later.
Actress Shoshannah Stern was born deaf but she didn’t let that stop her from pursuing her dreams. Stern, who is among the fourth generation in her family to suffer from hearing loss, first got her start in deaf theater. Her big break came when she was cast as Megan Beale-Botwin on Showtime’s “Weeds.” Stern’s most recent role was a recurring character on Fox’s “Lie To Me.” She’s also appeared in will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” music video.
As the guitarist and songwriter for the Who, Pete Townshend’s career has spanned over five decades. But apparently spending a lifetime on stage has caused a lot of wear and tear on the English musician’s body, specifically his ears. Townshend suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus believed to be the result from his extensive exposure to loud music. For example, the Who’s 1976 London performance was crowned the “Loudest Concert Ever” by the Guinness Book of Records, where the volume level was measured at 126 decibels 32 meters from the stage.
Lou Ferrigno was born and raised in Brooklyn and as a newborn he suffered from a series of ear infections that resulted in 75-80% hearing loss although it he wasn’t diagnosed until he was three years old. However, “The Incredible Hulk” star used that disability to motivate him and credits his hearing impairment on his successful career in Hollywood. “I think that if I wasn’t hard of hearing I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he said in an interview. “It takes time to overcome a handicap. There are ups and downs and you can never be a quitter. I believe the maxim that you only get out of life what you put into it.”
Actress Phyllis Frelich was born to deaf parents and was the oldest of nine children, who were all deaf. She graduated from Gallaudet University with a degree in library science but also explored the world of theater during her time as a student. Frelich went on to star on Broadway and earned a Tony award for Best Actress for her role in “Children of a Lesser God.” Her last acting role was in on “CSI” in 2011. Frelich passed away earlier this year at the age of 70.
Sean Berdy has been deaf all of his life. As a sophomore at the Indiana School of the Deaf, he was crowned Mr. Deaf Teen America. The actor/comedian starred in “The Sandlot 2” and “The Deaf Family.” Berdy currently stars in ABC Family’s “Switched At Birth” alongside another very famous deaf actress. His character is Emmett Bledsoe, son of Melody Bledsoe, played by none other than Marlee Matlin.
When Katie Leclerc started to learn sign language at the age of seventeen, she had no idea that it would become her only means of communication. Three years later she was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, a degenerative inner ear disorder. The San Antonio native was bit by the acting bug while in middle school and she didn’t let her hearing loss stop her. Leclerc made her television debut in 2005 on an episode of “Veronica Mars.” In addition to appearing in numerous television shows including “The Big Bang Theory” and “CSI,” Leclerc currently stars in “Switched at Birth.”
Russell Harvard was born to two deaf parents and is the third generation in his family to suffer from hearing loss. Although Harvard is able to hear some sound with the use of a hearing aid, including speech and music, he identifies himself as deaf. Harvard won much praise and acclaim after starring in the “Tribes” Off Broadway in 2012 as Billy, the deaf son in an intellectual, though dysfunctional, hearing British family. He also played opposite Daniel Day-Lewis as his adopted grown son in “There Will Be Blood.”
When Bill Clinton first ran for the U.S. presidency his appearance on MTV and Arsenio Hall’s late night television show playing the saxophone helped him win over voters. But could all of that time playing the instrument affect his hearing? During his second term in office the leader of the free world was fitted for hearing aids. Doctors discovered that his high-frequency hearing deficiency had worsened during his annual physical in 1997.