One of the biggest myths about schizophrenia is that a person suffering from this debilitating illness will never overcome it and function normally in society. That just is not true. As a matter of fact, there is an entire list of people who have not only functioned normally, but exceedingly well to become famous celebrities who have contributed more to society than most people without any mental illness at all.
Some of these people you will likely recognize and think, “Wow! I had no clue!” and some you won’t have previously known. Some people are simply famous due to their relation to a celebrity, but I will mention them as well just for completion’s sake. I’m going to separate the groups of folks between famous people, which I am calling scientists and artists, versus celebrities, who were or are involved in the entertainment industries. So without further ado, let’s get to know some of these amazing people! I am going to omit certain “suspected” cases that float about on the internet, and also avoid some of the lesser known people.
Famous People with Schizophrenia
When it comes to schizophrenia, famous people are no different than anyone else. The general public has a 1.1% risk of developing this psychological difficulty and that includes everybody. So who are some of these famous folks who have joined the ranks of courageous people who have conquered schizophrenia?
John Nash – Perhaps the person who has made the most impactful contributions to society of the list is the mathematician John Nash. His case is so amazing that there was even a movie developed about his life called A Beautiful Mind. It was so well made that it was showered with awards and nominations. His contributions include work in geometry and differential equations, although his most significant work is in the development of game theory. Within game theory, he was an important mathematics award for his recognition of the non-cooperative equilibria, which is now more commonly known as the Nash equilibria! He experienced symptoms throughout most of his adult life and had periods of medication and periods where he refused, which resulted in his repeated institutionalization.
Eduard Einstein – Just by noticing this gentleman’s last name, you would suspect that he is the son of one of the greatest physicists of all time, Albert Einstein, and you would be correct! His case is of particular interest due to this relationship, but his struggle was not in vain, because it did much to raise the general awareness of this illness in the public’s eye. Although he intended to become a skillful psychoanalyst, his college career was interrupted by repeated hospitalizations. He ultimately died in a psychiatric institution at the age of 55 years old.
Lionel Aldridge – This man reached heights many dream of by playing as the defensive end for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960’s! He did retire from football but continued his career as a sports analyst until he developed the specific type of schizophrenia known as paranoid schizophrenia. After almost ten years of struggling, he sought treatment and began to experience an improvement in his symptoms.
Mary Todd Lincoln – One the United States most famous presidents was the 16th, Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Mary Todd was his wife and first lady! Her schizophrenia included having beliefs that some would consider bizarre. After the death of their son, she spent their fortune paying psychics and mediums to attempt to contact her dead son in the afterlife.
Andy Goram – A professional soccer and cricket player who was positioned as goal keeper, he gained notoriety when he became under fire of political accusations regarding sectarianism and other related issues in the United Kingdom. Fans embraced his diagnosis of schizophrenia with a silly chant regarding multiple personalities, although that is not a symptom of schizophrenia.
Vaslav Nijinsky – Possibly the most skilled male ballet dancer ever, he was also an accomplished choreographer. He was most known for his amazing leaps in the air and his rare ability do dance en pointe. His career ended due to the development of schizophrenia and he spent the remainder of his years in and out of asylums.
Rose Williams – An interesting case due to her relationship as sister to the playwright, poet, and author Tennessee Williams. He was diagnosed as a youth and spent most of her life institutionalized. Her situation was so grim that her parents opted for a prefrontal lobotomy, which, of course, ended horribly. This resulted in her being incapacitated for the remainder of her days.
Jack Kerouac – An accomplished novelist who led the Beat culture through its rise. It turns out that before his success as an author, he did a stint in the Navy. His records have been declassified and reveal his struggle with mental illness. His diagnosis of dementia praecox, which is an older term for schizophrenia, led to his de-enlistment. Some say he faked these symptoms in order to be discharged.
Vincent Van Gogh – The world famous post-impressionist painter Van Gogh has been posthumously diagnosed by a number of professionals with a variety of illnesses, among those being schizophrenia. His artwork was not well known at the time, but now he is regarded as one of the greatest of all time!
Louis Wain – Louis Wain is renowned worldwide for his many paintings and drawings of cats. His slow decline into his schizophrenia symptoms is said to be displayed in the increasingly bizarre progression of his paintings of “schizophrenic cats.” He was a very successful artist published in many types of literature.
Ted Kaczynski – Unfortunately, Ted’s notoriety is derived from his fame as the Unabomber. After his crimes, he entered an insanity defense and the court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed him as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. This claim is under suspicion, but it is worthwhile to note that many conspiracies have risen surrounding the events of his life.
William Chester Minor – This man contributed to the world in many ways, starting as an American surgeon for the army, and later as possibly the person with the most contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary. He worked on his contributions while institutionalized in a lunatic asylum in the early 1900’s. He found many of the quotes that displayed the proper use of words!
Celebrities with Schizophrenia
More people will recognize these celebrities more than the famous people. We all know the creative potential that can be unlocked by schizophrenia and this is evidenced by the long list of artists below who made great careers out of their art. Let’s see who these ladies and gentlemen are and what kind of art they were involved in!
Syd Barrett – Young folks and old both recognize the name Syd Barrett in association with his early membership with the highly successful band Pink Floyd. His contributions included being the principal songwriter for the early albums. There is suspicion that his case was exacerbated by his use of psychedelic substances. He eventually quit the band and began withdrawing socially and from the media.
Jim Gordon – Originally named James Beck Gordon, this musician has gained notoriety as a songwriter, recording artist, and the winner of a Grammy. He very well may have been the most popular drummer for decades but eventually was imprisoned for the death of his mother. He attacked her in response to the request of a voice he was hearing, which led to his sentence and diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Peter Green – Peter plays guitar for the amazing band Fleetwood Mac! Due to his earlier diagnosis in the 1970’s of various psychological problems, he was treated with electro-convulsive therapy to help with his trance like stupor. He has had the opportunity to fill in for many guitar greats with many bands.
Joe Meek – Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has even toyed around in the music industries knows the name “Meek” because Joe Meek was an amazing producer and songwriter. But most notably, his line of signal processors, including preamps and compressors, continue to be hugely popular today. His bouts of schizophrenia were related to his obsession with contacting people in the afterlife and other occult practices using his digital technology.
Parveen Babi – A highly regarded actress in India, she starred along side of the best actors and actresses of the 1970’s and 80’s in Bollywood. She is considered the most beautiful actress of India ever! Her fight with schizophrenia led to the deterioration of her career and social life. There are many speculations as to the cause of her disorder, but nothing factual or substantial.
Meera Popkin – Best known as a star of the Broadway theatrical plays Cats and Miss Saigon, her career was brought to a halt due to her development of schizophrenia. Apparently she has fully recovered and considers this recovery the highlight of her life! This is an indication for the struggle that all schizophrenics must face. So brave and courageous!
Bob Mosley – As a great bassist, singer, and songwriter, James Robert Mosley was a member of many garage and punk rock groups, most notably the Misfits and the Frantics. He eventually enlisted in the United States Marines only to be discharged upon his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. This resulted in his homelessness and eventual rise as he rejoined his band in the late 90’s.
Darrell Hammond – Darrell is best known as the longest running comedian on Saturday Night Live ever and for his hilarious impressions of former president Bill Clinton. The trauma he experienced under an abusive mother is said to have instigated the rise of bipolar and schizophrenia. He was hospitalized many times throughout his lifetime, but still managed to rise to success!
Brian Wilson – Mr. Wilson is known as the principal songwriter and leader of the successful pop music group The Beach Boys. After becoming one of the most successful musicians ever, his career was ended short due to his erratic behavior that were symptoms of his developing schizophrenia. Interestingly, his diagnosis was later retracted.
Of course, this is simply a small sampling of all of the famous people and celebrities who have dealt with schizophrenia. They are in no way more special than any other person, but do show that it is possible to maintain a diagnosis of schizophrenia and still contribute to society and become wildly successful in your career and personal life!