Cher, Justin Timberlake, and Other Celebrities You Probably Never Knew Struggled With Learning Disabilities

We all look up to celebrities, but we often know little about their pasts. Growing up, learning wasn’t always easy for some celebrities. Mastering reading, writing, and math proved to be a serious challenge for many of today’s actors, singers, and entertainers, but they all agree that it helped them develop a different way of learning to get where they are today.

The following Hollywood stars (starting on page 2) may have been diagnosed with learning disabilities, but nothing has stopped them from finding success.

These are common learning disorders

Stressed college student for exam

These disorders are increasingly common. |

There are several learning disorders, but these celebrities all dealt with at least one of the following:

Dyslexia: Difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols
ADD or ADHD: Chronic conditions that include attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness
Dyspraxia: A childhood development disorder marked by clumsiness in otherwise healthy kids
Dyscalculia: Severe difficulty in making mathematic calculations

Next: This film director wasn’t diagnosed with a learning disorder until his 60s. 

Steven Spielberg wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until his 60s

Steven Spielberg at the Academy Awards

The director was in his 60s when he received his diagnosis.| Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When Steven Spielberg was growing up, the diagnosis of learning disorders was far less common than it is today. Spielberg wasn’t diagnosed as dyslexic until years after he had finished school. He said filmmaking helped him overcome the learning problem, and he never felt he was a victim of the disorder.

Next: This actress credits her teachers for helping her overcome her disability. 

Octavia Spencer said teachers helped her overcome her dyslexia

Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer credits good teachers. | ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Octavia Spencer said growing up with dyslexia was made easier by her wonderful teachers. “I just remember thinking differently,” she told People. “I was a dyslexic child and am a dyslexic adult.” She said that someone with dyslexia is not unintelligent, they just have a brain that functions differently. She also thanked the Montgomery, Alabama school district for giving her such great teachers who helped her grow.

Next: This athlete channeled his energy into swimming. 

Michael Phelps turned to swimming to help his ADHD

Michael Phelps focused his energy into swimming. | Gabriel Bouys/Getty Images

In Michael Phelps’ book “Beneath the Surface,” he explains that he always had a very hard time sitting still in school. He was a jokester who got picked on a lot. He couldn’t look people in the eye when he spoke to them. And a teacher once told his mother, “Your son will never be able to focus on anything.” That’s because Phelps had ADHD. He said he turned his energy to swimming when he was seven and used it as an outlet, eventually leading him to become the best swimmer in the world.

Next: This entertainer had struggles with both learning and mental health disorders. 

Justin Timberlake dealt with two disorders, ADD and OCD, while growing up

Justin Timberlake speaks in Santa Monica, Calif.

Justin Timberlake has been open with his disorders. | Christopher Polk/Getty Images for EIF

Justin Timberlake once said in an interview, “I have OCD mixed with ADD. You try living with that.” The famous actor, singer, and entrepreneur grew up with an attention disorder but also said he dealt with OCD on top of it. Known formally as obsessive-compulsive disorder, those with OCD often have obsessions or compulsions, such as the need to fix everything or the same recurring thoughts, which affect their daily life.

Next: This man wouldn’t let dyslexia stop him from becoming a journalist. 

Anderson Cooper had dyslexia when he was young

Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper didn’t let dyslexia keep him from becoming a journalist. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Journalist and television host Anderson Cooper struggled with dyslexia when he was young but thanks his reading specialists for helping him learn how to cope and overcome it. According to, Cooper was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was young but did not let it stop him from becoming a journalist. He said a school with “understanding teachers” made all the difference in his early life.

Next: This former Happy Days actor now writes books to help children. 

Henry Winkler wrote children’s books detailing the life of a dyslexic child

Author Henry Winkler signs copies of his new book "A Brand New Me!" at Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Triangle on May 7, 2010 in New York City.

Henry Winkler struggled with dyslexia into his 30s. | Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

Actor Henry Winkler, known as “Fonzie” on the hit show Happy Days, struggled with dyslexia growing up. “It was scary,” he said in an interview. Winkler said he didn’t read a full book until he was 31. Today, Winkler is the author of several children’s books that highlight the life of a young boy who works to overcome his dyslexia.

Next: This actor said he felt ‘stupid’ when he couldn’t figure out what made him different. 

Patrick Dempsey said his dyslexia made him feel ‘stupid’

Patrick Dempsey Jillian Fink

Patrick Dempsey said dyslexia made him feel stupid. | Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Actor Patrick Dempsey once told Barbara Walters that he was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was 12. When she asked if he thought he was stupid growing up, he said yes because he hadn’t fully understood his learning disability. Dempsey also said he was misdiagnosed and put into special education classes. He said today it’s still very difficult for him to read a script, so he relies on his memory to learn lines.

Next: This entertainer credits dyslexia for giving her the career she has. 

Whoopi Goldberg said her dyslexia helped her get where she is today

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg’s diagnosis gave her a sense of relief. | Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Actress Whoopi Goldberg’s dyslexia diagnosis brought her relief. “It was nice to know that I wasn’t just lazy,” she said in an interview with Quinn Bradlee. She said back then, teachers often thought dyslexic students were lazy and did not want to do the work. But she credits her dyslexia for playing a large role in where she is today and said her mom was her biggest supporter.

Next: This actress used a famous screenplay to help learn to read better. 

Keira Knightley used a screenplay to overcome her dyslexia

Keira Knightley smiling on the red carpet

Keira Knightley studied a script to overcome her dyslexia. | Anthony Harvey/Getty Images for BFI

Keira Knightley was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was six. But the actress claims the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility is what helped her overcome her learning disorder. She read the screenplay and later told her parents she would study every day if they’d get her an agent. Needless to say, Knightley’s learning disorder helped her become the actress she is today.

Next: This Harry Potter star is extremely clumsy, but there is a reason. 

Daniel Radcliffe’s dyspraxia prevented him from learning to tie his shoes

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe has struggled with dyspraxia. | Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Daniel Radcliffe revealed to The Daily Mail that he suffers from dyspraxia, a childhood developmental disorder that shows itself in the form of clumsiness. Radcliffe said the disorder affects his motor skills, which can make it hard to do a seemingly easy task, such as tying his shoes or writing a note. But the disorder has not stopped him from memorizing thousands of Harry Potter’s lines. Radcliffe’s publicist told ABC News tying his shoes is what he struggles with most.

Next: This singer struggled with both a reading and math disability. 

Cher’s dyscalculia and dyslexia made school very difficult

Actress/singer Cher

Cher deals with reading and math disorders. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Cher dealt with both reading and math disorders while growing up, which left her very discouraged. She failed several classes and decided to drop out of high school her junior year to pursue something she knew she’d be good at: Entertaining. She said even dialing phone numbers was a challenge. But she took a leap of faith in her own abilities and became one of the most well-known entertainers of all time.

Next: This athlete learned plays differently than his teammates. 

Tim Tebow coped with dyslexia by using flashcards to master NFL plays

Tim Tebow

Tebow studied hard to overcome dyslexia. | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tim Tebow, along with his father and brother, has dyslexia. The reading disorder runs in families. Tim has said that overcoming dyslexia starts with figuring out your own best way to learn. He did say that during his NFL career, he took a bit longer to grasp plays than others did because he’d need to learn with the use of flash cards. He said the flash card method was his best way to learn, and it helped him succeed in his athletic career.

Next: This celebrity chef says he’s lucky to be dyslexic. 

Jamie Oliver said those who are dyslexic are ‘lucky’

British celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver poses

Jamie Oliver considers himself lucky. | Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver says that those with dyslexia, including himself, are incredibly lucky. Oliver said their brains think so creatively and in different ways than everyone else’s do, often giving them the upper hand. He credits his dyslexia with helping him build his massive, multi-million-dollar brand.

Next: Here are common signs of a learning disability. 

If you have these signs, you may have a learning disability

young boy writing a letter or doing his homework

These signs are surprisingly common. | Source: iStock

While learning disabilities can present themselves in many ways, these are some of the most common signs:

  • Difficulty with reading, writing, or math
  • Trouble remembering
  • Trouble paying attention or following directions
  • Difficulty staying organized
  • Difficulty putting thoughts into words

Next: You’d be surprised how many Americans have learning disabilities. 

As many as 20% of Americans have a diagnosed learning disability

School kids with tablet pc

One in five Americans have a learning disability. |

There are different types of learning disabilities and varying degrees of each. But evidence suggests that as many as 1 out of 5 people in the United States has been diagnosed with a learning disability. This amounts to millions of children. Today, organizations have been working hard to end the stigma surrounding learning disabilities to ensure children (and adults) are given the proper care to overcome their disorders.

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