Cerebral palsy is a complicated disease with many different symptoms and levels of severity. In some sense, it is as diverse as the individuals who have it.
With that in mind, here is a list of brief biographies of some famous people with cerebral palsy. Their commonality is the refusal to be defined by their disease and their insistence on carving out a meaningful life for themselves despite the obstacles. The list is by no means complete, but it does represent the diversity of the population with cerebral palsy and how they’ve followed their dreams.
Christy Brown (June 5, 1932-September 7, 1981): Born with cerebral palsy, Christy Brown grew up in Dublin, Ireland. With the help of his supportive family and a social worker, he developed an interest in writing and painting, using his left leg and foot to manipulate pens, pencils, and paintbrushes since he couldn’t control any other limbs. He had a successful career and published several very famous, well-regarded books, including My Left Foot, which was made into an Academy Award-winning film staring Daniel Day-Lewis.
Chris Fonseca: A man who has written material for the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, and has his own standup routine, Chris Fonseca is a successful comic who incorporates his cerebral palsy into his routine. As just one example, his nickname is Crazy Legs although he is wheelchair-bound. He has been writing and performing for over 20 years.
Jhamak Ghimire (born July 1980): Nepalese poet and writer Jhamak Ghimire has had cerebral palsy since birth and writes with her left foot. She is not only an accomplished poet but also a columnist for the Kantipur newspaper. Despite having little formal education, she has won Nepal’s top literary prize, the Madan Puraskar, for her recent contributions to Nepalese literature.
Geri Jewell (born September 13, 1956): From her role on The Facts of Life in the 1980s to her recent role on Deadwood, Geri Jewell has built a successful acting career despite her cerebral palsy. She was the first actor with cerebral palsy to have a major role in a TV show, and she continues to act today and has also written her autobiography.
Susie Maroney (born November 15, 1974): An Australian marathon swimmer, Susie Maroney kept her cerebral palsy a secret until 2007. She has won multiple awards for her swimming and has completed such amazing feats as swimming the 122 miles from Mexico to Cuba.
Anne McDonald (January 11, 1961-October 22, 2010): An Australian disability rights activist, Anne McDonald developed severe cerebral palsy as a baby due to an injury sustained at birth. Placed in an institution where she was neglected and mistreated, eventually Anne was able to communicate and free herself. She then began to advocate for improved treatment for all people with disabilities like hers, and she even wrote her autobiography to tell her full story.
RJ Mitte (born August 21, 1992): Roy Frank Mitte III has recently made his name as an actor with his role on Breaking Bad. Both RJ and his character, Walter White Jr., have cerebral palsy, and RJ took the role in part because he saw it as a chance to educate the public about the life of a teen boy with cerebral palsy.
Christopher Nolan (September 6, 1965-February 20, 2009): An Irish poet and author, Christopher Nolan was born with cerebral palsy due to oxygen deprivation. Although he could only type using a pointer attached to his forehead, his prolific life as a writer included his first major publication at age 15 and winning many awards, such as the Whitbread Book Award.
Bonner Paddock: Although he was born with cerebral palsy, Bonner Paddock was misdiagnosed until age 11 due to the mildness of his disability. This has never held him back, however, a fact that is evident when you find out he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro unassisted and participated in the Ironman World Championships. His One Man, One Mission Foundation is currently working to raise money for the creation of learning centers worldwide for children with and without disabilities.
Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer (September 23, 1950 – August 8, 1998): An American disability rights activist, Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer developed cerebral palsy after she had a bad case of encephalitis at 5 weeks old. Subsequently diagnosed as an imbecile, she was institutionalized on and off for most of her teens and lived in deplorable conditions. Once she managed to leave the Belchertown State School in Massachusetts where she had been living, she spent the rest of her life as a disability rights activist, working to expose the injustices of such schools to the greater public.