Articles | Hearing Loss

Seven Famous People with Hearing Loss

Famous people with hearing loss


1. Bill Clinton

After years of exposure to loud rock music and noise from hunting rifles and political rallies, former President Bill Clinton experienced difficulty hearing in noisier environments. During an annual physical in 1997, he was formally diagnosed with high frequency hearing loss and fitted for completely-in-canal hearing aids. Clinton and Ronald Reagan were fitted for hearing aids while in office, which provided a positive spin to the usually negatively-stereotyped hearing aid.

Fun fact: Bill Clinton aced a radio show quiz about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic!

2. Helen Keller

When she was nearly two years old, Helen Keller contracted an illness that left her with complete blindness and hearing loss. At age seven, she began her education with Anne Sullivan, which greatly helped her to broaden her understanding of the world (previously, she did not know that every object had its own name). Keller learned to speak and later became known for her speeches and lectures. She also became the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Fun fact: Helen Keller starred as herself in a silent film called Deliverance (no relation to the creepy 1972 film).

3. Ludwig van Beethoven

One of the most famous composers of all time, Beethoven started to lose his hearing around the age of 26 while also experiencing severe tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. He utilized hearing aids, including the ear horn, to aid in the management of his hearing loss. Not many years passed before he had nearly completely lost his hearing. At the end of his Ninth Symphony premiere, he was unable to hear the audience's applause, and someone turned him around to witness it, after which he sobbed. Beethoven's loss of high frequency hearing has led some to believe this influenced his emphasis on middle and lower frequency notes in later works.

Fun fact: Beethoven would plunge his head into cold water to keep himself awake and alert while composing.

4. Julia Brace

Born in 1807 in Hartford County, Connecticut, Julia Brace was not born with blindness and hearing loss. She contracted typhus fever at age five and lost her sight and hearing as a result. She was the first deaf-blind person to receive a formal education, first attending the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (today called the American School for the Deaf) and later being briefly instructed by Samuel Howe. She was the subject of three poems by Lydia Sigourney, leading to publication of an account of Brace's story in popular religious and juvenile periodicals of the time, which made her somewhat famous. Her formal education helped to open doors for future education of students who were previously looked down upon because of their challenges.

Fun fact: A student at the Hartford Asylum stole some of the public collections money intended to help with Julia Brace's needs, and when Brace found out, she threw a fit. When all of the thieving student's money was given to Julia, she sat down, picked out all of the stolen money, and returned the rest back to the student.

5. Rob Lowe

You may know of this actor from his most famous role in The West Wing, but did you know that Rob Lowe has complete hearing loss in his right ear as a result of a childhood illness? He's also recognized as a member of the Brat Pack, and his other acting credits include St. Elmo's Fire, Wayne's World, Parks and Recreation, as well as the 1994 TV miniseries The Stand, in which he played Nick Andros, a character who had complete hearing loss and was unable to speak.

Fun fact: In 2000, Rob Lowe became the first male spokesperson for the Lee National Denim Day fundraiser. The event raises money for women's cancer programs of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.

6. Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend is most prominently known as the guitarist and songwriter for The Who. After years of loud concerts and music, Townshend's hearing deteriorated greatly; he has tinnitus and partial hearing loss. Have you ever opened up the Guinness Book of Records and seen the record for the loudest concert ever? It was at the Charlton Athletic Football Club in London on May 31, 1976, and guess who was doing a gig there? No, no, not The Guess Who. It was The Who. This and hundreds of other concerts The Who played have contributed to Townshend's hearing loss over the years. He consulted with an audiologist in 2010, and it was suggested that he use an in-ear monitor, which is especially useful for musicians.

Fun fact: Pete Townshend has never had formal music training; he’s completely self-taught!

7. Danny Elfman

If you watch several Tim Burton films in succession, you might notice that the music sounds similar in many of them. That's because Danny Elfman has composed the music in all but one of Burton's films. Also like Townshend, Elfman has had no formal music training. As a result of Elfman's involvement with the rock band Oingo Boingo, he has noise-induced hearing loss. He has since ruled out an Oingo Boingo reunion in support of protecting his hearing.

Fun fact: Danny Elfman wrote and provided vocals for four songs in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but he didn't just sing them; he crafted different "singers" by using pitch changes and modulations. Talk about creativity!

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If you'd like to learn more about the specific types of hearing loss noted above, here are some additional resources:

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