Putting on a Good Show: Sixteen Epileptic Celebrities

It’s never too good to compare yourself to others. Despite this, I can’t deny that if there were no examples of people with epilepsy finding fame and fortune, I might feel a little less relaxed about my writing career as I continue today. Looking at every job a person can gain more spotlight success in, it only makes sense for there to have been celebrities from the past and present who have had to manage their epilepsy, every day, just like me.

For some, it’s barely noticeable; for others, it’s a difficult stain. When looking at the lives of each one of these individuals, it’s easy to understand how epilepsy differs between people with its severity, situations, and from the age it starts to bother them.

The Acting

Starting off with the British actors, I should maybe mention that after having two brain tumours removed in the 1990s, former Spandau Ballet bassist turned Eastenders star Martin Kemp now has epilepsy. However, after what could have been a risky operation to take place previously, his condition is said to be fully controlled today by his medication.

Martin Kemp back on stage with Spandau Ballet in 2009.

In 1998, comedian Rik Mayall also gathered the condition when he was brain damaged in a freak quad bike accident near to his home in Devon. He passed away in June 2014 from an unknown cause, although his wife has stated “Maybe he had a fit, maybe it was his heart. We just don’t know.”

Rik Mayall on the right with comic partner Ade Edmondson.

Friends of mine will know that 1999’s The Matrix is one of my favourite films, and I’m happy to say that an epileptic man had enough spice to play a key role in the first film and sequels. British-Australian actor Hugo Weaving was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 13 and took on the most villainous position of Agent Smith throughout the trilogy. After sticking with his medication for quite some time, Weaving’s seizures only occurred about once a year up until his forties, when (as for some reason, they sometimes do) they finally just stopped happening.

Hugo Weaving stood centrally at the Sydney Film Festival, 2013.

Black American actor, director and political activist Danny Glover is said to have had a 20-year spell of epilepsy between the ages of 15 and 35. It seems, with the end of his seizures looking more likely, he decided to give acting a go by playing his first character in 1979 when he was around 33 years old.

Danny Glover is best known for playing the role of Sergeant Roger Mutaugh in the Lethal Weapon series.

The late film actress and model Margaux Hemingway was the granddaughter of famous American novelist Ernest Hemingway, and sadly followed his footsteps in 1996 by choosing to take her own life. Margaux was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 7, and a number of other disorders affected her from a young age, including depression, dyslexia, alcoholism and bulimia. She died of a drug overdose at the age of 42.

An early image of Margaux in the Hemingway House.

The Musical

Looking at the numbers, singing about what you suffer might make life a little more easy for people with epilepsy. Starting off so close to home, I can honestly say that I’ve learnt a lot about the life of Ian Curtis. Joy Divison’s lead singer from Greater Manchester decided to take his own life at the age of 23. He was only diagnosed with epilepsy at 22, and it’s certainly considered a key component for the heavy levels of stress and depression he suffered before his death in 1980.

Both Ian Curtis and Jimmy Reed had shorter times to understand their epilepsy.

It’s sad to say that epilepsy ended the life of American Blues singer Jimmy Reed in 1976. He was diagnosed in 1957, although for some time doctors incorrectly believed it to be delirium tremens (a rapid onset of confusion usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol). A strong influence on the rock ‘n’ roll scene, Reed sadly died after an epileptic seizure aged 50.

And they’re not the only singer/songwriter’s to have dealt with the condition at some point in their life. Others include singer and guitarist Neil Young, Birmingham-bred rapper Mike Skinner, Fleetwood Mac’s vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, hip-hop artist Lil Wayne, and the late but great musician Prince.

Neil Young, Mike Skinner, Lindsey Buckingham, Lil Wayne and Prince all live in performance.

The Sporty

Wally Lewis is a former rugby league player who captained Australia between 1984 and 1989. Since his retirement, he’s mainly worked as a sports presenter, although in November 2006 had a couple of episodes on air that led to him revealing his condition and moving on to receive brain surgery to help with his epilepsy in February 2007. The surgery was a success, and Lewis has since said that he is willing to give his help to organisations looking to raise epilepsy awareness.

‘King’ Wally Lewis on the left with Mark Geyer on the right – two former Australian rugby league stars.

American footballer Alan Faneca deserves a friendly shout out in this article as well. He played in the NFL for three teams and won one Super Bowl, despite being diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 15. As well as that, he’s gone on to be a spokesperson for the Epilepsy Foundation, spreading awareness of the condition and teaching others how to handle seizures correctly.

Alan Faneca on the right playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Athlete Florence Griffith Joyner in an American who developed epilepsy in her 30s and sadly passed away after a severe grand-mal seizure in 1998. Nevertheless, she’s still considered the fastest woman in the world, by holding the world and Olympic record times for both the 100m and 200m sprint, set in Seoul back in 1988.

Florence Griffith-Joyner’s records were set at the Jamsil Olympic Stadium, built in Seoul, South Korea, for the Summer Olympics in 1988.

As an Englishman, I’m happy to list another epileptic Brit who should be proud of his sporting achievements. After 27 fights unbeaten, English light-welterweight boxer Terry Marsh was an undefeated world champion who ended his career in 1987 after he was diagnosed with epilepsy. At the age of 56, he also took up the hybrid sport of chessboxing and went on to win the World Chessboxing Association welterweight title in June 2015.

A round of the unusual hybrid sport, chessboxing.

And the Many Others

The stories go on, with more celebrities to name; I could write a book about them all if I wanted. Still, I think it’s more important that I focus on what’s coming up for me, rather than looking back on the records that have been set by many others.

But I have got every epileptic celeb available added on Twitter. I will stay updated on their actions and hope to be inspired when receiving what’s only positive from them in the coming times ahead.


 Spandau Ballet by Andrew Hurley / Rik Mayall & Andrian Edmondson by Stephen Luff / Hugo Weaving by Eva Rinaldi / Danny Glover by qbac07 / Hemingway House by Don Kasak / Ian Curtis by Remko Hoving / Jimmy Reed Libery Hall by vinylmaster / Neil-Young-Crazy-Horse by Graham Berry / The Streets by Marika Luders / IMG_6275 by Neeta Lind / Lil Wayne – Oslo Spectrum 2013 by NRK P3 / Ann Althouse by Prince / State of Origin by Scott Maxworthy / SteelCityHobbies by MRR_005 / Jamsil Olympic Stadium by Patrik Ragnarsson / Chess Boxing(2) by Adam Raoof

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