Famous People Who Stutter

written by Laura Doty


Stuttering does not have to be a deterrent to success. There are many famous and successful people throughout history who stuttered. The history of famous stutterers can be traced back all the way to biblical times. Moses is believed to have been a stutterer. In Koran, 20:26-29 Moses said "Lord, open my breast, and do Thou ease for me my task, Unloose the knot upon my tongue, that they may understand my words." The analogy of a knot upon his tongue refers to his stuttering.

Other famous stutterers from the ancient past are Demosthenes, Aesop, Claudius, Balbus Blaesius, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Charles Canon Kingsley, Cotton Mather and Lewis Carroll. Demosthenes, the greatest orator of ancient Greece worked very hard to improve his speaking skills. He practiced speaking with pebbles in his mouth in an attempt to improve his articulation and shouted above the ocean waves to increase his voice volume.

Aesop, Greek author of fables, was a stutterer from infancy. As a young adult the Goddess of Hospitality appeared to him in a dream and gave him the gift of speech. He then became the master storyteller he is remembered as.

The Roman emperor Claudius may have exaggerated his stuttering as a young man to avoid being murdered by enemies seeking his place in line to the throne. Balbus Blaesius is another Roman who stuttered severely. He was an 'exhibit' in a 'freak show' which displayed him locked in a cage. People would give him coins to stutter. His last name, Blaesius, is now the Italian word for stuttering.

The famous philosopher Aristotle had an inaccurate conception of the cause of stuttering. He thought it was caused by a malfunctioning tongue.

Isaac Newton, the English scientist who developed the law of gravity, asked that the windows of Parliament be closed so the public would not hear his stuttering. Another famous English stutterer is Charles Canon Kingsley. He was a nineteenth-century orator, writer and chaplain to Queen Victoria. He had a rather unusual recommendation for treating stuttering. His recommendation was to eat a 'manly' diet of beef and beer.

Cotton Mather was an author, a leader of the Puritans, and a prosecutor of the Salem witch trails. The first book he wrote was on stuttering in America. Mr. Mather tried many methods to treat his stuttering, some successful, speaking in a drawling or sing-sing fashion, and some unsuccessful, such as fasting and prayers.

The well-known author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll hoped to become a priest but was not allowed to because of his stuttering. He wrote the following poem which mentions stuttering:
 
 

Learn well your grammar,
And never stammer,
Write well and neatly,
And sing soft sweetly,
Drink tea, not coffee;
Never eat toffy.
Eat bread with butter.
Once more don't stutter.


 


Famous stutterers from the more recent past include Marilyn Monroe, Lord David Cecil, Aneurin Bevan and Winston Churchill. Marilyn Monroe's signature breathy way of speaking may have been her way of treating her stuttering. She seems to have been taught by a speech coach to use exaggerated mouth movements and a breathy and affected speaking style to control her stuttering.

Lord David Cecil was a great professor of English literature in Oxford in the 1950's. Lord David's stuttering was not thought of as a disability; rather it was considered a sign of high-bred shyness and reserve.

Winston Churchill was considered the best orator in Parliament despite the fact that he was a stutterer. He went to great lengths to hide and avoid his stuttering. A great deal of preparation went into all his speeches. Churchill wrote them out well in advance, often weeks, of when he would have to give them. He memorized them forwards and backwards so he could practice them. Before beginning to give a speech, Churchill would hum discreetly to himself to get his vocal folds vibrating.

Aneurin Bevan was a British Labor Party leader in the 1930's and an opponent of Churchill in Parliament. Bevan was thought of as the best orator in Parliament, second only to Churchill. Bevan made public speeches as often as possible to help overcome his stuttering. He also developed a remarkable vocabulary by substituting words to avoid stuttering.

There are also several famous contemporary stutterers, many of whose names are surprising such as actors Bruce Willis and James Earl Jones. Other contemporary figures who stutter include: Greg Luganis, Olympic diver; Lester Hayes, former Los Angeles Raider; John Updike, novelist; Annie Glenn, wife of astronaut and Senator John Glenn; Carly Simon, singer; Mel Tillis, country western singer; Jake Eberts, "Gandhi" producer; Jack Welsh, President of GE; Bo Jackson, football and baseball star; John Stossel, TV reporter for ABC's "20/20"; John Menendez, rock singer; John Larkin, American jazz musician; and Bill Walton, NBC Sports commentator.

The stories of James Earl Jones and John Larkin merit further exposition. James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vadar in the Star Wars movies and the voice of CNN, is the most in demand voice in Hollywood. Although most people think of James Earl Jones as a 'former' stutterer, he still stutters rather noticeably when speaking spontaneously. As an actor, he has developed situational fluency when playing a role. (Many stutterers experience temporary fluency when enacting a role.)

Recently James Earl Jones acted in a part which did not require him to develop situational fluency. He portrayed a stutterer in the movie A Family Thing. The character, Ray Murdoch, was not originally written as a stutterer, it happened accidentally. Jones involuntarily stuttered while reading his lines and the director, Dick Pearce, liked it, feeling it conveyed the character's vulnerability. Jones agreed to portray Ray Murdoch as a stutterer as long as it wouldn't be played to make fun of the stutterer.

James Earl Jones almost did not portray Ray Murdoch as a stutterer. Jones' agent was dead set against Jones portraying a stutterer because he thought that if he voluntarily stuttered for a part he would have a relapse that would destroy his career. Only after receiving advice from fluency disorder specialists that voluntary stuttering is a good thing and may even help Jones' real stuttering did his agent agree to allow Jones to play Ray Murdoch as a stutterer.

John Larkin, a.k.a. " Scatman John", is an American singer, songwriter and musician. "Scatman John" says that his signing, rapping and scatting through positive, motivational lyrics are like therapy for him. Through his music he would like to address the struggles of stutterers the world over, as well as anyone else who must face other kinds of challenges and disabilities.

There was a moment when "Scatman John" was ashamed of being temporarily fluent. He was doing a series of twelve telephone interviews about his album Scatman's world. In all the interviews, "Scatman John" said basically the same thing. He talked about the first single on his album, Scatman, which was written about stuttering. He wrote the song to let the world know that he was a stutterer so they would not be surprised when they heard him talk. By the time he got the to last interview, he was saying the message from memory. (Many stutterers experience temporary fluency when speaking form memory.) So, he was talking about his stuttering while being fluent. The interviewer accused him of using the stuttering community as a gimmick to further his career. John Larkin was ashamed of his fluency at that moment. He tried to explain to the interviewer about temporary fluency but the interviewer was still skeptical when he hung up.

All the people mentioned here did not let their stuttering stop them from being successful. They are wonderful examples of the fact that a stuttering problem does not have to be a hindrance to success.


References

Advice for Listeners. [On-line]. Available: http://www.casafuturatech.com/Book/Practice/listeners.html#successful

Cast member James Earl Jones. [On-line]. Available: http://mgmua.com/afamilything/jones.html

Dodge, D. The Veils of Stuttering. [On-line]. Available: http://members.aol.com/dmdodge/dw/stut.htm

Famous People Who Stutter. [On-line]. Available: http://www.casafuturatech.com/Book/Practice/famous.html

Kuster, J. Famous People Who Stutter. [On-line]. Available: http:www.mankato.msus.edu/dept/comdis/kuster/famous/famous.html

Larkin, J. What?....Ashamed of Fluency?. [On-line]. Available: http://www.makato.msus.edu/dept/comdis/kuster/PWSspeak/larkin2.html

Who's the Scatman?. [On-line]. Available: http://www.westworld.com/~elson/scatman/bio.html
 
 

[ Home ]