View Full Version : Famous/Successful People Who Were "Sickly Children"

08-19-2006, 01:04 AM
It seems that 1 out of 10 biographies I read indicates that the famous/successful person were at one time bedridden or had significant childhood illnesses. There is usually a passage like:

Famous Person) was a sickly child whose frequent bouts with (some kind of sickness) caused him to be bedridden for a significant part of his childhood. Unable to play with the other children, (Famous Person) spent his afternoons (reading Sophocles and writing plays, studying Copernicus and making his own celestial charts, etc.) to amuse himself.

What famous/successful people were sickly children? I just can't seem to remember any of them :confused: I am actually going to visit a youngster who unfortunately is going to have to spend a bit of time in the hospital.

Ms Macphisto
08-19-2006, 01:27 AM
First person to come to mind is Scott Hamilton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Hamilton_%28figure_skater%29), who definitely qualifies as having been a "sickly child" before going on to a highly successful figure skating career, including an Olympic gold medal. Can't think of anyone else though.

pseudotriton ruber ruber
08-19-2006, 01:29 AM
Teddy Roosevelt was a famous example.

I Love Me, Vol. I
08-19-2006, 01:31 AM
Ryan White?

08-19-2006, 01:32 AM
I've read that Isaac Newton was almost the epitome of 'sickly'. From here (http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v12/i3/newton.asp):Isaac Newton was born at Woolthorpe, Lincolnshire, England on Christmas Day 1642. On that cold winter night, the sick, premature baby seemed unlikely to live. Gradually, however, he gained strength to survive. But Isaac’s first few years were a struggle.

08-19-2006, 01:39 AM
Bram Stoker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bram_stoker) , author of Dracula. Snippet from the linked Wikipedia entry:

"Until he was 7 years old, recurring illness ensured that he could neither stand up nor walk on his own. This illness and helplessness was a traumatic experience which is noticeable in his literary work. Everlasting sleep and the resurrection from the dead, which are the central themes of Dracula, were of great importance for him, because he was forced to spend much of his life in bed.

Not only his illness but also his convalescence were considered miracles by his doctors. After his recovery, he became a normal young man who even became an athlete at the University of Dublin, where he studied history, literature, mathematics and physics at Trinity College."

08-19-2006, 01:53 AM
John F. Kennedy (http://www.doctorzebra.com/prez/g35.htm) was pretty sickly.

Robot Arm
08-19-2006, 01:54 AM
Bobby Darin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Darin)

From the link:Frail as an infant, perhaps from the poverty that resulted in a lack of proper diet and medical attention, at the age of 8 he was stricken with multiple bouts of rheumatic fever. The illness left him with a seriously diseased heart, and he would live with the constant knowledge that his life might be a short one. As a child he overheard a doctor tell his mother he would be lucky to reach the age of 16. Driven by his poverty and illness, and with an innate talent for music, by the time he was a teenager he could play several musical instruments, including piano, drums and guitar. He later added harmonica and xylophone.

China Guy
08-19-2006, 02:07 AM
Japanese author Mishima

08-19-2006, 02:09 AM
Audrey Hepburn-she suffered from malnutrition during WWII.

Foldup Rabbit
08-19-2006, 03:01 AM
OJ Simpson had rickets. Pretty impressive for a guy who went on to break a whole whack of records.

08-19-2006, 03:15 AM
Alan Alda was bedridden with polio for two years as a child.

teela brown
08-19-2006, 08:39 AM
IIRC, a young girl wanted to grow up to be a famous dancer, but she was laid up for a long time by an automobile accident. Bedridden, she turned to singing instead, and became proficient at it. That girl's name was . . . Doris Day.

And now you know . . . the REST of the story.

08-19-2006, 09:14 AM
katie holms

Rayne Man
08-19-2006, 09:16 AM
Edith Piaf was went blind when she was three and did not regain her sight until she was seven .

08-19-2006, 09:23 AM
Ringo Starr (http://bludream.club.fr/FRENCH/ringo.html) had appendictis and pleursy

08-19-2006, 09:27 AM
Marcel Proust fits the bill.

08-19-2006, 09:35 AM
Edvard Munch:
Edvard Munch (of "The Scream" fame) was always sick as a child (rheumatic fever), and was often bedridden. Hence, there was plenty of time to develop his artistic talent. His life was dogged by disease and death (his mother died when he was 5, his sister died when he was 14). Unsurprisingly, his artwork revolved frequently around illness and death--for example, "The Sick Child."

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:
Toulouse-Lautrec was also of weak constitution as a child, perhaps due to the fact that his parents were first cousins. It was suggested that he had osteogenesis imperfecta. In 1878 he broke both legs, and spent his convalescence drawing and painting. However, after the fractures, his legs stopped growing, although his torso matured normally. As his adolescence progressed, he became "a grotesque dwarf (4.5 feet), with a thick nose, swollen and puffy lips, a retreating chin, and a strange waddling walk." Deprived of the physical life that a normal body would have permitted, Toulouse-Lautrec lived completely for his art.

Hernando Cortes:
He was very sick as a child but when he became 14 he turned into a very healthy man. People of Mexico thought he was a God because in a legend it said that a god would come from the east with a black beard.

DuBose Heyward:
Often sick as a child, he got polio when he was eighteen; two years later he contracted typhoid fever and the next year pleurisy. At twenty-one, Heyward and his friend Henry T. O'Neill organized a real estate and insurance company.

08-19-2006, 09:55 AM
Stephen King had a wretched childhood that included an ear infection and strep throad keeping him out of much of first grade, and he ended up repeating it, not graduation high school till he was almost 19.

08-19-2006, 11:10 AM
Gwen Verdon suffered from rickets as a child. It actually became one of her great assets- her loose-limbed, knock-kneed style made her the perfect muse for Bob Fosse and his inventive choreography.

08-19-2006, 01:08 PM
I seem to recall that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was pretty sickly, and spent a lot of time working himself up so that he became something of an athlete in college, but he still got sick a lot. Or something like that.

08-19-2006, 02:23 PM
Helio Gracie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helio_Gracie

Frail as a child, famous for his fighting skills.

08-19-2006, 02:34 PM
King George VI of Great Britain
Paul I of Russia
Jerome Bettis

08-19-2006, 03:23 PM
Both Wilbur and Orville Wright had significant illnesses when young.

08-19-2006, 03:26 PM
Bob Gibson the HOF pitcher.

Wikipedia: Despite a childhood filled with health problems, including rickets, asthma, pneumonia, and a heart murmur, he was active in sports as a youth, particularly baseball and basketball. He won a basketball scholarship to Creighton University.

08-19-2006, 03:46 PM
If we allow injuries as well as actual illnesses, Glenn Cunningham deserves mention. Cunningham was a distance runner during the 30s who was the world record holder for the mile at that time. He was also the poster child for "overcompensation". As a young boy, he was severely burned in an accident which very nearly killed him, and caused doctors to reccomend amputation of his legs, which his mother rejected. They didn't think he would walk again, much less compete in foot races or set world records.

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
08-19-2006, 08:07 PM
Plenty of Hemophilia in the Romanoff Dynasty.

08-19-2006, 10:38 PM
George Washington Carver (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Carver), one of my botanical heroes:

George had three sisters and a brother, all of whom died prematurely. When George was an infant, he, a sister, and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate night raiders and sold in Arkansas, a common practice. Moses Carver hired John Bentley to find them. Only Carver was found, orphaned and near death from whooping cough. Carver's mother and sister had already died, although some reports stated that his mother and sister had gone north with the soldiers. For returning George, Moses Carver rewarded Bentley with his best filly that would later produce winning race horses. This episode caused George a bout of respiratory disease that left him with a permanently weakened constitution. Because of this, he was unable to work as a hand and spent his time wandering the fields, drawn to the varieties of wild plants. He became so knowledgeable that he was known by Moses Carver's neighbors as the "Plant Doctor".

Carver's early illness and weakened constitution is poignant to me; it allowed him out of the harsh fieldwork he most likely would have had to do, and so allowed him to develop his fine mind. He became a maverick agricultural scientist, and also a great example of breaking the racial barriers.

One of Carver's supporters Theodore Roosevelt (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1207796,00.html), from an entirely different background, was also a sickly child. He certainly made up for that, as his historical image is of a robust fighter.

Although I ain't at all famous, I was a rather frail small child, and dealt with debilitating asthma, laying up in bed, away from school, for periods of time. As a kid, those times were hard; I remember fighting to breathe at night, and wondering if I would die if I slept and stopped. It was terrifying. That experience definitely shifted my world view to appreciating every day, and led me to reading and exploring what it means to be here, and not just going by status quo.

08-19-2006, 11:01 PM
Jesse Owens (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens).

08-20-2006, 01:09 AM
How could I have forgotten Wilma Rudolph (http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/rudo-wil.htm)? A classic story, an inspiration for all.

08-20-2006, 08:41 AM
How could I have forgotten Wilma Rudolph (http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/rudo-wil.htm)? A classic story, an inspiration for all.

Wow, thanks for that link. I had never heard of her. It definitely brought a tear to my eye. Ok, more than one tear.

IMHO, Jerome Bettis should be the poster child for asthma. When I was growing up, children with asthma weren't allowed to play at recess, participate in sports, etc. How this dude is now playing in the NFL is beyond me. They accomodate him pretty easily. I heard that every sideline coach carries an emergency inhaler.

Master Wang-Ka
08-20-2006, 09:31 AM
Gene Roddenberry claimed to have been a sickly child who developed a major obsession with books due to not being able to go out and play.

08-20-2006, 09:44 AM
Robert Louis Stevenson fits the description - link (

he was was often bedridden with illness, and his mother and nanny spent much of this time reading him stories. Young Louis began writing his own stories when he was just six years old.

08-20-2006, 10:53 AM
Plenty of Hemophilia in the Romanoff Dynasty.

No, there was not "plenty" of hemophilia in the Romanov dynasty, Bosda. There was exactly ONE hemophiliac-the last Tsarevich, Alexei, and being as he was murdered two weeks before his fourteenth birthday, I'd hardly consider him "successful". Prior to Alexei, there had been NO hemophiliacs in the Russian royals-it was brought in through Tsaritsa Alexandra, a granddaughter of Victoria.

All of the royal hemophiliacs either died as children, or as young adults.

Auntbeast, he has done PSAs for asthma and he's a spokesman for Glaxo-Smith-Kline. He recently did one during the Super Bowl that was a tribute to the 1970s Coke ad with Mean Joe Green.

08-20-2006, 11:08 AM
Emperors Augustus and TIberius.

08-21-2006, 07:42 AM
There's also a wonderful moving film about Wilma Rudolph, which I saw some years ago on the sports channel, but can't find on imdb.

Another famous sickly child is the children's books author Rosemary Sutcliff.

Jean Poutine
08-21-2006, 10:07 AM
Not to be negative, and no offense intended, but I would think if you were a child at any point in history up until 1950 or so, you had a good chance of being sickly, as the many posts here show- none of the replies are for people under 50.

08-21-2006, 12:01 PM
I wonder if German author Karl May (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_May) would count, too? He was blind as a child (probably Vitamin-A-deficiency - there was a hunger problem in saxony during these years), but was cured at age 5. He didn't read during this time, but in his autobiography, he says that instead of playing outside with the other children (or helping his father, a weaver, with his work), he was told fairy stories by his dear grandmother, which he says influenced - together with the blindess itself - his turn inwards to fantasy and creativity.

08-21-2006, 12:08 PM
Jean - I think the extraordinary cases aren't that many children before modern medicine easily got sick (and many children died before turning 5; and many women and blacks and so on couldn't achieve success despite talent because of social barriers...) but that some of the people mentioned above didn't give up and stay "sickly child" even after a debiliating disease - like the sportlers mentioned, overcoming the odds and handicaps to not only walk again after being crippled, but become sucessful in sports! That requires a lot of willpower, spirit and determination - which should be admired.
Secondly, most children, before TV and PCs and similar, spent most of the time outside running around playing games, so an illness that caused a child to spend long hours of the day still, therefore turning to books and thinking and creativity, was unusual.

Of course, there are many famous people who overcame other barriers; many children who overcame odds with great efforts, but didn't get famous, "only" achieving their personal full potential, etc.

And today, with sick or handicapped children, there is still the danger of parents and caretakers and teachers coddling too much instead of making the child strive to achieve his own personal limits (although awareness of this being bad has gotten much better in the last decades, I think).

And though children today spent most of their time sitting still inside instead of running around outside, most of them probably aren't reading books by the ton, but watching TV and playing computer games passivly.

So telling some inspiring stories of people who overcame the odds is a good idea, I think.

Doug Bowe
08-21-2006, 01:46 PM
Would a broken leg on H. G. Wells qualify?


A defining incident of young Wells' life is said to be an accident he had in 1874 when he was seven years old. He was dropped on a tent peg at the local sports ground and was left bedridden for a time with a broken leg. To pass the time, he started reading and soon became devoted to the other worlds and lives to which books gave him access; they also stimulated his desire to write.

Jean Poutine
08-21-2006, 02:02 PM
constanze- that was a well though out response to (in hindisght) my not so well thought out post. Point taken :)

08-21-2006, 02:33 PM
Emperors Augustus and TIberius.

And, of course, the Roman emperor Claudius.

08-21-2006, 04:37 PM
There's also a wonderful moving film about Wilma Rudolph, which I saw some years ago on the sports channel, but can't find on imdb.I think this (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0076923/) is what you're referring to (which, by the way, was Denzel Washington's first film role).

08-21-2006, 04:43 PM
Orel Hershiser (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orel_Hershiser) was a spina bifida baby. In response to the observation upthread, he is also under 50. :)

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