Asperger’s syndrome is a high-functioning developmental disorder that is part of the autism spectrum. Symptoms, such as difficulty with social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and trouble making eye contact, vary widely among affected individuals. Asperger’s may go unrecognized until a child or adult begins to experience difficulties in school, work, or other social settings. But Asperger’s often bestows unique gifts, too. Some of the most inspiring and influential people we know and love have Asperger’s. Here are seven famous people living with Asperger’s.
1. Susan Boyle
Susan Boyle shocked the world in her 2009 Britain’s Got Talent audition when she sang a perfect rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from the Broadway show Les Misérables. The artist sold millions of record-breaking albums, toured the world, and gained a following by producing music that brings listeners to tears.
Boyle, 47, didn’t realize she had Asperger’s syndrome, though the clues — trouble with eye contact, anxiety, and sudden and emotional withdrawal in uncomfortable situations — were everywhere. It made sense when Boyle’s doctor told her she had the disorder.
Boyle was anything but thrown by the diagnosis. “Asperger’s doesn’t define me,” she told The Guardian. “It’s a condition that I have to live with and work through, but I feel more relaxed about myself. People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do.”
2. Courtney Love
Courtney Love’s career as a singer and actress, and her marriage to Nirvana’s lead singer Kurt Cobain, have earned her a spot as one of Hollywood’s elite. The singer revealed that she was diagnosed with a mild form of autism at age 9 in her biography Courtney Love: The Real Story.
3. Dan Harmon
Harmon is a multi-talented artist whose creative skills include writing, producing, and acting. While producing the NBC hit comedy television series Community, Harmon made an astonishing discovery during his research and character development. “I started looking up these symptoms [of Asperger’s], just to know what they are,” Harmon told Wired magazine. “And the more I looked them up, the more familiar they started to seem.” Following more research into the syndrome, Harmon self-diagnosed as having Asperger’s.
4. Dan Aykroyd
American actor Aykroyd is best known for his stint as a comedian on Saturday Night Live (1975-1979) and movies like The Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters. According to The Guardian, a psychiatrist diagnosed the Saturday Night Live star with Asperger’s after he consulted him about tics and symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. “My very mild Asperger’s has helped me creatively,” Akroyd told The Guardian. “I sometimes hear a voice and think ‘That could be a character I could do.’” Akroyd has also said his obsession with ghosts and law enformcement helped him with his role in Ghostbusters.
5. Daryl Hannah
Hannah made her screen debut in Brian de Palma’s 1978 supernatural horror film The Fury. The American actress, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s early in her career, is most known for her roles in Blade Runner, Splash, and Roxanne, among others. According to Hannah, her Asperger’s made it difficult to cope with some of the social demands made of Hollywood stars. “I never went on talk shows, never went to premieres,” Hannah says. She’s learned to adjust. “These days I have little tricks that I do to help me cope,” she told Women’s Weekly. As long as I remember to do them, then I am okay.
6. Sir Anthony Hopkins
The Welsh actor, who won an Academy Award for best actor for his role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, says that he has mild Asperger’s. The actor said it has helped him get into roles as an actor.
7. Andy Warhol
Did he, or didn’t he? Influential pop artist Andy Warhol’s love of repetition is an iconic feature of his style. His pattern of repetition defined an entire era of art, and it may have been the case that Warhol’s affinity for repetition was a symptom of Asperger’s. “It is fascinating how many of the things he did are typical of autism,” Dr. Judith Gould, PhD, lead clinical consultant at the Lorna Wing Centre for Autism in London, England, told The Guardian. Dr. Gould believes that many of Warhol’s artistic and behavioral traits — his social awkwardness, his obsession with consumer goods, and repetitive artistic style, to name just a few — suggest that Warhol was on the spectrum.