The Stars Who Aligned ADHD with Success
Let these successful celebs — like Howie Mandel, Salma Hayek, and Ty Pennington — and their triumphant stories inspire you to harness the power of your ADHD or learning disability.
Celebrities, Entertainers with ADHD
Comedian, actor, and game show host Howie Mandel, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), publicly revealed his diagnoses to the world on an impulse. An admission he regretted immediately afterward (sound familiar?) — until he realized just how many other people suffered from a combination of ADHD, OCD, and other comorbid conditions.
Today, Mandel is not only a well-known entertainer, he’s also a well-respected advocate for mental health awareness, and one of many successful people with ADHD talking about it to the public. His autobiography, Here’s The Deal: Don’t Touch Me, is a humorous look at his life with OCD, ADHD, and mysophobia, the fear of germs.
Dancing With The Stars’ Karina Smirnoff has lived with ADHD her whole life, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that she was properly diagnosed. After working with her doctor to find the best treatment for her inattention and impulsivity, she told ABC News, “[Vyvanse] helps me control my symptoms.” In a way, the professional dancer is lucky; she can channel her energy into her work — literally.
Formally diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager, Roxy Olin, of MTV’s The Hills and The City fame, told ADDitude magazine, “I’ve learned, at this point in my life, that [ADHD] is a part of who I am. You don’t have to keep your ADHD a secret.” After struggling to fight distractions in school, Olin takes Adderall, sees a therapist, and uses organization and time-management strategies to keep her symptoms in check.
Even though he struggled academically, chef Alexis Hernandez, former contestant on the reality show The Next Food Network Star, and now among the growing ranks of successful people with ADHD told ADDitudeMag.com he has had success in every one of his professional ventures. Having seen the upsides and downsides to ADHD, he insists ADHD isn’t a curse: “When adults with ADHD realize they’re blessed and gifted, they’re going to be unstoppable.”
Yvonne Pennington, mom to Ty Pennington, admitted to ADDitude that her son has always been a rambunctious handful. Her bright if unfocused son had always shown an interest in building and design, but after he dropped out of college, she finally took Ty to a doctor who prescribed him a stimulant. As the exuberant host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Pennington focused his excess energy and enthusiasm on giving families in need the homes of their dreams.
Those of you who’ve dealt with a loved one’s (or your own) denial of ADHD will appreciate singer Solange Knowles‘ story of diagnosis. According to Health.com, she had to be diagnosed twice before she believed she had ADHD. “I didn’t believe the first doctor who told me,” Knowles said. “I guess I was in denial.”
Being diagnosed with dyslexia as a teen didn’t stop Mexican-born actress Salma Hayek from learning English and breaking into Hollywood as an adult. She admits to reading scripts very slowly but told WebMD, “I’m really a fast learner. I always was.”
He walks up walls in his videos, so maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that superstar recording artist and actor Justin Timberlake has OCD and ADHD. While he doesn’t often speak publicly about his comorbid conditions, he shared his frustration with his diagnoses with Collider.com in an interview, saying, “You try living with that [combination].”
Comedy and acting have filled Patrick McKenna‘s need for spontaneity and professional creativity. Though he was chastised for doing poorly in school, McKenna told ADDitude he considers himself one of the lucky ones. “I have a very happy, successful life … I always craved something new and exciting, and all the scripts, characters I played, and bright lights fulfilled that desire.”
Academy Award-winning actress, author, and comedian Whoopi Goldberg may be known for cracking jokes, but she doesn’t think learning disabilities are a laughing matter. Diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult, she has likened the public’s misunderstanding of dyslexia to the ways menstrual cramps were once shrugged off as a problem that only existed in women’s heads. In an interview with the Academy of Achievement, she explained, “It’s like in the early days when little girls complained about having cramps. It took … years for people to understand that menstrual cramps are a real thing, that PMS is a real chemical change in the body.”
Adult with ADHD, Phillip Manuel, a New Orleans jazz musician, has never been one for a 9-to-5 desk job, but his creative spirit ended up being a professional and personal blessing. “He was always hands-on with [our] kids,” his wife Janice told the Washington Post. “He went on field trips, helped with homework and class projects. All the teachers knew him.” Always a bit impulsive, Manuel eventually started taking ADHD medication, something that has made the couple’s relationship even smoother.
Athletes with ADHD
Diagnosed with ADHD when he was just 9 years old, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has always had one ally in his corner: his mom, Debbie, a middle school teacher who made sure her distracted son was always focused during school. Swimming was a therapeutic release for Phelps, who eventually stopped taking stimulant medication and compensates by working out, according to The New York Times. “I’m just different in the water,” Phelps told Sports Illustrated.
Before he was diagnosed, and subsequently treated, Major League Baseball pitcher Scott Eyre would get distracted after a conversation and not remember any of it. Eventually a team therapist pulled the southpaw pitcher aside and suggested he might have ADHD. In an interview with ADDitude, Eyre said taking Concerta daily has not only improved his game but it has also signaled to other pro players and famous people with ADHD that they can come forward about their condition and serve to inspire others.
The first woman to ski across Greenland and reach the North Pole by dogsled, polar explorer Ann Bancroft, has long struggled with dyslexia. Before exploring the outermost areas of the planet, she worked as a special education teacher, giving back to the community that helped her along the way.
Luke Kohl grew up hoping baseball would help his ADHD. Despite taking Ritalin, he often found himself in the principal’s office at school. Then, after tearing his rotator cuff at age 13, he thought it was clear he’d never hit another home run. Instead of giving in to the mood disorder that followed his injury, Luke picked up a five iron and started caddying for PGA players, according to ADDitude magazine. Participating in an organized activity has helped him channel his energy and frustration into something worthwhile and productive.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and football analyst Terry Bradshaw revealed in his book Keep It Simple that he has struggled with ADHD for years. He’s also battled a clinical mood disorder along the way, according to HealthCentral.com, but none of his diagnoses stopped him from being inducted into the National Football League’s Hall of Fame.
Leaders, Movers, and Shakers with ADHD
Political analyst, commentator, and educator James Carville may have helped former President Bill Clinton win his 1992 White House bid, but Carville’s ADHD — the condition that keeps him hyperfocused, adaptable, and full of the sort of excess energy politics demands — hasn’t always helped him achieve his goals. Before growing into his condition, he flunked out of college, according to Health.com. After acknowledging his condition on CNN in 2004, Carville has gone on to speak publicly about ADHD for organizations like Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
Erin Brockovich-Ellis, the legal clerk and activist portrayed in the Steven Soderbergh film bearing her name, is perhaps one of the most striking examples of overcoming the challenges of dyslexia. Her job has required her to read thousands of briefs — an exceptionally tedious task when coupled with reading difficulties. Though she lacked formal training in law (perhaps because of her learning difficulties), her research was instrumental in winning the largest class-action lawsuit settlement in U.S. history. In 2001, she told USA Today, “Early on I was told I probably wouldn’t make it through college. I knew I wasn’t stupid, but I had great hardships in school — since second grade.”
With an outsized personality so extreme he’s parodied on HBO’s Entourage, Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel is a force to be reckoned with. In an interview with ADDitude, he said, “As head of Endeavor, I have to be creative. My dyslexia helps me: I don’t think the way other people do.” By working out every morning, he’s also been able to do away with his need for Ritalin.
Nutrition and exercise are two natural ways to combat ADHD symptoms, and British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has long been a proponent of encouraging children to eat healthy foods. Working with schools to improve nutrition for grade school children, Oliver, who was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child, hopes to do away with potentially hazardous additives in food that can make it even tougher for kids with ADHD to stay healthy and focused. He has also spoken out about his learning disabilities in school. The Telegraph UK reports that Oliver’s support of the dyslexia charity Xtraordinary People prompted him to announce on the organization’s website that he hopes other children can excel in school despite his own struggles. “It was with great regret that I didn’t do better at school,” he said.
Conservative TV and radio personality Glenn Beck has found relief from his ADHD by taking Vyvanse. Though he credits his success to his condition, he joked in an interview with Ty Pennington, where the two discussed ADHD on The Glenn Beck Show, that his show staff members know when he hasn’t taken his medication.
Though she struggled academically, writing gave journalist and author Katherine Ellison a chance to excel. Diagnosed at 49, after her son was diagnosed as having ADHD, and after winning a Pulitzer Prize at age 27, Ellison wrote about her son’s — and her own — challenges with ADHD in Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention.
Entrepreneurs with ADHD
Virgin Airlines founder Sir Richard Branson is a wealthy adventurer known for taking risks and for his big spending. While these thrill-seeking ADHD traits can be cause for concern, they’ve helped Branson become an inspiring, successful businessman — among the ranks of famous people with ADHD.
Kinko’s founder and serial entrepreneur Paul Orfalea struggled with severe dyslexia and ADHD as a child, which made it impossible to follow along in the classroom, according to his website. “Because I couldn’t read, I learned from direct experience,” he wrote about himself on his website. These challenges also taught Orfalea to rely on those around him and to appreciate everyone’s unique strengths and weaknesses in the hopes they’d recognize and respect his. “Because I have a tendency to wander,” he told ADDitude, “I never spent much time in my office. My job was going store to store… If I had stayed in my office all the time, I would not have discovered all those wonderful ideas to help expand the business.”
The founder and namesake of one of the nation’s largest brokerage firms, Charles Schwab didn’t recognize his own dyslexia until his 16-year-old son was diagnosed. For Schwab, excelling with a learning disability is about accepting your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths. “Find out what you can do well, focus on it, and work doubly hard,” he told ADDitude magazine in 2005. “Focus on your strengths. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to admit you need it.”
“If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADHD, I would take ADHD,” JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman once told ADDitude. The airline entrepreneur forgoes medication and credits his natural state for the company’s success. “I’m afraid of taking drugs once, blowing a circuit, and then being like the rest of you,” he joked.
Alan Meckler, Jupitermedia founder and CEO of WebMediaBrands, wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until mid-life. But his ability to quickly digest complex information and his attention to detail, he told ADDitude, were what led him into the Internet tech world — long before many thought it would be a lucrative business market.
Updated on February 7, 2021