15 Famous & Successful People with a Stutter

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A book entitled Trouble With Explosives by Sally Kelley was one of my first exposures to the subject of stuttering. It wasn't until Joe Biden talked about his struggles with stuttering that most of the world got an idea of the subject. For the approximately three million Americans who struggle with stuttering, the reality is faced every day. 

Stuttering normally begins in childhood and an estimated 75 percent of those who experience it outgrow stuttering. For the other 25 percent, this becomes something they deal with for the rest of their lives.

The disorder is more prevalent in men than in women, but it affects both psychologically. Today, we will examine the science behind stuttering and look for inspiration towards 15 famous people with a stutter.

What is a Stutter?

Stuttering is a condition that causes a person to have difficulty speaking certain words. The person may repeat sounds, elongate sounds, or be unable to produce a certain sound. The most common occurrence is repeating a certain sound.

It is believed that the muscles used for speaking actually twitch or move uncontrollably, making it difficult to get past the troubling sound and continue speaking.

It is unknown why, but singing, speaking in unison, or pretending to be someone else seems to alleviate the symptoms of the stutter. Reading also seems to make a stutter disappear or be less noticeable. It is also common for the stutter to become worse when the person is upset or in a highly emotional state. 

Potential Causes of Stuttering

Scientists still have not determined what causes some people to stutter but they have narrowed the types of stuttering down to three main types.

  • Developmental stuttering is the most common. Scientists have identified four genes that are involved in speech that are mutated in those who stutter. This verifies the genetic component, as does the fact that stuttering often occurs in several family members. This causes the brain to work at a faster rate than the speech organs can keep up with.
  • Neurogenic stuttering occurs in people who have had some type of traumatic brain injury. This can occur with head trauma or a stroke. The damage to speech areas of the brain makes it difficult for the sections responsible for putting everything together to work smoothly.
  • Psychogenic stuttering is often caused by emotional trauma. At one point in time, this was thought to be the only cause of stuttering, but we have discovered that this is actually the most rare of the stuttering types.

Effects of Stuttering

Stuttering causes many detrimental effects for the person who experiences it. It is often fuel for bullies to tease the person. This creates a situation where anxiety increases and self-esteem plummets.

Stuttering also causes many people to stay silent because the frustration of trying to communicate becomes too great. This is increased when those around the person appear impatient or finish sentences for the person who stutters.

Lowered self-confidence often causes the individual to isolate themself. This makes it difficult to learn appropriate social interaction and can leave the person feeling alone.

The anxiety that comes from trying to communicate and failing will sometimes lead to the individual feeling like they aren't smart enough to go on to further education or work towards obtaining higher positions at work. While stuttering is not a sign of lack of intelligence, all the emotional conditions that occur with it over time can make it feel like it is.

What Treatments are Available for Stuttering?

Stuttering can't be cured, but it can be controlled with practice and training. There is no medication that has been developed to help but there are some non-medication options available.

Speech therapy is the most often used treatment. During the therapy, the person who stutters is taught how to speak slower, regulate their breathing, and reduce the anxiety they may be feeling. The person is also given more opportunities to talk, and feel comfortable speaking, which seems to help.

Another treatment has been developed that appears to help, but will need more testing because it is new. This is an electronic device the person wears like a hearing aid. The device sends verbal signals to the person and makes it sound like they are speaking in unison. Because speaking in unison makes a person stutter less, it is felt this device may be helpful.

15 Famous People Who Stutter

People who stutter often find that when they are pretending to be someone else, as in acting, or when they sing, their stutter disappears. This has encouraged many to enter the fields of acting or music.

There are many great minds in politics, science, and business who didn't allow their stutter to stop them from achieving great heights. Let's look at fifteen of them.

1. Winston Churchill

Churchill, who was one of Great Britain's greatest orators, suffered from both a stutter and a lisp. This didn't stop him from becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940-1945 and then again from 1951-1955. He often anticipated questions weeks in advance and wrote out his answers so he could practice.

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Churchill, who was one of Great Britain's greatest orators, suffered from both a stutter and a lisp.

[See 75 Famous Winston Churchill Quotes]

2. Sir Isaac Newton

Modern-day scientists owe much of what they know today to the basic principles discovered by the most famous scientists in history. What many don't know is that Sir Isaac Newton was so self-conscious about his stutter that he insisted that they closed Parliament windows when he talked so that those outside could not hear him.

3. Wayne Brady

Wayne Brady, the host of Let's Make a Deal, stuttered his entire life. This didn't stop him from going on to host the popular game show and win an Emmy for his improv comedy. He also sang.

4. Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson still stutters but he credits his most famous swear word as helping because it releases some of the pressure he feels. He once went almost an entire year without talking at all because of the teasing he received for his stutter. This hasn't stopped him from becoming a much-loved actor with a highly-recognized voice.

5. Robert Merrill

Robert Merrill didn't allow his lifetime of stuttering to stop him from becoming one of the most notable baritone voices to grace the stage of the Metropolitan Opera for over thirty years. During that time, he performed in over 500 performances.

6. Bruce Willis

As a child, Bruce Willis says it could sometimes take him as long as three minutes to get out one complete sentence. Today, he has performed in over sixty movies, including the Die Hard series and The Sixth Sense.

7. Charles Darwin

This British naturalist and author of The Origin of the Species turned to nature to help him deal with the pain of stuttering. His work has set the foundation for so many naturalists that have come after him, showing that a stutter can sometimes facilitate adventuring into areas the person may never have considered if they did not have it.

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This British naturalist and author of The Origin of the Species turned to nature to help him deal with the pain of stuttering.

8. Lewis Carrol

Like many who stutter, Lewis Carrol turned to writing as an escape from his stutter. Without him choosing this path, we never would have enjoyed one of the most beloved classics in the world, Alice in Wonderland.

9. B.B. King

Who doesn't recognize the songs of B. B. King and the great guitar rifts that went along with them? Trying to find a way to overcome his stuttering, B. B. King discovered that music allowed him to relax and he was known to say that music cured his stutter.

10. Tiger Woods

The former world championship golfer stuttered consistently as a child. He spent two years taking speech classes to help him and spent many hours talking to his dog, who he said listened to his every word, which helped him gain confidence.

11. Kendrick Lamar

A high-school teacher was sure Kenrick Lamar was going to end up in prison one day, but the Pulitzer-prize-winning rapper was determined to overcome his stutter. His stutter followed him through high school, where he said it was most noticeable when he got excited or was in trouble. Today, he still stutters when overly excited.

12. Elvis Presley

Elvis had a stutter when he was younger. Like many who sing, he realized the stutter disappeared when he sang. He went on to become one of the most recognized names in the world. His numerous songs and movies will likely live on for generations.

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In his early years, Elvis experienced a speech impediment characterized by a tendency to stutter.

13. Richard Branson

You may not recognize this name, but Richard Branson went from a child who was bullied for his stutter to becoming a multi-billionaire. His company, Virgin Group, is composed of over 400 companies that range over eight industries. 

14. Jack Welch

As a child, Jack Welch's mother is the one who helped him persist when he became frustrated with his stutter. She often told him his tongue simply couldn't keep up with his brain because he was so smart. Her encouragement helped him rise from an entry-level position at GE to becoming CEO of the company. He is credited with increasing the company's value from $12 million dollars in 1980 to over $280 billion.

15. Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt stuttered through high school. One day, a teacher noticed that when she was doing impersonations of others or speaking in a foreign accent, her stutter disappeared. This allowed her to go on and become the well-known actress she is today. 

Final Thoughts on Famous People Who Stutter

Stuttering is one of the most noticeable things a child can do. Many have felt the sting of bullying words and the frustration that comes from trying to communicate effectively when the words won't come.

By looking at those who have achieved success, there is a measure of hope and self-confidence that can be had. There are many successful and famous people who have overcome different disabilities to rise to success.

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