According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. With statistics like this, it’s no surprise that some of our brightest and most talented are deaf or hard-of-hearing! Take a look at our list of some noteworthy and famous deaf or hard-of-hearing celebs.
1. Marlee Matlin
Marlee Matlin is an American actress whose career has spanned over the course of almost 5 decades. Matlin gained critical acclaim for her lead role in Children of a Lesser God in 1986 which earned her an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. She was the first and only Deaf performer to have ever won this award. Diagnosed with profound hearing loss at just 18 months, Matlin has only 20% hearing in one ear, and is completely Deaf in the another. Matlin is also an active member of the Deaf community, and advocate for disability awareness. Take a look at this clip of Marlee winning the Oscar for Best Actress in 1987.
2. Nyle DiMarco
Nyle DiMarco is a Deaf American model, actor, and activist who is known for his recurring role as Garrett Banducci in Switched at Birth. DiMarco was the second male winner and first ever Deaf winner of America’s Next Top Model. He was also the winner of Dancing with the Stars in 2016. DiMarco uses his presence in the public arena to raise awareness for the Deaf community and Deaf issues.
3. Stephen Colbert
Host of the critically-acclaimed Late Show, Stephen Colbert is completely deaf in his right ear. Resulting from an operation to correct a perforated eardrum, Colbert was left with inner ear damage and a changed shape of his ear. Take a look at the awesome party trick he can do with his ear below!
4. Rikki Poynter
Rikki Poynter is an American YouTuber who posts regularly on topics including; closed captioning awareness, Deaf culture, and accessibility among others. Rikki is a champion for Deaf culture, posting informative and entertaining videos to spread awareness and challenge norms. Rikki isn't shy when it comes to talking about her own experiences as a Deaf person, and uses her platform to provide support for others who are in similar situations. Take a look at her channel trailer below!
5. Millicent Simmonds
Millicent Simmonds is an American actress from Utah. Millicent became Deaf after a medication overdose at just 12 months old. At just 14, she earned a breakout role in Wonderstruck in 2017. She followed this up with her role in A Quiet Place, where she starred alongside John Krasinski and Emily Blunt in one of 2018's best (and scariest) films so far. As the film's premise relies on sign language, the cast learnt sign language to communicate between one another.
6. Millie Bobby Brown
Star of Netflix's hit series Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown is deaf in one ear. Born with hearing loss in one of her ears, her condition has worsened over time leaving her deaf in her right ear. Regardless, she continues to wow audiences in her role as the lethal and mysterious Eleven in the ever-popular show.
7. Shaheem Sanchez
Shaheem Sanchez is a Deaf American dancer known for the mind-blowing dance routines which he posts online. Shaheem uses the vibrations of the music to keep on rhythm. Shaheem is an inspiration to the rest of his family - especially his younger brother Leon, also known as Kida. Kida was the winner of 2016's So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation. It's clear that talent runs in the family! Take a look at his story here.
8. Thomas Edison
Known by many as America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison spent much of his life with little to no hearing. There’s much mystery surrounding the cause of his hearing loss which he claims began as young as 12 years old. Some suggest that a case of Scarlet Fever is to blame, others suggest it was passed down within his family. Edison himself claims that he was picked up by the ears after falling out of a train, hearing a “pop” inside his ears.
Regardless of the cause, Edison’s incredible, world changing achievements were not hindered by his lack of hearing. Edison claimed that he was better able to concentrate on his work due to his hearing loss, suggesting that deaf people (like himself) "should take to reading. It beats the babble of ordinary conversation."
Multi-platinum Grammy Award winner Will.i.am has gone on the record stating that he is a sufferer of constant tinnitus. Tinnitus is the perception of ringing or noise in the ears which is often caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises. Will.i.am attributes his tinnitus to exposure to loud music throughout his career. This is a common claim among music professionals. Despite his ongoing battle, Will.i.am does not let his tinnitus interfere with his ability to create hit after hit. See more below.
10. Halle Berry
Academy Award winner Halle Berry is hard-of-hearing, having lost 80% of her hearing in her right ear. This was a result of domestic violence from an abusive former partner, allegedly identified as Wesley Snipes. Berry has become a champion of domestic violence reduction, being outspoken about her own experiences. Nevertheless, Berry has achieved much success in her career, starring in a multitude of blockbusters as well as being the only African-American female to win an Academy Award for her lead role in Monsters Ball.
Another musician suffering from the effects of prolonged exposure to loud music, Canadian electronic producer Grimes has been very outspoken about her ongoing battle with tinnitus and hearing loss. Grimes has had to cancel multiple performance dates due to her ongoing condition, seeking to reduce harm to her hearing loss.
Other noteworthy musicians who've had to cancel shows to preserve their hearing include;
- Phil Collins - Temporarily ended his career in 2011 due to hearing loss.
- Huey Lewis - Cancelled tour dates in 2018 due to hearing loss.
- Thomas Bangalter (half of Daft Punk) - No longer plays nightclubs due to hearing loss.
12. Jane LynchAfter suffering a high fever which left her with nerve deafness when she was just a baby, Glee star Jane Lynch has reported that is completely deaf in one ear. However, Lynch did not discover this until she was 7 years old when she was playing with her brother and a transistor radio.
13. William Shatner
Canadian actor William Shatner, known as many by Captain Kirk, began suffering tinnitus due to a pyrotechnics mishap whilst shooting an episode of the famed Star Trek series. Following this, Shatner began to wear a small device which generated white noise to distract his brain from the constant ringing caused by tinnitus.
14. Bill Clinton
Former US President Bill Clinton was diagnosed with high-frequency hearing loss which is likely the result of exposure to loud music in his youth, and his enjoyment of duck hunting. Due to this, Bill Clinton has difficulty hearing in crowded rooms, and wears two Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) Hearing Aids to counteract his hearing loss.
15. Pete Townshend
Lead guitarist of the famed British rock group The Who has endured much damage to his hearing after almost half a century’s worth of writing and performing music to crowds around the world. Pete now wears hearing aids and uses a special hearing monitor whilst performing. Pete has suffered from hearing loss since the 80’s – opting to perform using an acoustic guitar behind a glass partition for the majority off the set during a 1989 reunion tour. In 2012, Townshend was forced to leave the stage as the onstage volume was too loud.
Fun fact: The Who earned an award from the Guinness Book of Records for the “loudest concert ever” with their 1976 performance in London.
16. Derrick Coleman
Derrick Coleman is the first legally Deaf offensive player in the NFL. After playing for UCLA, Coleman was signed to the Minnesota Vikings in 2012, currently playing for the Arizona Cardinals. Coleman began to lose his hearing at just 3 years old due to a genetic and incurable hearing impairment. He uses a mixture of hand signals and lip reading to communicate with his team during games.
Want to see more famous Deaf athletes? Look no further.
17. Russell Harvard
Russell Harvard is an American actor who made his major film debut alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in the critically acclaimed There Will Be Blood. Harvard comes from a third-generation Deaf family, with both of his parents as well as his paternal grandmother being Deaf. Noteable appearances include his role as Matt Hamill in The Fighter. More recently, Harvard was cast as Mr. Wrench in seasons 1 and 3 of the Emmy Award winning TV adaptation of Fargo. Harvard is an advocate for accessibility awareness and has cited the usefulness of captions in his everyday life. Take a look at this video of Russell signing to Fireflies by Owl City in 2009.
18. Ludwig van Beethoven
One of the world’s most famous composers and classical musicians was also a sufferer of hearing loss. Beethoven began losing his hearing at just 26, and there is limited consensus surrounding the cause of his hearing loss. Some speculate that it was due to illness or lesion of the inner ear, others suggest lead poisoning.
19. Rob Lowe
Famed actor Rob Lowe has been completely deaf in his right ear since he was a baby due to an undiagnosed virus. The Hollywood star has spent several decades in the limelight, coming to prominence in the 80’s with roles in The Outsiders, The West Wing, and more recently in Parks and Recreation.
20. Neil Young
Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young has been very outspoken on his ongoing battle with tinnitus and hearing loss. At one point, Young’s hearing condition was so poor that he had to stop recording for a few years. His hearing loss even affected his creative path – Young cites his deteriorating hearing condition as the reason for a creative shift towards the more ambient sound seen in his album Harvest Moon.
Pioneer of the electronic music scene, Moby, has also spoken out as a sufferer of tinnitus. In his career spanning four decades, Moby has produced and remixed for; David Bowie, Daft Punk, Britney Spears, New Order, Public Enemy, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica among others. Despite this, Moby attributes his tinnitus to his experiences playing in a punk band in his earlier years!
22. Whoopi Goldberg
Beloved actress, comedian, and Academy Award winner wears hearing aids due to hearing loss she believes resulted from attending loud concerts and events in her youth.
23. Kiefer Sutherland
Best known for his starring role on the hugely popular 24 series, Kiefer Sutherland is a British actor. Sutherland suffers from profound hearing loss in one ear and partial hearing loss in the other due to ongoing damage from harmful sounds whilst on set. Gunshots and explosions used whilst filming now force him to wear hearing-aids in his day-to-day life.
24. Lars Ulrich
Lars Ulrich, drummer for Metallica is yet another musician who suffers from tinnitus resulting from years of performing to the masses. Ulrich has been suffering from tinnitus for “virtually all of his professional career” and is outspoken about the risks of over-exposure to noise. Take a look at Lars' PSA on hearing loss and tinnitus from 1993:
25. Sean Forbes
Hailing from Detroit, Sean Forbes is an deaf American rapper, activist, and speaker. Sean uses music to champion deaf awareness and deaf culture. Outside of music, Sean co-founded D-PAN, the Deaf Professional Arts Network. D-PAN is a non-profit organisation which promotes accessibility and awareness within the arts and media industries.
26. Lou Ferrigno
Lou Ferrigno is an American actor, speaker, and former professional bodybuilder. Ferrigno is best known for playing The Hulk in the late 70's and early 80's. Ferrigno lost 75-80% of his hearing shortly after his birth due to ear infections and has worn hearing aids since the age of 5. Growing up with hearing loss, Ferrigno cites his experiences with bullying as a source of strength which motivated him to train and work hard.
27. Linda Bove
Linda Bove is a deaf American actress who earned her fame as Linda the Librarian in the beloved children's series Sesame Street. In her role, Linda introduced millions of children to sign language, and helped helped raise awareness for deaf culture. Playing the role for over 30 years, Bove earned the title of longest-running role on American television for a person with a disability. Since Sesame Street, Linda has remained active in raising awareness for deaf culture.
28. Casar Jacobson
Casar Jacobsen is a Norwegian-Canadian gender and disability equality activist. She was the first Deaf person in North America to earn the titles of; Miss Universe Canada (2012), Miss Canada (2013), and Miss Globe Peace (2013).
Jacobson was born hard of hearing in both ears. She was profoundly deaf in one ear by her teens, later bilaterally profoundly deaf in her 20’s. Casar is known for playing Emily on Talk to the Hands, Emma on The Murders, and for her time on Canada’s Got Talent. She has another TV series in the works, and a documentary set to release in 2020.
Casar was the first profound bilaterally deaf Canadian to work with the United Nations. Casar is a UN Youth and Gender Equality 50/50 Champion, and works with UNWomen on projects to better improve equality in the areas of gender and disability.
She is currently studying her MCAT and is working on a neuroscience project focused on innovation and tech in sign language for American neuroscientist David Eagleman.
29. Sean Berdy
Sean Berdy is an American actor, comedian, writer and producer best known for his role as Emmett in Switched at Birth. Born Deaf, Berdy communicates largely through ASL. Berdy earned early success in his breakout role in The Sandlot 2 (2005), playing Sammy 'Fingers' Samuelson. Since a young age, Berdy has been an active member in the Deaf community, winning the title of Mr Deaf America in 2010. This title allowed him to travel around the country spreading awareness for deaf people and deaf culture. Outside of acting and activism, Berdy has a keen interest in magic. At a younger age, he competed at the World Magicians Festival in St Petersburg, taking out the top award for young magicians.
30. Daniel Durant
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Daniel Durant is an American actor who has graced both screen and stage. Best known for his role as Moritz in the critically acclaimed production of Spring Awakening, he is also known for portraying Matthew in the hugely popular Switch at Birth. Daniel remains an active member within the deaf community, using social media to connect with people from around the world and spread awareness for deaf issues and culture.
31. Matt Maxey
Founder of DEAFinitely Dope, Matt Maxey is an American Sign Language interpreter who joined Grammy-winning Chance the Rapper on his Be Encouraged tour in 2017. Along with his team of interpreters, Maxey helped bring accessibility to the deaf and hard-of-hearing members in the audience. His energy is infectious - take a look below!
32. CJ Jones
American actor, comedian, writer, and director CJ Jones is most commonly known for his breakout role in Edgar Wright's 2017 hit film Baby Driver. CJ stars alongside Ansel Elgort, playing his Deaf foster father. Outside of acting, CJ founded the International Sign Language Theater Festival and has produced several one-man shows which have toured internationally.
33. Kitty O'Neil
Kitty O'Neil was an American stuntwoman and speedracer who truly pushed the limits throughout her career. Whether she was setting world speed records, or leaping 127 feet from a balcony as Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman stunt double, Kitty never let her lack of hearing stop her from achieving success. In her words, “Deaf people can do anything, never give up. When I was 18, I was told I couldn’t get a job because I was deaf. But I said someday I’m going to be famous in sports, to show them I can do anything.”