10 Oscar Winners With Dyslexia

By Lexi Walters Wright
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Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg and Brian Grazer are just a few of many Oscar winners with dyslexia. Joining them are these 10 other Academy Award winners. They prove that reading issues don’t have to get in the way of success. Learn about these Oscar-winning actors, directors and more.

Loretta Young

Best Actress: The Farmer’s Daughter (1947)

Young spent more than 70 years acting in Hollywood. She appeared in silent films, early short “talkies,” and feature-length movies. Young even had a long-running TV show.

She was in her 50s when she finally learned that there was a name for her reading issues. Years before, Young had figured out how to work around her dyslexia. She had a tutor to help her read scripts. And she memorized not only her own lines but also the other actors’ lines, so she would know when to speak.

Goldie Hawn

Best Supporting Actress: Cactus Flower (1969)

Hawn has made a career of making people laugh. Her Academy Award–winning role in Cactus Flower was one of many in which she played a funny free spirit.

However, as a child, she didn’t experience such good times in the classroom. Hawn had dyslexia and struggled with reading comprehension. “School was difficult for me,” Hawn has said. “However, I was a happy child, so I always signed my papers, ‘Love, Goldie.’”

Robert Benton

Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Best Original Screenplay: Places in the Heart (1984)

Benton has called himself “a terrible student” who couldn’t read. “I was dyslexic before anybody knew what dyslexia was,” he’s said.

Watching movies was a way to escape his struggles with learning. Benton and his father regularly saw films together. “Movies could hold my attention. I could follow them,” Benton has also shared. “Over the years, they became a powerful source [of focus and creativity] for me.”

Billy Bob Thornton

Best Adapted Screenplay: Sling Blade (1996)

Writing the script was only one of Thornton’s contributions to Sling Blade. He also directed and acted in the movie.

Thornton has said his dyslexia still makes it hard for him to sit down and read a book. But he loved writing, even as a young student. In fact it was his writing that led to him to Hollywood. A high school drama coach had Thornton direct one of his short stories. He did so well that she encouraged him to consider a future making movies.

John Irving

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Cider House Rules (1999)

Along with writing movie scripts, Irving is a famous author whose books are read around the world. So it may be hard to imagine that he ever struggled with words. But he did as a kid. He read slowly and had to review lessons repeatedly to understand them.

Irving has mentioned that having dyslexia helps his career. “It’s become an advantage,” he’s said. “It doesn’t hurt anyone as a writer to have to go over something again and again.”

Richard Taylor

Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Best Makeup and Best Costume Design, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Best Visual Effects, King Kong (2005)

As a child with dyslexia, Taylor preferred art and sculpture to reading and writing. “I always knew that I wanted to make things with my hands,” he has said. Taylor founded a special effects and prop company. He’s the creative director and—as his three Oscars show—has achieved great success.

Peggy Stern

Best Animated Short: Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation (2005)

Stern has produced and directed a number of independent documentary films. A Harvard graduate, she cowrote the film that earned her an Oscar.

Stern is also the creator of Dyslexiaville, an in-the-works interactive site for children with dyslexia. She credits her daughter Emma, who also has dyslexia, as a key advisor on the site.

Roger Ross Williams

Best Documentary (Short Subject): Music by Prudence (2009)

Williams was the first African American to win an Oscar in this category. His film is about a young singer from Zimbabwe with physical disabilities. She must overcome great odds to achieve her musical dreams.

As a child with dyslexia, Williams had to repeat grades in school. He believes his reading issues have shaped his career. “Dyslexia has given me the gift of creativity, understanding and empathy,” he has said.

Octavia Spencer

Best Supporting Actress: The Help (2011)

Spencer is open about how dyslexia affected her in the classroom growing up. She’s shared that she was “paralyzed with fear” when it was her turn to read aloud in class. “I didn’t want to be made to feel not as smart as the other kids. I know that I’m a smart person.”

Since her Oscar win, she’s appeared in a television series. She’s mentioned that working in TV can be more difficult than film for people with dyslexia. That’s because they have less time to memorize scripts. She’s also written a children’s book, The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit.

Steve McQueen

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

McQueen was promoting his award-winning movie when he talked for the first time about his learning struggles. He shared that he has dyslexia—and had hidden it for years out of shame. “I thought it meant I was stupid,” McQueen explained.

His success spotlights how wrong he was. McQueen’s storytelling skills created a movie that received Oscar’s top honor. And so far in his career, he has written, directed and produced more than a dozen films.

About the Author

About the Author

Lexi Walters Wright 

is the former Community Manager at Understood (u.org/community). As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

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