Notable celebrities who have hearing loss or tinnitus
These famous actors and musicians have been open about their hearing loss journey
Hearing loss is not often represented in the media. When's the last time you noticed a celebrity or actor on a TV show who had hearing aids or worn a cochlear implant? Ditto for visible hearing devices on musicians, who may be compelled to keep their hearing loss hidden, even though many musicians develop hearing loss after years of performing.
Fortunately, in recent years, more actors, celebrities and musicians have spoken candidly about their journey with hearing loss. We've rounded up some notable names below. This is by no means a comprehensive list; we've selected these stars because of how open they've been about hearing loss. This helps normalize the condition, which affects millions of Americans and carries a long history of stigma.
Famous actors with hearing loss
Beloved for his role as Star Trek's Captain Kirk, this nonagenarian recently partnered with the hearing clinic company HearingLife to create the Live Life to Your Fullest Campaign.
"For me, especially as I struggled with tinnitus, taking care of my hearing has been a big part of living life to the fullest with my family and in my career, allowing me to enjoy every special moment," he said. Shatner's struggle with tinnitus is common—many people have both hearing loss and tinnitus. Fortunately, there are hearing aids for tinnitus.
As a child, Colbert received an operation to fix a perforated ear drum but the surgery left him with single-sided deafness. He's been open about this experience, joking on TV interviews that they "scooped it all out with a melon baller," and while pointing to his deaf ear, calling his external ear "just a prop."
Clearly, this didn't slow him down. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is watched by millions, and his career as an actor and political satirist earned him many awards and accolades, including Peabody Awards and several Emmy Awards.
He acts. He sings. He dances. He writes. And he's made millions of people laugh while doing all and any of these. In an article in Pitchfork, Martin admitted he has long struggled with tinnitus. When it first stared, he attributed it to ear damage from a gunfire scene while shooting the movie The Three Amigos. He later accepted it was most likely part of noise-induced hearing loss.
"I realized it was just my destiny after listening to music too loud my whole life and playing live concerts with 28,000 screaming people—it was like being in a football stadium. Tinnitus becomes easier to live with. It becomes your natural background noise," he explained.
Medical professionals aren’t sure if a malformed cochlea or childhood infection caused Marlee Matlin’s deafness at the age of 18 months, but one thing is for sure -- it didn’t stop her from a becoming a prolific actor. At the age of seven, she played Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" in a children’s theater company. Fifteen years later, in 1986, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her work in "Children of a Lesser God." In all, she’s been nominated 14 times for her acting talents and taken home three wins.
Additionally, Matlin is a published author, having written a children's book series called Deaf Child Crossing as well as the memoir "I’ll Scream Later." She also serves as the spokeswoman for the largest provider of TV closed captioning.
As described in People Magazine, Halle Berry lost her hearing in one ear when a former boyfriend hit her in the head. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as a concussion, can indeed damage the ear and the auditory pathways that lead to the brain.
Berry, a Cleveland native and former pageant queen, parlayed her work as a model into a successful career as an actress on television and in the movies. Among her 44 wins include an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her role as a grieving mother in "Monster’s Ball" (2002) and a Primetime Emmy as the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for portraying Dorothy Dandridge in "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" (2000).
Award-winning comedian and actress Whoopi Goldberg wears hearing aids. Her hearing loss is the result of “years and years of listening to music so loudly and so close to the eardrum.” She has advocated for people with hearing loss, raising money for the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Before becoming an actress and comedian, Goldberg worked in a funeral parlor and as a bricklayer. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role in "Ghost" (1991) and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for "The Color Purple" (1986).
Hearing loss can be caused by a number of factors, including disease. For Holly Hunter, a case of the mumps when she was a child caused deafness in her left ear. The disability didn’t prevent her from learning to play the piano when she was 9, a skill she used for her role as a mute woman living in the 1850s in "The Piano." The effort won her an Oscar for Best Actress (1993).
Hunter is known for her keen attention to detail, an attribute she says she honed as a result of having to listen intently to what people were saying. Throughout her notable acting career, she has received 91 award nominations and 44 wins.
While most ear infections clear on their own without permanent hearing loss, untreated ear infections can cause permanent damage. That’s what happened to Robert Redford in 2013 while filming "All is Lost." His role as a stranded sailor in the Indian Ocean required him to be submerged in a water tank and blasted with a water hose each day. The resulting ear infection caused a 60% loss of hearing in his left ear.
Redford won an Oscar for Best Director for "Ordinary People" (1981). The 1994 Cecil B DeMille Award winner also starred in other memorable movies, such as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), "The Way We Were" (1973) and "The Sting" (1973), roles that made him a box office star and acting legend.
Famous musicians with hearing loss or tinnitus
Many famous musicians have hearing problems, mainly due to noise-related damage to the auditory system. Tinnitus is common among musicians. Fortunately, it's becoming more common for artists to wear musicians' ear plugs, which help reduce noise damage.
This talented singer/songwriter has had to end tours when his Meniere's disease flares up. The condition causes hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness. He's been very open with journalists and fans about what it's like to be a touring musician with the condition.
"For years, I was struggling with hearing problems with my monitors," he shared in an interview, explaining seasickness, nausea, panic, tinnitus, and noise distortion were all problems he grappled with. "Many people are suffering from it and still don't know what it is."
Lewis is one of the latest musicians to stop touring due to Meniere’s disease, saying that the affliction makes it impossible to find pitch. Meniere’s disease affects the inner ear and vestibular (balance) system. While he has slowed down some, he still sings, telling the San Francisco Chronicle in 2019 that "I haven’t given up.” Those afflicted with the disease often experience hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the affected ear.
The lead singer for the Foo Fighters told radio host Howard Stern in 2022 that years of jamming out to live music has taken its toll. The pandemic and mask-wearing only made things more tricky, making it hard to lipread. In the interview, Grohl admitted he refuses to wear proper ear protection. This is unfortunate, because saving your residual hearing (the hearing you do have left) is a smart tactic, but requires being vigilant.
Many other musicians have hearing loss, including Ozzy Osbourne, Chris Martin, Mandy Harvey, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, will.i.am, Grimes, Neil Young, and many others.
Simon in particular has admitted he's struggling to accept the diagnosis. While recording a recent album, he lost most of his hearing in one ear, and it never got better. This can happen with single-sided deafness, and is an important reminder that any sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency. The faster it's treated, the more likely it will get better.
More: Hearing aids for music
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