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30 Inspiring Celebrities Who Struggled At School

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Most people presume celebrities are perfect and that they must have graduated high school with flying colours, but that assumption isn’t always true.

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Believe it or not, many stars blossomed much later in life, and more than you think suffered from a learning disability. To prove this, we’ve featured 15 A-listers who struggled in school due to learning difficulties.


1. Channing Tatum

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Most people look at Channing Tatum and wonder if he is God’s gift to women; such is his good looks and remarkable talent as both an actor and dancer. However, Tatum admitted in an interview with T-The New York Times Style Magazine, that his ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and dyslexia meant he was often “lumped” in school classes with those suffering from autism and downs syndrome.

“I have never considered myself a very smart person, for a lot of reasons,” the actor admitted. “Not having early success on that one path messes with you.’ However, Tatum has gone on to become one of the world’s highest-paid actors and proved that you don’t always need to be academically gifted to succeed in life.


2. Daniel Radcliffe

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The Harry Potter star has lived with a mild case of dyspraxia his whole life. Not to be confused with dyslexia, the mild neurological disorder impacts on your motor development, making everyday tasks like tieing your shoelaces tricky.

Speaking about growing up with the condition, the world-famous actor, joked, “I sometimes think, Why, oh why, has Velcro not taken off?”


3. Cameron Diaz

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The blonde beauty and star of many great films has been open about her struggles with OCD, a condition which sees sufferers find faults and discomfort in the most minor of things.

In Diaz’s case, her OCD sees her take on an intense fear of germs, causing her to wash her hands vigorously each day and also clean her house on a daily basis.


4. Leonardo DiCaprio

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Following on from Cameron Diaz is fellow actor and OCD sufferer Leonardo DiCaprio. The star has suffered from the condition since childhood and admitted that just walking to school was a problem.

“I remember as a child, stepping on cracks on the way to school and having to walk back a block and step on that same crack,” he told About.com. Years later, DiCaprio would go on to portray the iconic visionary Howard Hughes, himself a sufferer from OCD, in the Martin Scorcese bio, The Aviator.


5. Keira Knightley

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Often considered one of the most beautiful actresses in the world, the Atonement star might sound well-spoken, but don’t let her tone of voice fool you: Keira was far from a know-it-all as a child.

While incredibly confident (she famously asked her parents for an agent at 5-years-old), Knightley struggled with her studies due to her dyslexia, and even to this day, struggles to read scripts.


6. Robin Williams

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The late actor and funnyman gave joy to millions with his high-octane energy, though many have attributed his dynamic behaviour to his ADHD condition.

Perhaps a partial side-effect, Williams was certainly one that did things differently to the rest, but that didn’t seem to stop him graduating from drama school in New York and leading a successful career in Hollywood.


7. Tom Cruise

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One of the most famous actors of his time has had quite the life ever since he burst onto the scene a fresh-faced teenager in the movie, Risky Business, but his childhood wasn’t easy.

Often moving around the country, Cruise never truly made friends in the schools he attended, and also found it hard to adjust to his studies due to his dyslexia. “My childhood was extremely lonely,” he recalled.” I was dyslexic and lots of kids made fun of me. The experience made me tough inside because you quietly learn to accept ridicule.”


8. Tim Tebow 

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The former football player Tim Tebow was also diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, just like his father so decided to overcome the condition by finding different ways to learn.

“It has to do with finding out how you learn, and you really get it done quickly,” he said. “I’m not somebody that opens a playbook and just turns and reads and reads. That doesn’t do it for me.”


9. Bella Thorne

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Another star who was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child was Bella Throne, who admitted that it didn’t help her progress the way her peers did.

However, a determined Thorne now reads as much as she can to help herself deal with the learning disorder.


10. Jim Carrey

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It should come as no surprise that the high-wired megastar actor Jim Carrey suffers from a severe case of ADHD. Noted for his outlandish performances, Carrey’s platform as a comedic actor has no doubt helped him channel his energy into something creative.

In school, however, Carrey, who was a self-confessed class clown, and found school a problematic place to concentrate. In fact, he would often finish his assignments early and then distract the other children, which certainly got the star in a lot of trouble.


11. Orlando Bloom

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Pretty boy actor Orlando Bloom has had his fair share of criticism over the years for his sub-par acting performances, but that’s nothing compared to how he felt as a student struggling with dyslexia.

Talking about the learning disability he candidly confessed, “It makes you feel stupid.”


12. Whoopi Goldberg

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After being diagnosed with dyslexia, Whoopi Goldberg was often labeled “dumb” at school, naturally causing Goldberg to grow up with little self-confidence. However, it was the sage counsel of her mother that helped her through such a difficult time.

“I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I knew I wasn’t dumb. My mother told me that,” she said. Thanks to her mother’s support and her natural talents as a performer, Goldberg would go on to enjoy a stellar career in show business and is 1 of only 10 artists to win both an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony.


13. Steven Spielberg

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The esteemed auteur has directed countless films in his career, including the iconic movies Jaws, E.T. and Schindler’s List, but even geniuses like Spielberg struggled at school.

The star wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until he was 60, but he admitted that his time at school was fraught with difficulties, primarily because his reading ability was 2 years behind that of his classmates.

At one stage, he was bullied so much he dreaded going to school. Yet Spielberg has been keen to stress that no learning difficulty should stop you from pursuing your dreams. “You are not alone, and while you will have dyslexia for the rest of your life, you can dart between the raindrops to get where you want to go. It will not hold you back.”


14. Keanu Reeves 

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Keanu Reeves has had a turbulent life, both in childhood and adulthood, and he admits that his own unruliness plagued his time at school due to his dyslexia.

In a revealing interview with Handbag Magazine, Reeves said, “Because I had trouble reading, I wasn’t a good student … I didn’t finish high school. I did a lot of pretending as a child. It was my way of coping with the fact that I didn’t really feel like I fit in.”


15. Richard Branson


British billionaire Richard Branson is one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs having founded his $8n Virgin business from scratch. However, Branson’s business endeavours were spawned from an innate business acumen rather than any academic prowess due to his lifelong struggle with dyslexia.

That said, the celebrity businessman has described the learning difficulty as his “greatest strength” despite his teachers calling him “lazy” and “not very clever.”


16. Vera Wang

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The high-toned clothes designer was on a very different path at school. Not only did she have to put her school work on the backburner to focus on her dreams of becoming a figure skater, but that very goal was also shattered after she failed to make the 1968 US Olympic figure-skating team.

But as the saying goes, when one door closes another opens and today Vera Wang is an A-list wedding dress designer whose business is valued well into the millions.


17. Michael Phelps

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The greatest Olympian of all time would often be in trouble at school because he wasn’t very good at sitting down or concentrating until teachers became more understanding after his ADHD diagnosis in fifth grade.

This led a young Michael Phelps to be on Ritalin for over two years before he and his family decided to do away with the drug and use swimming as his energetic outlet- and it worked wonders. The American all-star swimmer amassed 22 Olympic medals (18 of them being gold) in an illustrious career that has put him up there with the most celebrated American athletes of all time.


18. Justin Timberlake

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The American hitmaker Justin Timberlake revealed in 2008 that he has Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and was quoted in a past interview saying, “I have OCD mixed with ADD. You try living with that.”

Like many OCD sufferers, Timberlake struggled at school and still exhibits an obsession with having things line up correctly. But Timberlake overcame this and has gone onto win 9 Grammies.


19. Jamie Oliver

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Aside from J.K. Rowling, the British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is the best-selling British author of the 21st century having authored over 20 cookbooks. He is also the world’s richest chef with a staggering $230 million net worth.

But Oliver didn’t read his first book until 2013 and struggled at school because of his dyslexia. “I’ve never read a book in my life, which I know sounds incredibly ignorant but I’m dyslexic and I get bored easily,” he said before picking up the books of Suzanne Collin’s best-selling YA series, Hunger Games.


20. Jay Leno

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Jay Leno is done it all in a career which has seen him ply his trade as a comedian, actor, writer, producer, voice actor and in more recent years, as a car enthusiast. But it is his role as the former television host of NBC’s The Tonight Show that made him a household name. However, despite all his success, Leno was never someone who teachers singled out as a future star. His dyslexia meant he always had low self-esteem.

But as Leno recalled, it was his condition that made him work harder. “If you don’t think you’re the smartest person in the room and you think you’re going to have to work a little harder and put a little more time into it to get what everybody else does, you can actually do quite well. And that’s been my approach.”

Well said!


21. Vince Vaughn

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The Swingers, Dodgeball, and Wedding Crashers star has made people laugh for many years in his movies, but despite a wealthy upbringing, he struggled to read and would often give up on his schoolwork because he was embarrassed he didn’t understand it.

After being diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia, doctors recommended medication but his father refused, something the star credits with his success in acting. “But when you have these setbacks, you develop a really good work ethic, because you have to try harder.”


22. Anderson Cooper

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Anderson Cooper is arguably the most famous news anchor in the world and has been breaking the world’s most important news to us since his fresh-faced days as a young intrepid reporter at CNN. Now a leading anchor, Cooper’s successful professional life has also been replicated in his personal life thanks to his solid long term relationship with his partner Benjamin Maisani.

An intelligent chap who graduated from Hunter College with a 4.0 in 2000, these two handsome men certainly make a brainy couple, but Cooper would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t the smartest at school due to his dyslexia and credits his school with helping him overcome it. “Luckily I went to a school that caught the problem very quickly and was able to figure out the problem and diagnose it, and luckily I had access to people who could really help,” he said.


23. Cher

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Cher may appear to be an all-conquering artist with more awards than she knows what to do with, but her issues with dyslexia shaped her early life. Because it went undiagnosed in school, Cher was accused of not trying.

“When I was in school, it was really difficult. Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said that I was not living up to my potential.” She also added that reading movie scripts prove challenging earlier on in her career.


24. Tommy Hilfiger

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The fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger has shops around the world, but as a child, Hilfiger’s ambition was at rock bottom because of his dyslexia. Due to the lack of awareness about the condition in that era, he was perceived as stupid and decided to abandon his dreams of attending college.

And while he had no background or experience in fashion design, the American said it was his lack of training that allowed him to see things differently in ways his competition couldn’t.


25. Richard Engel


One of NBC’s premier foreign correspondents and author of various works of non-fiction, Richard Engel (left) was rightly awarded the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, a monumental achievement, made more so by his struggles with Dyslexia. It wasn’t until he attended a wilderness survival camp at age 13 that his confidence improved.

“Confidence is everything,” he said. “Once you start having success, you build on success.” Engel would go onto attend Stanford and is now fluent in French, Spanish, and four dialects of Arabic.


26. Charles Schwab


Charles Schwab is another Dyslexia sufferer on this list and admitted he had to bluff his way through school by reading comic book versions of classic books such as Ivanhoe and A Tale of Two Cities. Schwab even failed Freshman English and French and recalled the horror of having to sit down and write as a child.

“To sit down with a blank piece of paper and write was the most traumatic thing that had ever faced me in life.” However, at 77 years old, Businessman and investor Charles Schwab would go onto amass a fortune of $5.1 billion.


27. Henry Winkler

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Happy Day’s “The Fonz,” was like much the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in that he didn’t read a book until he was 31 years old. Reading and writing was a challenge, and Wikler admitted that criticism in school drove him into some pretty dark places.

“They thought I was lazy. I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential. And all the time inside I’m thinking, I don’t think I’m stupid. I don’t want to be stupid. I’m trying as hard as I can. I really am.” Following his diagnosis at age 31, Winkler has become an advocate for dyslexia and even wrote a book about a child suffering from dyslexia titled, Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever.


28. Ty Pennington

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ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host Ty Pennington said he is “about as ADHD as you can get.” Pennington’s condition meant he routinely found himself in trouble at school.  “I mean, I was so out of control that I spent most of the time in the hallway or in detention,” he admitted.

However, it wasn’t until Pennington was at college that he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. After being prescribed appropriate medication, Pennington’s grades rocketed, so much so that he achieved straight A’s from then on in.


29. Christopher Knight

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Shooting to fame as Peter on the first Brady Bunch television series, Christopher Knight showed various symptoms of ADHD but it went undiagnosed until 1997 when Knight was finally diagnosed at the age of 39.

He has since become a spokesperson for the National Consumer League’s AD/HD campaign.


30. Russell Brand

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While the actor-turned autodidactic, spiritual guru may possess a wide-ranging vernacular that would rival the most respected Ivy League professors, Brand’s teens were riddled with addiction, and he failed to even graduate from high school.

He once tweeted: ‘A-level students (the British equivalent of SATs), good luck today- I didn’t get any and still ended up with a job as a psychedelic bus driver’.

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