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10 Famous Musicians with Disabilities

by JayK
fact checked by Alex Hanton

In a moment of clarity, Pavement wrote/threatened “You gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent”. The following artists did just that, soldiering on when most would forgive them for choosing a quiet life out of the public eye. I can’t guarantee you will like all the artists on this list, but you may come to respect each a little more, knowing what they had to contend with.


Itzhak Perlman

Many consider Perlman the greatest violin player of the 20th century. He contracted polio at the age of four, but made a good recovery, and learned to walk aided by crutches. Today, he generally uses crutches or a scooter to get around. He plays violin while seated, which you may have caught at American president Barack Obama’s inauguration. Charlie Daniels calls him “Sir”.


Edgar Winter
Edgar Winter “Tobacco Road” Live at Rockpalast 2007 Part One

Winter is an American blues musician. An adventuresome multi-instrumentalist at home on keyboards, saxophone, percussion, and vocals, Winter was most successful in the 1970s with The Edgar Winter Group. He is easily recognized by his albinism. Due to the lack of pigmentation in their irises, many albinos are very sensitive to light. Yet Winter has made a career on brightly lit stages playing “Frankenstein” from his great album, “They Only Come Out at Night”.


Paul Stanley
Kiss – Hide Your Heart – Music Video (1989)

Stanley Eisen (stage name Paul Stanley) is the rhythm guitarist and lead singer of the marketing juggernaut/rock band KISS (estimated album sales, 100 million). Stanley was born with Microtia, a rare congenital deformity where the fleshy part of the outer ear (the Pinna) is extremely underdeveloped or absent entirely. His solution to avoid schoolyard teasing was to grow his hair long, and that kind of chose his later profession. Stanley is also the spokesman for About Face an organization that provides support and information to individuals with facial differences.


Bret Michaels
Type 1 Diabetes
Poison – Talk Dirty To Me

Poison’s lead singer Bret Michaels was only six when diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a disease that renders the pancreas unable to make insulin, a hormone essential for converting food into energy. At ten, he went to the Kno-Koma diabetes camp, met other diabetic kids, and learned to legally shoot up and eat correctly. After that, he joined Poison and sold 25 million records by constantly touring a frenetic stage show. He’s in his forties now, still tours, and can be seen on his own reality TV show, courting loose women.


Kenny G

Asthmatic Kenneth Gorelick is a Grammy-award winning saxophonist once rejected from the University of Washington music program. Today he could buy the University of Washington. His smooth jazz expanded the jazz market exponentially and sold 48 million records–making him the 25th highest selling recording artist in America. One of his most successful albums is titled “Breathless”.


Ray Charles
Georgia on my Mind- Ray Charles

Charles is an American treasure/musician who mixed gospel, blues, and country in the 1950s and 1960’s. The son of a sharecropper, his version of “Georgia On My Mind” was proclaimed the state song of Georgia in 1979, only a decade and change from the days of Jim Crow. Rolling Stone ranked him number ten on their list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and their readers voted him number two on the list of “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time”. He was the last artist to arrive for the “We are the World” recording sessions, and when he entered the studio, the room finally had soul. You could hear a pin drop.


Jacqueline du Pré
Multiple Sclerosis

Jacqueline du Pré OBE was a British cellist, acknowledged as one of the greatest players of the instrument. She is particularly associated with Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor; her interpretation of that work has been described as “definitive” and “legendary”. Her career was cut short by multiple sclerosis, which forced her to cease performing at the age of 28, and led to her premature death. Watch the video clip above to see one of her astoundingly masterful performances. There has never been a cellist like her and her early death is a tragedy.


Tony Iommi
Industrial Accident- partial finger amputation

After an accident in a sheet metal factory, 17 year old southpaw Tony Iommi lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand. He considered quitting music, but a record by similarly-injured jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt encouraged him to keep playing. After failing at playing right-handed, Iommi strung his guitars with banjo strings and wore plastic covers over the two damaged fingers. He made the covers by melting plastic bottles and dipping his fingers in while the plastic was soft enough to be shaped. He then completed the easier tasks of forming Black Sabbath, selling 20+ million albums, and becoming a highly influential guitarist himself.


Rick Allen
Auto Accident- full arm amputation

Driving to a 1984 New Year’s Eve party, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen was thrown from his Corvette, severing his left arm. Doctors initially reattached the arm, but were forced to remove it due to infection. Soon after, Allen and some engineers designed an electronic drum kit allowing his left foot to play the snare. Drum manufacturer Simmons built a kit to the needed specs, and Allen returned to the stage in 1986, only two years after the accident. In August 1987, the band released their fourth album, Hysteria, which sold over 20 million copies.


Ludwig Van Beethoven

As a child, he practiced to stop his father beating his mother. As a man, his name is synonymous with musical mastery, and he wrote the most famous notes of music in the history of man. According to FlameHorse (who knows his classical music), “(Beethoven’s) finest works are also the finest works of their kind in music history: the 9th Symphony, the 5th Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto, the Late Quartets, and the Missa Solemnis. And he achieved all this despite being completely deaf for the last 25 years of his life”. I have selected the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata because most people familiar with the sonata only know the first movement.

fact checked by Alex Hanton