This is a list of notable people who have, or had, the medical condition epilepsy. Following from that, there is a short list of people who have received a speculative, retrospective diagnosis of epilepsy. Finally there is a substantial list of people who are often wrongly believed to have had epilepsy.
More recently, many saints and other religious figures have been suspected of having had temporal lobe epilepsy. J.E. Bryant's 1953 book, Genius and Epilepsy, has a list of more than 20 people that combines the great and the mystical. Recent scholars are more skeptical. Neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick is amongst those who question the widespread labeling of religious figures with temporal lobe epilepsy. He believes this may "owe more to the enthusiasm of their authors than to the true scientific understanding" In a recent detailed review of the subject, neurologist John Hughes concluded that the majority of famous people alleged to have epilepsy did not in fact have this condition.
A film actress and model who had epilepsy from the age of 7. Her death was attributed to suicide by an intentional overdose of phenobarbital, which is an anticonvulsant, but see the footnoted article for an alternative explanation.
A comedian and actor who was seriously injured and put in a coma for five days after a quad bike accident in 1998. Initially prescribed phenytoinprophylactically, he has since had two seizures, possibly due to not taking his medication.
A Byzantine emperor who had frequent tonic clonic epileptic seizures since adolescence. It was perceived to be demonic possession – punishment for his sins. His royal entourage were alert to signs of an impending seizure and tried to hide the emperor when ill.
Older half brother of Russian Tsar Peter the Great. Ivan V was feebleminded, epileptic, and half-blind. Would have never become Tsar except for the support of his sister Sophia, who wanted to become regent over him. His sister, with the military backing of the Streltsy, made Ivan V rule as co-tsar with Peter I (Great) (who had already been tsar for a few weeks).
The daughter of Martha Washington and step daughter of George Washington. She had seizures from early childhood and died during a seizure, aged 17. Unusually for the time, her parents did not hide her epilepsy and encouraged her to lead a normal life. They tried various treatments including mercury, valeriana, factitious cinnabar, bleeding, and spring waters.
First Lady of the United States from 1897 to 1901. Her epilepsy started in adulthood and was to become quite disabling and inconvenient. As was normal for the time, great efforts were made to keep this secret. Her husband, William McKinley would cover her face with a napkin when she had symptoms at dinner parties.
The brutal commander of the third Expedition in the War of Canudos. He had epilepsy since his 30s, which worsened on the way to Canudos. He was shot on the first day of battle and some blame the seizures for his military misjudgements.
First Premier of the Soviet Union. Lenin's final year was characterised by neurological decline and loss of function. In his last few months, he developed epilepsy. His seizures worsened and he died in status epilepticus, which had lasted 50 minutes.
Roman Emperor. Suetonius states that "As a boy he was troubled with the falling sickness [epilepsy], and while in his youth he had some endurance, yet at times because of sudden faintness he was hardly able to walk, to stand up, to collect his thoughts, or to hold up his head."
The director of the AmericanEugenics Record Office from its inception in 1910 to its closing in 1939. In 1922, he drew up laws for the compulsory sterilization of various "degenerate" groups, which included those with epilepsy.
The youngest son of King George V, John had epilepsy from the age of 4 until his death after a seizure aged 13. John's epilepsy, along with other neurological problems, led to his living most of his life at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate away from visitors who were not family members.
A prominent spokesperson of the left-wingGerman student movement of the 1960s. An assassination attempt in 1968, when he was shot twice in the head, left him partially blind and with frequent epileptic attacks. He drowned in the bathtub after suffering a seizure.
A former United States congressman who developed epilepsy aged 16, possibly as a result of an earlier head injury. This would lead to rejection by his family and the Jesuits for "possession by the devil". He has campaigned as a congressman for disabled rights and chairs the Epilepsy Foundation's national board of directors.
The vocalist and lyricist of the band Joy Division was diagnosed with epilepsy aged 22. The cover of their album Unknown Pleasures resembles an EEG tracing, but is actually the tracings of the radio emissions of a pulsar. The condition was a primary cause of his suicide in 1980.
A former cricketer and commentator who was involved with Epilepsy Action Australia. He had his first seizure, aged 14, during a tennis game but has successfully controlled his epilepsy with medication. he was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2012. Greig died in Sydney, New South Wales, on 29 December 2012, aged 66, from cardiac arrest due to an apparent heart attack
A major league baseball player who collapsed on field with a tonic-clonic seizure. He had a further seizure in hospital that night and took anticonvulsant medication for the next two years. Walker had a childhood history of seizures until the age of 4.
An athlete with world records in the 100 m and 200 m. She developed seizures in her thirties, possibly due to a cavernous angioma that was discovered on autopsy. She died from asphyxiation after a grand mal seizure while asleep.
One of Australia's greatest rugby league players, national team captain 1984-89. After retirement from the sport, he became a television sports presenter, but became disoriented during a live-to-air broadcast in late 2006. Medical tests revealed that he had epilepsy.
Former Australian national Football (soccer) player and television sports commentator. Wade had epilepsy all his life but was only diagnosed as an adult. He kept it secret until he had a seizure on live television in 2001. Drugs weren't controlling the seizures so, in 2002, he had surgery to remove a scar in his brain. He is now seizure free.
A Franco-American cyclist who found that she has epilepsy at the age of 22. She was shunned by the U.S. cycling federation and subsequently rode in the colors of France. She has since won 6 world titles, 2 Olympic silver medals, as well as numerous races world wide.
Former Scottish international and Northampton Saints rugby player. Has had epilepsy since the age of 18. His seizures occur only at night, during sleep. He is a patron of the Scottish epilepsy charity, Enlighten.
An artist, illustrator and writer known for his nonsensical poetry and limericks. His epilepsy, which he developed as a child, may have been inherited (his elder sister Jane had frequent seizures and died young). Lear was ashamed of his epilepsy and kept it a secret. He did, however, record each seizure in his diary.
A Russian writer whose epilepsy was probably inherited (both his father and his son had seizures). He incorporated his experiences into his novels – creating four different characters with epilepsy. Dostoyevsky's epilepsy was unusual in that he claimed to experience an ecstatic aura prior to a seizure, whereas most people experience unpleasant feelings.
A Brazilianrealist novelist, poet and short-story writer. He had epilepsy all his life, but was ashamed to mention it, using euphemisms when writing to friends. It is believed he had complex partial seizures, with secondary generalisation.
A poet, novelist and screenwriter, most famous for his autobiographical trilogy (which includes Cider with Rosie). His epilepsy probably developed after he was knocked down by a bicycle at the age of 10. He kept it secret and it only surfaced when his papers were read by biographers after his death.
An author, feminist and writer on Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Her temporal lobe epilepsy went undiagnosed for many years. She wrote in her autobiography that when (in her early thirties) she was finally given the diagnosis, it was "an occasion of pure happiness".
An author who was known for his books criticising the Freemasons. He started having seizures in 1977 and in 1980, agreed to take part in a BBC documentary TV program Horizon on epilepsy. The producers arranged for a brain scan, which showed up a tumour. This was removed but returned in 1984 and despite further surgery he died in 1985.
A programming instructor and game developer who co-created the Head First series of books on computer programming. She had her first tonic-clonic seizure aged four. These were frequent and severe but greatly diminished by adulthood and were always preceded by an aura.
The youngest daughter of Mark Twain. She had epilepsy from age fifteen, which her father attributed to a childhood head injury. Her epilepsy was not successfully controlled and at one point she was sent to an epilepsy colony in Katonah, New York. She was found dead on Christmas Eve in her bath aged 29. The cause of death was reported as drowning due to epilepsy.
Hanged, aged 19, for a crime his partner committed, Bentley had epilepsy and a mental age of 11. He was pardoned after a 45 year campaign, which included the film Let Him Have It, starring Christopher Eccleston.
The third of the Dionne quintuplets. Emilie's epilepsy was only made public after her death at a convent in Sainte Agathe, Quebec. She died from the complications of a series of epileptic seizures. These were recorded at noon the previous day, 11pm, 3am, and 5am, but no doctor was called until after her death. Her death from epilepsy caused alarm, leading H. Houston Merritt to inform the public that "the mortality rate among epileptics is no greater than among non-sufferers".
A woman who had agoraphobia, hypergraphia and epilepsy. Her eccentric husband Alvin was charged with her murder but cleared after the jury accepted that she may have suffocated during a seizure. She had not been seen outside her home for 25 years.
Roman military and political leader. He had four documented episodes of what were probably complex partial seizures. He may additionally have had absence seizures in his youth. There is family history of epilepsy amongst his ancestors and descendants. The earliest accounts of these seizures were made by the biographer Suetonius who was born after Caesar's death.
The wife of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States. Some historians believe her illness was epilepsy. She is reported to have been prone to convulsions and was once seriously burnt after falling into a fireplace.
French military leader and emperor. A paper by William Osler in 1903 stated, "The slow pulse of Napoleon rests upon tradition; it has been suggested that his epilepsy and attacks of apathy may have been associated features in a chronic form of Stokes-Adams disease", which implies the seizures were not epileptic in origin. However, in 2003, John Hughes concluded that Napoleon had both psychogenic attacks due to stress and epileptic seizures due to chronic uremia from a severe urethral stricture caused by gonorrhea.
American composer. The first symptoms of his glioblastoma multiforme tumor were probably olfactory-uncinate simple partial seizures. He noticed the smell of burnt rubber at the same time as dizziness or, occasionally, brief blackouts. His condition deteriorated and he died six months later, despite surgery to remove the tumor.
Many religious figures have been suspected of having had temporal lobe epilepsy. Looking for physical explanations of mystical experiences is controversial. Sudden religious conversion, together with visions, has been documented in a small number of individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy, but the association between epilepsy and intense religious feelings is rare. Aspects of the Geschwind syndrome have been identified in some religious figures, in particular – extreme religiosity and hypergraphia (excessive writing). Many neurologists strongly question the presence of a link between any personality profile and epilepsy.The presence of an entry in the following list does not indicate a scholarly consensus in favour of a diagnosis of epilepsy; merely that such a diagnosis has been suggested.
According to one researcher, the writing has a pedantic and aggressive style, shows extreme religiosity, verbosity and redundant style. These are said to be evidence of Geschwind syndrome, though there is no evidence of any seizures since we have no personal information regarding the author.
Epilepsy is one of many suggestions regarding his "thorn in the flesh". F.F. Bruce says, "Many guesses have been made about the identity of this "splinter in the flesh"; and their very variety proves the impossibility of a certain diagnosis. One favourite guess has been epilepsy ... but it is no more than a guess". Researchers are quite divided on the cause of his Damascus conversion and vision. In addition to a seizure, heat exhaustion, the voice of conscience together with a migraine, and even a bolt of lightning have been suggested.
Her skull shows evidence of a meningioma, which is a cause of epilepsy and may explain her visions. However, it is not in the temporal lobe and other researches suggest psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, or a combination.
Experienced religious messages through voices and visions which she said others could sometimes experience simultaneously. Some researchers consider the visions to be ecstatic epileptic auras, though more recent research may implicate idiopathic partial epilepsy with auditory features. Epileptic seizures with clear auditory and visual hallucinations are very rare. This, together with the extreme length of her visions, lead some to reject epilepsy as a cause.
Severe head injury followed by three weeks of limited consciousness. Her visions involved loss of consciousness, upward eye deflection, visual hallucinations, affective changes, gestural automatisms, preservation of speech, a post-ictal-like period. Further, she meets several criteria for the Geschwind syndrome: extreme religiosity, hypergraphia (100,000 pages in 4,000 articles), repetitiveness, hypermoralism, and hyposexuality.
Many famous people are incorrectly recorded as having epilepsy. In some cases there is no evidence at all for a diagnosis of epilepsy. In others, the symptoms have been misinterpreted. In some, the seizures were provoked by acute illness or alcohol withdrawal, for example.
In 2000, a paper was published comparing Newton's psychosis with that of a patient with psychosis, who additionally happened to have generalised tonic-clonic seizures. It is possible that ambiguities in the introduction to this paper led readers to associate the epilepsy with Newton rather than the patient.
There are many conditions that produce paroxysmal attacks or events. These events (especially in historical, non-medical literature such as biographies) are often called fits, seizures or convulsions. Those terms are not exclusive to epilepsy and such events are sometimes categorised as non-epileptic seizures. When studied in detail, the attacks were more fully described as "fits of spleen", "seized by pain", "convulsed with anguish", etc.
Commonly regarded as a sickly king, with epilepsy, who had a "fit" in Frankfurt in 873. One author's recent detailed investigations cast doubt on the accuracy of certain reports, or their common interpretation. Instead, headache, malaria and a stroke are suggested.
In 1984, Henri Gastaut proposed a very specific retrospective diagnosis of a particular form of complex partial epilepsy. More recent biographical information led John Hughes, in 2005, to conclude that Flaubert had psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, and migraine.
Over 150 physicians have produced nearly 30 different diagnoses for van Gogh's illness. Henri Gastaut's posthumous diagnosis was "temporal lobe epilepsy precipitated by the use of absinthe in the presence of an early limbic lesion". This agrees with that of van Gogh's own doctor, Felix Rey, who prescribed potassium bromide. That van Gogh's personality closely matches the Geschwind syndrome is seen as further evidence by some. Not everyone agrees – a recent review by John Hughes concluded that van Gogh did not have epilepsy. He certainly was mentally ill at times and had "fainting fits" after heavy drinking.
Greene was diagnosed with epilepsy as a young man, after several episodes of loss of consciousness. His impending marriage was at risk and he considered suicide. Treatment consisted of good walks and Kepler's Malt Extract. Greene eventually distrusted the diagnosis and it is now considered likely that the episodes were fainting spells.
^Owsei Temkin (1994). The Falling Sickness : A History of Epilepsy from the Greeks to the Beginnings of Modern Neurology (Softshell Books). The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 161. ISBN0-8018-4849-0.
^ abMcMahon, B.T.; L.R. Shaw (September 1999). "Chapter Six: Tony Coelho". Enabling Lives: Biographies of Six Prominent Americans with Disabilities. CRC Press. ISBN0-8493-0351-6. "neurologist, Dr. John Doyle, Sr., explained to Tony that he had epilepsy, a recurrent seizure disorder. He stated that, "The good news is that you don't have to serve in Vietnam, but the bad news is that you won't be able to become a Catholic priest — more specifically, a Jesuit." A section of the Roman Catholic Church's 1917 Code of Canon Law stated that those with epilepsy, or "possessed by the devil," could not be considered for ordination. […rescinded in the early 1980s]"
^Young, Scott (30 July 1997). "Chapter 8: Buffalo Springfield and Epilepsy". Neil and Me. Music Sales Distributed. p. 68. ISBN0-9529540-2-8. "he went on daily medication to control his epilepsy – and grew to dislike the medication's effect on him so much that a few years later he stopped using, feeling that in his case control had more to do with personal stability than medication."
^Swaine, Rick (March 2004). "Chapter five: Neurological and Psychological Disorders". Beating the Breaks: Major League Ballplayers Who Overcame Disabilities. McFarland & Company. pp. 159–167. ISBN0-7864-1828-1.
^Swaine, Rick (March 2004). "Chapter five: Neurological and Psychological Disorders". Beating the Breaks: Major League Ballplayers Who Overcame Disabilities. McFarland & Company. pp. 168–169. ISBN0-7864-1828-1.
^ abSwaine, Rick (March 2004). "Chapter six: Other Disabilities". Beating the Breaks: Major League Ballplayers Who Overcame Disabilities. McFarland & Company. p. 203. ISBN0-7864-1828-1.
^"Our Board". Epilepsy Action (Australia). Retrieved 2 February 2006.
^Murai T, Hanakawa T, Sengoku A, Ban T, Yoneda Y, Fujita H, Fujita N (1998). "Temporal lobe epilepsy in a genius of natural history: MRI volumetric study of postmortem brain.". Neurology50 (5): 1373–6. PMID9595989.
^Sengoku A (2006). "[Kumagusu Minakata with temporal lobe epilepsy: a pathographic study]". Seishin Shinkeigaku Zasshi108 (2): 132–9. PMID16562514.
^Wheelock, John Hall (May 2002). The Last Romantic: A Poet Among Publishers: The Oral Autobiography of John Hall Wheelock. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 97. ISBN1-57003-463-X.
^d'Orsi G, Tinuper P (2006). ""I heard voices...": From semiology, a historical review, and a new hypothesis on the presumed epilepsy of Joan of Arc.". Epilepsy & Behavior9 (1): 152–7. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2006.04.020. PMID16750938.
^Garcia Albea E (2003). "[The ecstatic epilepsy of Teresa of Jesus]". Revista de Neurologia37 (9): 879–87. PMID14606057.
^Schutz, Herbert (1 January 2004). The Carolingians in Central Europe, Their History, Arts, and Architecture. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 129. ISBN90-04-13149-3. "Charles suffered seriously from epilepsy"|accessdate= requires |url= (help)
^MacLean, Simon (25 September 2003). Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the End of the Carolingian Empire. Cambridge University Press. pp. 39–41. ISBN0-521-81945-8.|accessdate= requires |url= (help)
^Luis-Carlos Álvaro (2005). "Hallucinations and pathological visual perceptions in Maupassant's fantastical short stories--a neurological approach.". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences14 (2): 100–15. doi:10.1080/096470490523399. PMID16019655.
^Mariani, Paul L. (1 March 1996). Dream Song: Life of John Berryman. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 116. ISBN1-55849-017-5. "Dr Gene Shafarman … told Berryman that he had been diagnosed as having a mild form of epilepsy called petit mal."|accessdate= requires |url= (help)
^Athey, Joel (1999). "John Berryman's Life and Career". Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 31 August 2006.