List of people with epilepsy
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.
- 1 Epilepsy and greatness
- 2 Certain diagnosis
- 3 Retrospective diagnosis
- 4 Misdiagnosis
- 5 Notes and references
- 6 Sources
Epilepsy and greatness
A possible link between epilepsy and greatness has fascinated biographers and physicians for centuries. In his Treatise on Epilepsy, the French 17th century physician Jean Taxil refers to Aristotle's "famous epileptics". This list includes Heracles, Ajax, Bellerophon, Socrates, Plato, Empedocles, Maracus of Syracuse, and the Sibyls. However, historian of medicine Owsei Temkin argues that Aristotle had in fact made a list of melancholics and had only associated Heracles with the "Sacred Disease". Taxil goes on to add his own names: Roman Emperor Caligula, Drusus (tribune of the Roman people), Muhammad, and Petrarch. Neurologist John Hughes concluded that the majority of famous people alleged to have epilepsy did not in fact have this condition.
The following categorized chronological list contains only those people for whom a firm and uncontested diagnosis was made during their lifetime.
|Bud Abbott||1895–1974||Famous comedian (half of the "Abbot and Costello" duo) who had epilepsy all his life, but tried to control and hide it.|||
|Ward Bond||1903–1960||A film actor. His epilepsy led to his exclusion from the draft during World War II.|||
|Danny Glover||born 1946||An actor and film director who had epilepsy from age 15 to age 35.|||
|Margaux Hemingway||1955–1996||A film actress and model who had epilepsy from the age of seven. 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.|||
|Martin Kemp||born 1961||Actor and former bassist with the pop band Spandau Ballet. He developed epilepsy after having two brain tumours in the 1990s.|||
|Pete Duel||1940–1971||A television and film actor whose epilepsy is thought to have been brought on during adolescence by head injuries sustained in an automobile accident.|
|Rik Mayall||1958–2014||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 phenytoin prophylactically, he later had two seizures which were possibly caused by not taking his medication.|||
|Hugo Weaving||born 1960||An actor who has taken anticonvulsants for epilepsy since his first seizure at age 13.|||
Leadership, politics and royalty
|Michael IV the Paphlagonian||1010–1041||A Byzantine emperor who had frequent tonic-clonic seizures since adolescence. The seizures were interpreted at the time to be demonic possession as punishment for his sins. His royal entourage were alert to signs of an impending seizure and tried to hide the emperor when he was ill.|||
|Hans Ulrik Gyldenløve||1615–1645||Illegitimate son of Christian IV, King of Denmark and Norway, Hans Ulrik was an officer in the Danish Royal Navy and the commander of a royal castle, the Kronborg. He was prone to epileptic incidents, and during a state visit to Spain with his father’s ambassador in 1640, he suffered a seizure shortly after a bullfight. He had to be sent home to Denmark.|||
|Ivan V Alekseyevich||1666–1696||Older half brother of Russian Tsar Peter the Great. Ivan V was feeble-minded, 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).|||
|Pope Pius IX||1792–1878||Had childhood epilepsy.|||
|Francis Libermann||1802–1852||A Jew who converted to Christianity and studied for priesthood. Epilepsy prevented his ordination for many years.|||
|Ida McKinley||1847–1907||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.|||
|Vladimir Lenin||1870–1924||First Premier of the Soviet Union. Lenin's final year was characterized 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.|||
|Caligula||12–41||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."|||
|Harry Laughlin||1880–1943||The director of the American Eugenics 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.|||
|Prince Erik, Duke of Västmanland||1889–1918||The youngest son of Gustaf V of Sweden.|||
|Prince John of the United Kingdom||1905–1919||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 intellectual disability and possibly autism, led to his living most of his life at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate away from visitors who were not family members.|||
|Rabbi Lionel Blue||1930–2016||A rabbi and broadcaster, best known for his contributions to "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio 4's Today program. His epilepsy was diagnosed when he was aged 57 and is successfully controlled with medication.|||
|Dave Longaberger||1934–1999||A businessman and founder of The Longaberger Company, makers of handcrafted maple wood baskets and accessories. He overcame epilepsy and a stutter, eventually graduating from high school aged 21.|||
|Joe Doyle||1936–2009||Joseph (Joe) Doyle was an Irish Fine Gael politician. He was a long-standing public representative for the Dublin South-East and served as a member of Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and Dublin City Council before serving as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1998-1999. He first developed epilepsy at the age of 16. He became one of Ireland's most prominent advocate's for epilepsy and was a member of the Board of Directors of Brainwave, the Irish Epilepsy Association, at the time of his death.|||
|Neil Abercrombie||born 1937||The former Governor of Hawaii who campaigned for increased funding for epilepsy research. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in his early thirties.|||
|Rudi Dutschke||1940–1979||A prominent spokesperson of the left-wing German 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.|||
|Tony Coelho||born 1942||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.|||
|John Roberts||born 1955||Roberts is the 17th Chief Justice of the United States. He was appointed to office by President George W. Bush on September 29, 2005. His first seizure occurred in 1993 which was disclosed to the Senate Judiciary Committee who confirmed him. His second seizure occurred in 2008 when he fell 5 to 10 feet onto a dock near his house.|||
|Laura Sandys||born 1964||British Conservative Party politician. She was elected at the 2010 general election as the Member of Parliament (MP) for South Thanet. She revealed in parliament in October 2010 that she had epilepsy, but had been seizure-free for seven years.|||
|Paul Maynard||born 1975||British Conservative Party politician. He was elected at the 2010 general election as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Blackpool North and Cleveleys. He was the first British MP ever to reveal that he has epilepsy. In 2010, he was appointed vice-president of the charity Epilepsy Action.|||
|Jimmy Reed||1925–1976||An American blues singer. His epilepsy diagnosis in 1957 was delayed due to an assumption that he was suffering from attacks of delirium tremens. He died after an epileptic seizure aged 51.|||
|Neil Young||born 1945||Canadian singer-songwriter, formerly of bands Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Disliked the effects of his medication; seeking personal stability as an alternative means of control.|||
|Lil Wayne||born 1982||American rapper revealed in March 2013 that he has epilepsy. He has suffered with the disease since childhood and admits that he rarely remembers his seizures.|||
|Lindsey Buckingham||born 1949||The guitarist and singer in the music group Fleetwood Mac was taken to hospital after a seizure while on tour, aged 29. His epilepsy was successfully controlled by anticonvulsant drugs.|||
|Chris Knox||born 1952||New Zealand indie musician (Toy Love, Tall Dwarfs) has addressed his epilepsy in such songs as "Lapse", and it is also referenced in his album title "Seizure".|||
|Ian Curtis||1956–1980||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 pulsarHe would often suffer grandmal seizures while performing and his dancing would mimic the seizures he suffered . The condition was a primary cause of his suicide in 1980 aged 23.|||
|Richard Jobson||born 1960||Formerly the lead singer with the punk rock group The Skids, now a television presenter and film maker. He has absence seizures.|||
|Susan Boyle||born 1961||Scottish singer who came to international public attention when she appeared as a contestant on the TV programme Britain's Got Talent on 11 April 2011. She had epilepsy as a child.|
|Edith Bowman||born 1974||Scottish television presenter and a radio D.J., who had epilepsy as a child.|
|Peter Jefferies||born ca.1961||New Zealand musician (Nocturnal Projections, This Kind of Punishment).|||
|Vusi Mahlasela||born 1965||A singer-songwriter whose work inspired those in the anti-apartheid movement.|||
|Hikari Oe||born 1963||A Japanese composer who has autism, epilepsy and intellectual disability and has created two successful classical-music CDs. He is the son of Kenzaburō Ōe, the Japanese novelist who won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature.||
|Mike Nolan||born 1954||Singer and one of the four original members of the British pop group Bucks Fizz. Developed epilepsy after a coach accident in 1985.|||
|Adam Horovitz||born 1966||Member of the music group Beastie Boys.|||
|Mike Skinner||born 1978||Also known as The Streets, he had epilepsy between the ages of 7 and 20.|||
|Geoff Rickly||born 1979||A member of the band Thursday, who discovered he had epilepsy while on tour.|||
|Prince||1958–2016||American singer, who had epilepsy as a child and sang about his condition in the song "The Sacrifice of Victor".|||
|Lauren Pritchard||born 1987||An American singer, songwriter and actress who appeared in the original Broadway cast of Spring Awakening.|||
|Grover Cleveland Alexander||1887–1950||A major league baseball pitcher who tried to hide his epilepsy with alcohol, which was at the time considered to be a more socially acceptable problem. Ty Cobb said he "suffered hell on the field."|||
|Tony Lazzeri||1903–1946||A major league baseball player who probably died after seizure that occurred when he was alone at home.|||
|Hal Lanier||born 1942||A major league baseball player and manager. He developed epilepsy after a severe beating.|||
|Lance Franklin||30 January 1987||An Australian Football League player who has had Epilepsy since 2015.|||
|Tony Greig||1946–2012||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|||
|Buddy Bell||born 1951||A major league baseball player and manager.|||
|Bobby Jones||born 1951||A former pro basketball player who developed epilepsy and a heart problem as an adult, but persevered with his game.|||
|Terry Marsh||born 1958||A boxer who was IBF world light-welterweight champion. His diagnosis of epilepsy in 1987, aged 29, forced him into retirement undefeated.|||
|Greg Walker||born 1959||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.|||
|Florence Griffith Joyner||1959–1998||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.|||
|Wally Lewis||born 1959||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.|||
|Paul Wade||born 1962||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.|||
|Marion Clignet||born 1964||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 worldwide.|||
|Maggie McEleny||born 1965||Four times British Paralympic swimmer, winning 3 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze. McEleny has paraplegia and epilepsy. In 2000, she was made an MBE and awarded a Golden Jubilee Award by the British Epilepsy Association.|||
|Jonty Rhodes||born 1969||A cricketer who is involved with Epilepsy South Africa.|||
|Tom Smith||born 1971||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.|||
|Alan Faneca||born 1976||An American football guard. The nine-time All-Pro was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 15 and takes the anticonvulsant carbamazepine, which successfully controls his seizures.|||
|Samari Rolle||born 1976||A former American football cornerback who played for the Baltimore Ravens.|||
|Chanda Gunn||born 1980||A goalie in the US 2006 Winter Olympic women's hockey team. Gunn was diagnosed with juvenile absence epilepsy at the age of 9, which was treated with valproic acid. Epilepsy meant that she had to give up her childhood sports of swimming and surfing, but these were soon replaced with hockey.|||
|Leon Legge||born 1985||An English professional footballer, who currently plays for Brentford as a central defender. His epilepsy is currently controlled.|||
|Dai Greene||born 1986||A Welsh hurdler who specialises in the 400 metres hurdles event. Greene is the current European, Commonwealth and World Champion.|||
|Katharine Ford||born 1986||An Ultra-marathon cyclist and Indoor Track Cycling 4 time world record holder, who was diagnosed with epilepsy aged 9 before undergoing major transformative brain surgery to control her condition.|||
|Ronde Barber||born 1975||A former American football player who played cornerback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.|||
|Tiki Barber||born 1975||A former American football player, who played running back for the New York Giants.|||
|Jason Snelling||born 1983||An American football player with the Atlanta Falcons.|||
|Davis Tarwater||born 1984||An Olympic swimmer for the United States who suffered from epilepsy as a child|||
|Hervé Boussard||1966–2013||An Olympic cyclist of France who won a bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics. He died from an epileptic seizure.|||
Art and writing
|Amy Sequenzia||Non-speaking autistic author, poet, and blogger notable for her support of disability rights and opposition to curing autism. She has seizures almost everyday.|||
|Edward Lear||1812–1888||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.|||
|Fyodor Dostoyevsky||1821–1881||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.|||
|George Inness||1825–1894||An American painter who had epilepsy from childhood.|||
|R. D. Blackmore||1825–1900||Author of Lorna Doone.|||
|Charles Altamont Doyle||1832–1893||Artist and father of Arthur Conan Doyle. His alcoholism and a violent outburst led him to be detained in an asylum. Whilst there, he developed epilepsy and severe memory problems.|||
|Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson||1832–1910||Norwegian writer and a 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. Developed focal epilepsy following a stroke in the final year of his life.|||
|Ion Creangă||1837–1889||A Romanian children's writer and memoirist who had epilepsy for the last six years of his life.|||
|Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis||1839–1908||A Brazilian realist 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.|||
|Dmitri Sinodi-Popov||1855–1910||A Russian artist, whose epilepsy interrupted his studies at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.|||
|Minakata Kumagusu||1867–1941||A Japanese writer and naturalist. He had tonic-clonic seizures, with an aura that caused déjà vu. Postmortem MRI showed right hippocampal atrophy, consistent with temporal lobe epilepsy.|||
|Ash Lieb||born 1982||An Australian artist, comedian and writer who has had Temporal lobe epilepsy since his early twenties as a result of a brain tumour.|||
|Vachel Lindsay||1879–1931||A poet who took phenobarbital for his epilepsy.|||
|Laurie Lee||1914–1997||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.|||
|Kyffin Williams||1918–2006||A landscape painter. His epilepsy ended his army career and may have prevented him marrying.|||
|Max Clifford||born 1943||A publicist known for representing controversial clients. He developed epilepsy at the age of 46.|||
|Karen Armstrong||born 1944||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".|||
|Thom Jones||born 1945||Author of short stories, many of which include characters with epilepsy.|||
|Stephen Knight||1951–1985||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.|||
|DeBarra Mayo||born 1953||Fitness and health author and writer.|||
|Jago Eliot||1966–2006||Aristocrat, surfer and cyber artist. He died in his bath due to an epileptic seizure, which was recorded as a sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).|||
|Kathy Sierra||born 1957||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 at the age of four. These were frequent and severe but greatly diminished by adulthood and were always preceded by an aura.|||
|Joshua Kors||born 1978||An investigative reporter known for his coverage of veterans' issues. He had his first seizure in eighth grade.|||
|Jean Clemens||1880–1909||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.|||
|Derek Bentley||1933–1953||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.|||
|Emilie Dionne||1934–1954||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 complications caused by a series of epileptic seizures. These were recorded at noon the previous day, 11 pm, 3 am, and 5 am, 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".|||
|Virginia Ridley||1948–1997||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.|||
|Don Craig Wiley||1944–2001||A protein-structure biochemist. He kept his epilepsy secret, did not treat it, and died under mysterious circumstances, possibly owing to a seizure.|||
|Barry George||born 1960||Initially convicted but later acquitted of murdering the British television presenter Jill Dando. Has epilepsy, mental health problems and is autistic.|||
|Rick Harrison||born 1965||Co-owner of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada and star of the History series Pawn Stars; had epilepsy when he was in his youth.|||
|Katie Hopkins||born 1975||English reality television contestant (The Apprentice, I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!) and businesswoman, who developed epilepsy as a teenager|
|Daniel Tammet||born 1979||An autistic savant who is a talented mnemonist and language learner. He had temporal lobe epilepsy as a child.|||
|Brad Jones||born 1981||During his review of "Turkish Star Wars" The Cinema Snob mentions that he's been epileptic since 4th grade and takes Tegretol (carbamazepine).|||
|Keith Wallace||born 1969||During his interview on Philly Who, Keith revealed he been epileptic since a car crash that left him severly injured and killed his fiance in Baltimore, Marlyand. He admitted to working as a winemaker in Napa Valley and Chianti for years without revealing his illness to his employers.|||
The following people were not diagnosed with epilepsy during their lifetime. A retrospective diagnosis is speculative and, as detailed below, can be wrong.
|Socrates||470–399 BC||Ancient Greek philosopher. It is speculated that his daimonion was a simple partial seizure and that he had temporal lobe epilepsy.|||
|Julius Caesar||100–44 BC||Roman military and political leader. There is documentation of symptoms experienced by Caesar beginning on his 50th birthday that some scholars believe were complex partial seizures. 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.
However, some scholars believe that Caesar's symptoms, as well as the deaths of his father and paternal grandfather, may be better explained by cardiovascular disease and stroke, and that the documentation of his epilepsy could be unreliable since certain symptoms were not described until after his death may. Epilepsy was considered a "sacred disease" and therefore may have been publicized by family members after his death to portray a specific public image.
|Napoleon I of France||1769–1821||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.|||
|George Gershwin||1898–1937||American composer. The first symptoms of his glioblastoma multiforme tumor were possibly 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.|||
There is a long-standing notion that epilepsy and religion are linked, and it has been speculated that many religious figures had temporal lobe epilepsy. The temporal lobes generate the feeling of "I", and give a sense of familiarity or strangeness to the perceptions of the senses. The temporal lobes and adjacent anterior insular cortex seem to be involved in mystical experiences, and in the change in personality that may result from such experiences.
Raymond Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness (1901) contains several case-studies of persons who have realized "cosmic consciousness". James Leuba's The psychology of religious mysticism noted that "among the dread diseases that afflict humanity there is only one that interests us quite particularly; that disease is epilepsy." Several of Bucke's cases are also mentioned in J.E. Bryant's 1953 book, Genius and Epilepsy, which has a list of more than 20 people that combines the great and the mystical.
Slater and Beard and renewed the interest in TLE and religious experience in the 1960s. Dewhurst and Beard (1970) described six cases of TLE-patients who underwent sudden religious conversions. They placed these cases in the context of several western saints who had a sudden conversion, who were or may have been epileptic. Dewhurst and Beard described several aspects of conversion experiences, and did not favor one specific mechanism.
Norman Geschwind described behavioral changes related to temporal lobe epilepsy in the 1970s and 1980s. Now called Geschwind syndrome, he defined a cluster of specific personality characteristics often found in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, which include increased religiosity. Evidence of Geschwind syndrome has been identified in some religious figures, in particular pronounced religiosity and hypergraphia (excessive writing). However, critics note that these characteristics can be the result of any illness, and are not sufficiently descriptive for patients with temporal lobe epilepsy.
Neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick, in the 1980s and 1990s, also found a relationship between the right temporal lobe and mystical experience, but also found that pathology or brain damage is only one of many possible causal mechanisms for these experiences. He questioned the earlier accounts of religious figures with temporal lobe epilepsy, noticing that "very few true examples of the ecstatic aura and the temporal lobe seizure had been reported in the world scientific literature prior to 1980". According to Fenwick, "It is likely that the earlier accounts of temporal lobe epilepsy and temporal lobe pathology and the relation to mystic and religious states owes more to the enthusiasm of their authors than to a true scientific understanding of the nature of temporal lobe functioning."
The occurrence of intense religious feelings in persons with epilepsy in general is considered rare, with an incident rate of about 2–3%. Sudden religious conversion, together with visions, has been documented in only a small number of individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy. The occurrence of religious experiences in TLE-patients may as well be explained by religious attribution, due to the background of these patients. Nevertheless, the neurological research of mystical experiences is a growing field of research, searching for specific neurological explanations of mystical experiences. Study of ecstatic seizures may provide clues for the neurological mechanisms giving rise to mystical experiences, such as the anterior insular cortex, which is involved in self-awareness and subjective certainty.
|The Priestly source of the Pentateuch||c700 BC||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.|||
|Ezekiel||622BC–?||Fainting spells, periodic loss of speech, compulsive writing, extremely religious, pedantic speech.|||
|Paul of Tarsus||3-10 – 62-68||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 disagree about the cause of his conversion and vision on the road to Damascus. In addition to a seizure, heat exhaustion, the voice of conscience together with a migraine, and even a bolt of lightning have been suggested.|||
|Saint Birgitta||1303–1373||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.|||
|Joan of Arc||1412–1431||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.|||
|Saint Catherine of Genoa||1447–1510||"[A]bnormal mental states" diagnosed as hysteria by Leuba; according to Dewhurst and Beard the symptoms may also suggest temporal lobe epilepsy. According to Dewhurst and Beard, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Marguerite Marie and Mme Guyon "had periodic attacks which included the following symptoms: sensations of extremes of heat and cold, trembling of the whole body, transient aphasia, automatisms, passivity feelings, hyperaesthesiae, childish regression, dissociation, somnambulism, transient paresis, increased suggestibility, and an inability to open the eyes."|||
|Saint Teresa of Ávila||1515–1582||Visions, chronic headaches, transient loss of consciousness and also a four-day coma.|||
|Saint Catherine of Ricci||1522–1590||Visual hallucinations. Loss of consciousness for 28 hours.|||
|Saint Marguerite Marie||1647–1690||"[A]bnormal mental states" diagnosed as hysteria by Leuba; according to Dewhurst and Beard the symptoms may also suggest temporal lobe epilepsy. According to Dewhurst and Beard, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Marguerite Marie and Mme Guyon "had periodic attacks which included the following symptoms: sensations of extremes of heat and cold, trembling of the whole body, transient aphasia, automatisms, passivity feelings, hyperaesthesiae, childish regression, dissociation, somnambulism, transient paresis, increased suggestibility, and an inability to open the eyes."|||
|Mme Guyon||1648–1717||"[A]bnormal mental states" diagnosed as hysteria by Leuba; according to Dewhurst and Beard the symptoms may also suggest temporal lobe epilepsy. According to Dewhurst and Beard, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Marguerite Marie and Mme Guyon "had periodic attacks which included the following symptoms: sensations of extremes of heat and cold, trembling of the whole body, transient aphasia, automatisms, passivity feelings, hyperaesthesiae, childish regression, dissociation, somnambulism, transient paresis, increased suggestibility, and an inability to open the eyes."|||
|Emanuel Swedenborg||1688–1772||Swedish scientist, philosopher, seer, and theologian.|||
|Joseph Smith||1805–1844||Seized with a strange power, rendered speechless, and fell on his back. Visions of darkness and light.|||
|Ellen G. White||1827–1915||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.|||
|Ramakrishna||1836–1886||Bengali mystic, highly influential in the development of Hindu Universalism and Neo-Vedanta, through his disciple Swami Vivekananda, who held that religious experience was a valid method of gaining knowledge. From the age of six onwards, he had ecstatic trances. From his 10th or 11th year on, the trances became common, and by the final years of his life, Ramakrishna's samādhi periods occurred almost daily. Early on, these experiences have been interpreted as epileptic seizures, an interpretation which was rejected by Ramakrishna himself.|||
|Saint Thérèse de Lisieux||1873–1897||Seized with "strange and violent tremblings all over her body". Visual hallucinations and celestial visions.|||
|Ramana Maharshi||1879–1950||At age 16, Ramana was seized by a sudden fear of death. He was struck by "a flash of excitement" or "heat," which he characterized as some avesam, a "spirit," "current" or "force" that seemed to possess him. After this event, he lost his interest in the usual life-routines, and immersed himself in emotional worship of Shiva and of Tamil saints. He left home, to live at the holy mountain Arunachala for the rest of his life, where he was worshipped as an avatar, due to his prolonged trance. In 1912, a major fit took place, accompanied with various sensations as a "white shield" over part of his vision, and "swimming in the head," and in which he lost consciousness. Ramana later stated that these fits appeared occasionally.|||
|Pio of Pietrelcina||1887–1968||Had visions at an early age about God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.|||
|Jiddu Krishnamurti||1895–1986||Spiritual teacher, raised by Theosophians to become 'the world teacher.' In his 20s, he underwent an episode of severe pain in the neck accompanied by mystical experiences. Throughout his life "the process" occurred, accompanied by the presence of "the otherness." Sloss, daughter of Krishnamurti's long-term mistress, considered the process to be a purely physical event centred on sickness or trauma, and suggested the possibility of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.|||
Many famous people are incorrectly recorded as having epilepsy. In some cases there is no evidence at all to justify a diagnosis of epilepsy. In others, the symptoms have been misinterpreted. In some, the seizures were provoked by other causes, such as acute illness or alcohol withdrawal.
The following people are often reported to have had epilepsy but there is no evidence that they had any attacks or illnesses that even resembled epilepsy.
|Cambyses II||?–521 BC||Herodotus, writing eighty years after the king's death, is responsible for repeating what are now regarded as slanderous remarks that Cambyses was mad and had epilepsy.|||
|Hannibal||247–183 BC||Carthaginian military leader.|||
|Hermann von Helmholtz||1821–1894|||
Misdiagnosis by association
Many individuals have been mistakenly recorded as having epilepsy due to an association with someone (real or fictional) who did have epilepsy, or something similar.
|Dante Alighieri||1265–1321||In his fictional La Divina Commedia, he falls into a "dead faint".|||
|Isaac Newton||1643–1727||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.|||
|Ludwig van Beethoven||1770–1827||His acquaintance Antonie Brentano had a son, Karl Joseph, who had epilepsy.|||
|Alfred, Lord Tennyson||1809–1892||Close family had epilepsy and mental illness, which led Tennyson to fear this in himself.|||
|William Morris||1834–1896||His daughter, May, had epilepsy and this caused Morris to question if his temper rages were related to this.|||
|Patrick Dempsey||born 1966||Played a boy with epilepsy in the 1986 Disney TV Movie "A Fighting Choice". He won an award from the Epilepsy Foundation for his convincing portrayal.|||
The following people may have had one or more epileptic seizures but since the seizures were provoked, they do not result in a diagnosis of epilepsy:
|Edgar Allan Poe||1809–1849||Poe abused drugs and alcohol. If he had any seizures, they were most likely due to alcohol withdrawal. One author has suggested Poe may have had complex partial seizures.|||
|Leo Tolstoy||1828–1910||"Fits of spleen" and anguish attacks. Had seizures while dying of pneumonia.|||
|Algernon Charles Swinburne||1837–1909||Alcohol withdrawal attacks.|||
|Lewis Carroll||1832–1898||Migraine and a possible seizure that was probably due to the effects of drug withdrawal.|||
|Alfred Nobel||1833–1896||Febrile seizures in infancy.|||
|Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky||1840–1893||Seizures in the hours before death. Possible family history of epilepsy.|||
|Truman Capote||1924–1984||Alcohol withdrawal seizures.|||
|Richard Burton||1925–1984||Alcohol withdrawal seizures.|||
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 do not exclusively apply 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.
|Alexander the Great||356–323 BC||Collapsed after taking strong medicine for pneumonia.|||
|Charles the Fat||c.839–888||Commonly regarded as a sickly king who had 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.|||
|Alfred the Great||849–899||Acute pain.|||
|Leonardo da Vinci||1452–1519||Nervous shaking and spasms when furious.|||
|Michelangelo||1475–1564||A faint due to working in very hot weather.|||
|Martin Luther||1483–1546||In John Osborne's play Luther, his visions are the result of epileptic seizures. Luther had many documented illnesses, but any recurrent attacks were probably due to Ménière’s disease.|||
|Cardinal Richelieu||1585–1642||Bouts of tears.|||
|Louis XIII of France||1601–1643||Episodes of violence, moodiness and fearfulness.|||
|Molière||1622–1673||A coughing fit.|||
|Blaise Pascal||1623–1662||Breath-holding spells as a child.|||
|William III of England||1650–1702||Fainting and coughing fits.|||
|Jonathan Swift||1667–1745||Severe fits of giddiness due to Ménière’s disease.|||
|George Frideric Handel||1685–1759||A stroke.|||
|William Pitt the Elder||1708–1778||Attacks of gout.|||
|Samuel Johnson||1709–1784||Tourette syndrome.|||
|Jean-Jacques Rousseau||1712–1778||Dizzy fits and agitation.|||
|James Madison||1751–1836||Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.|||
|Walter Scott||1771–1832||Seizures of cramp due to kidney stones and, later, a stroke.|||
|Niccolò Paganini||1784–1840||Repeated collapsing due to weakness.|||
|Lord Byron||1788–1824||Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.|||
|Percy Bysshe Shelley||1792–1822||Fits of pain and nervous attacks.|||
|Hector Berlioz||1803–1869||"Fits of spleen".|||
|Robert Schumann||1810–1856||Depression and hallucinations.|||
|Charles Dickens||1812–1870||Renal colic.|||
|Søren Kierkegaard||1813–1855||Collapsing due to weakness.|||
|Gustave Flaubert||1821–1880||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.|||
|Guy de Maupassant||1850–1893||Mental illness and hallucinations caused by inhaling ether.|||
|Vincent van Gogh||1853–1890||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.|||
|Graham Greene||1904–1991||Greene was diagnosed with epilepsy as a young man, after several incidents during which he lost 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.|||
|John Berryman||1914–1972||Diagnosed with petit mal epilepsy, now estimated to have been nervous exhaustion. Berryman suffered from depression and alcoholism.|||
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