At more than seven feet tall, you wouldn’t imagine Shaquille O’Neal would be afraid of much. His stutter, however, left him panic-stricken in school. Now, O’Neal is a celebrated, awarding winning MVP—not to mention his career in commercials and film that suggests he learned to work with his stutter instead of against it. He takes his time and speaks deliberately to minimize the effects of the condition.
The two-time British prime minister, British army officer, writer, and Nobel Prize winner’s self-described “speech impediment” has come under scrutiny. But according to The Stuttering Foundation, there is virtually no doubt that Churchill displayed classic signs of stuttering. That didn’t stop him from being one of the leading orators in history, though. In fact, it seems he had dentures specially designed to help him avoid stuttering, and was eventually able to make the claim that his “impediment is no hindrance.”
After almost a decade of stuttering, this Armageddon star stepped into a high school play and discovered a self-proclaimed miracle: He stopped stuttering on stage. With the help of a speech therapist, Willis worked on confidence-building exercises and being the class clown to try to fit in—and to desperately try to express himself. But acting was the key, and as a young adult he finally found a combination of acting classes and speech therapy that let the Die Hard hero speak his mind with ease.
While Bruce Willis fell into acting to deter his stutter, the King of Rock and Roll sought his music and film career despite his speech issues. Loved for his dulcet tones as well as his good looks, Presley admitted he had difficulty with “W” and “I” words, and occasionally while speaking to the audience in recordings you can hear him change his word choice to get the sentence out. His mother put him into a singing competition in an attempt to encourage his confidence and discourage his stutter. It didn’t work, but his adoring public didn’t pay much attention once his hips started moving.
James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones, the iconic voice of Darth Vader from Star Wars and Mufasa in The Lion King, didn’t start out with the deep, sultry tones he’s known for. His childhood was tainted by his stutter, which he blames himself for—Jones thought his condition developed because he teased an uncle with a similar speech impediment. While it's highly unlikely this was the actual cause, you can read about his rise from a destitute and nearly mute youth to one of the most beloved voices of Hollywood in his book, Voices and Silences.
Jimmy Stewart is considered to be one of the leading actors from Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” as evidenced by his multiple Academy Awards, Oscars, Golden Globes, and many other awards—including a Lifetime Achievement Award. His classic roles in movies like Vertigo and It’s a Wonderful Life, combined with his notable voice, made him a household name in the United States. But that famous voice wasn’t always so positively dreamy. Rumor has it that Stewart treated his own stutter by filling his mouth with stones and learning to speak around the rocks, My Fair Lady style.
Samuel L. Jackson
Awarding-winning actor Samuel L. Jackson, renowned for his roles in Pulp Fiction, Star Wars, and the Avengers series still struggles to keep his stutter under control some days. When he was young, an aunt helped him seek training from a speech therapist to stop the teasing he received at the hands of other children. His secret? When he’s having trouble getting the words out, he lets loose with his favorite explicative and carries on.
Project Runway host Tim Gunn describes himself as unpopular and isolated in school because of his battle with stuttering. Now, he’s a fashion legend, design consultant, and actor—which is a pretty far cry from pretending to be sick to avoid the public. And although Gunn still struggles with his stutter some days, he’s learned to embrace it, admitting it helped make him who he is today.
B. B. King
Blues legend B.B. King came from a family with a whole history of stuttering. Born in 1925, this young African American child was hard pressed to find significant help in overcoming the then-misunderstood communication problem. The singer claims gospel music in particular helped him find a way to overcome his stutter and learn to express himself through song. Not bad for a singer and songwriter who is now #3 on the Rolling Stone list of the top 100 guitarists.
Actress and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe is another celebrity with an iconic voice developed in response to a stutter. Her problems began in childhood, continued in high school, and re-appeared again in her later years, as she struggled with stress and prescription drug abuse. But her sultry, breathy tone was actually a method of breathing to control her stutter on camera. Not until her last movie, Something’s Got To Give, did Monroe use her "real" voice—despite the still-present stutter.