6 Celebrities Who Have Dealt with Aphasia

Bruce Willis' family recently shared that he has the disorder, where people lose the ability to speak or process language, typically after a stroke or brain injury

Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis. Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images
01 of 06

Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis. ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

After dealing with health issues, the Die Hard star was diagnosed with aphasia, "which is impacting his cognitive abilities," Willis' family shared in March 2022. That led him to the difficult decision to retire from acting.

"As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him," his family — wife Emma Heming Willis; daughters Rumer Willis, Scout Willis, Tallulah Willis, Mabel Willis and Evelyn Willis and ex-wife Demi Moore — said.

"As Bruce always says, 'Live it up' and together we plan to do just that."

The family has not disclosed the cause of Willis' aphasia.

02 of 06

Sharon Stone

Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone. Rich Polk/Getty

In 2001, the Basic Instinct star was rushed to the hospital with a stroke that created a "massive" cerebral hemorrhage, she told The Hollywood Reporter. Stone bled for nine days, and then spent the next two years "learning to walk and talk again," both symptoms of aphasia.

"I came home from that stroke stuttering, couldn't read for two years," she said. "... It's been a humbling journey: I was on Law & Order ... and I had a hard time with my lines. I can talk about it now because I'm OK now ... I feel really good about talking and having my full vocabulary."

Stone said that she's thrilled now to be aging, when the chance of recovering from a stroke like the one she had was so low. And though the experience of struggling to read and speak was temporary, it changed how she functions in the world.

"I became more emotionally intelligent," Stone told ABC News. "I chose to work very hard to open up other parts of my mind. Now I'm stronger. And I can be abrasively direct. That scares people, but I think that's not my problem. It's like, I have brain damage; you'll just have to deal with it."

03 of 06

Emilia Clarke

Emilia Clarke attends the EE British Academy Film Awards 2020 at Royal Albert Hall on February 02, 2020 in London, England.
Emilia Clarke. Karwai Tang/WireImage

Soon after wrapping up filming on the first season of Game of Thrones in 2011, Clarke experienced an aneurysm that caused a stroke and a subarachnoid hemorrhage. That led to brain surgery, and two weeks later, she couldn't remember her name.

"I was suffering from a condition called aphasia, a consequence of the trauma my brain had suffered," she said in a 2019 essay for The New Yorker. "In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug. I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job — my entire dream of what my life would be — centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost."

Thankfully for Clarke, her aphasia was temporary.

"I was sent back to the I.C.U. and, after about a week, the aphasia passed. I was able to speak."

In 2013, Clarke underwent a second surgery to address another aneurysm that was about to "pop." Though the surgery was traumatic, with complications, the actress is now healed and doing well.

04 of 06

Gabby Giffords

Gabby Giffords
Gabby Giffords. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As a member of the House of Representatives serving Arizona, Giffords was shot in the head in an attempted assassination in 2011 and survived, though she had a difficult road to recovery. After multiple surgeries and months in the hospital, Giffords has gotten stronger each year, but continues to struggle with aphasia.

"Aphasia really sucks," she told PBS News Hour in 2021. "The words are there in my brain. I just can't get them out. I love to talk. I'm gabby."

Along with regular speech therapy, Giffords has found that playing music — specifically french horn, the instrument she first took up at age 13 — has made a difference. She now plays five days a week, and though the physically movements are "all still there in my brain," Giffords said, "reading the music is hard."

05 of 06

Dick Clark

Dick Clark
Dick Clark. Kevin Winter/Getty

The longtime TV and radio personality — who died in 2012 — had a debilitating stroke in Dec. 2004 that left him paralyzed on one side and significantly impaired his speech, a symptom of aphasia.

Clark had to miss his annual New Year's Rockin' Eve broadcast that year, and when he returned in 2005 he said his speech was still not there.

"Last year I had a stroke," he said on the broadcast. "It left me in bad shape. I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It's been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I'm getting there."

06 of 06

Randy Travis

Randy Travis
Randy Travis. Erika Goldring/Getty

While dealing with congestive heart failure in July 2013, the country singer suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to speak.

"In my case, my brain was functioning, and I could understand what [his wife] Mary said to me, but I could not respond in anything close to a sentence," Travis wrote in his 2019 memoir.
"When we first returned home, I could barely speak at all. We spent three months in speech therapy before I learned to say the letter 'A.' Eventually, after about a year and a half, I could say 'yup,' 'nope,' and 'bathroom.' I could also say 'I love you' and a few other phrases but not much more. All this was extremely frustrating for me; I felt like I was trapped inside the shell of my body."

Travis is continually making progress, though, and was able to regain his singing voice, even performing in recent years.

"The whole third midsection of Randy's left brain was affected, which is speaking, writing and reading," Mary told PEOPLE in 2019. "But each day there's something new that he says or does."

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