I must say, I was really surprised at the reactions to my piece on Satoshi Tajiri, the autistic creator of Pokemon. I figured it would peek some interest, but the amount of of gratitude and love blew me away and really touched me. Clearly, the impact of representation in the world shouldn’t be discounted. After all, seeing Nichelle Nicholes on Star Trek is what inspired Whoopi Goldberg to pursue her dreams. So let me take this opportunity to showcase some more famous figures, particularly artists and creative people, on the spectrum. I’ve included people who are suspected to be on the spectrum since diagnoses were more difficult to come by when these people were younger.
Let’s start with the most public of artists — the actors and the filmmakers and TV show creators that allow them to show their stuff. They’re under the biggest spotlight and the most scrutiny, so coming out as autistic can be a huge risk. Let’s look at the ones that took that risk.
He’s a Ghostbuster, a Blues Brother, one of Saturday Night Live’s original “Not Ready For Prime Time Players,” and oh yes, a man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Some of the obsessions he got from his Asperger’s were ghosts and the police, to the point where he carried a fake police badge wherever he went and was a superfan of famous paranormal investigator Hanz Holzer. From these obsessions came the seeds of Ghostbusters.
Daryl Hannah – actor
You may not know her by name, but if you’ve seen Blade Runner or Kill Bill, you’ve seen her before. She was actually diagnosed when she was very young, but sadly the doctors back in the day didn’t understand autism and recommended that she be medicated and institutionalized. The Asperger’s made her very shy, making public events very hard for her, and she needed to rock herself to self-soothe. Fortunately, she overcame a lot of the hurdles and acted in some of the most watched films in the last forty years.
Robin Williams – actor
This one is unfortunately just speculation and sadly, Mr. Williams isn’t in a position to answer questions on the matter. However, many pointed to his social awkwardness and hyperactivity as proof that he may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. His battle with depression makes this more credible, as many autistic people have to struggle with secondary conditions like depression or bipolar.
Let’s move from actors to filmmakers.
Tim Burton – filmmaker
This is another one that can’t be confirmed, but it has a more credible source than faceless hearsay. His wife, Helena Bohnam Carter, informally diagnosed him, saying he shares many of the traits of an autistic mind, which he agrees with. It’s not hard to see, either; he was said to be a recluse in his youth, focusing on drawing in his spare time. Even nowadays, he sticks with a specific group of actors in his body of work, stressing the need for many autistic people to be around familiar things. So yeah, I totally buy that he’s on the spectrum.
Stanley Kubrick – filmmaker
Again, speculation, since Kubrick was born and died before our knowledge of autism was advanced enough. He was diagnosed in retrospect by Dr. Michael Fitzgerald and Victoria Lyons in their book Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or a Curse? He is described as having poor social skills, obsessive interests, literal thinking, and a lot of inflexibility, all of which are telltale signs of autism. Though if he was so literal minded, how in the world did he pull off something so open to interpretation like 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Dan Harmon – TV show creator (writer and producer …)
Now here’s one who definitely isn’t speculation. If you don’t know who this is, he was the creator and executive producer of TV’s Community and the insanely weird animated series Rick and Morty. The funny thing is that he got the diagnosis late in life as he was writing a character for Community and found a lot of the symptoms very familiar. He even went to a doctor to see if he was officially on the spectrum, which the doctor confirmed. Makes sense, really; I don’t think a neurotypical mind could have ever come up with Rick and Morty.
This is just the beginning of the enormous contributions of creative people on the spectrum. There are visual artists, creative writers, musicians and much more. October is Disability History Month. My next blog will include historical figures on the autism spectrum.
Colin Eldred-Cohen is a creative writer and story teller. He was born in San Diego and graduated from the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), where he discovered his talents for performing, singing and Irish dance. He graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in film.
He is currently living in San Jose where he is writing regularly for fishandcherries.com and putting his writing talents to use working on his first novel (that he hopes will be a best seller, made into an Oscar-winning movie and a line of happy meal toys.)
Colin is on the Autism spectrum, and has channeled his creative and active mind to become a talented writer and story teller. He is an active member of the Autistic Creatives Collective. His first children’s book, The Fire Truck Who Got Lost available in the The Art of Autism Store was released in September.