Famous People who had Polio
Famous People Who Had Polio
There is also a Wikipedia entry for poliomyelitis survivors available at
(Click on letter for last name initial or scroll down page)
More Famous People with Polio Connections
Eleanor Abbott: designed the game CandyLand
Ann Adams: Artist.
Ann was studying in art school at age 23 when she developed polio in 1950. She was left completely paralyzed below the neck and needed breathing assistance devices the remainder of her life. She learned to draw in a new way - by holding a pencil in her mouth.
Tenley Albright: doctor and olympic gold medalist for figure skating
Tenley was 11 when she got polio. "I don't remember fear about being sick. The fear I had was staying in the hospital overnight. I couldn't imagine anything worse. But no one told me how serious it was. In fact, they took the sign "polio" off my door..." Tenley followed in her father's footsteps and became a surgeon in Boston, MA. She is a member of:
US Figure Skating Hall of Fame
President's Council on Physical Fitness
American College of Sport's Medicine
American Cancer Society
Executive Committee of the US Olympic Committee
Alan Alda, actor, writer, director:
"Suffered from bad case of Polio as a young child." Alan continues to stay busy and is now adding hosting a TV special series, "Scientific American Frontiers" on your local PBS station to his accomplishments.
Ethelda Blaibtrey (1902-1978): olympic gold metalist for swimming
Ben Bradlee: former editor for the Washington Post
Arthur C. Clarke: author, Knight Bachelor (British award)
Clarke is a well known science fiction writer, most widely known for writing 2001: Space Odyssey and its three sequels. He contracted polio while living in Sri Lanka.
"Sir Arthur has lived in Colombo, Sri Lanka since 1956 and has been doing underwater exploration along that coast and the Great Barrier Reef. He is now completely wheelchaired due to a post polio syndrome (except when playing table tennis) but can stand for a few seconds."
Claudius (10 B.C. to 54 A.D.): Emperor of Rome (41-54 A.D.):
"Emperor Caligula killed off all his relatives except his Uncle Claudius. Claudius had had polio as a child. One leg was shorter than the other, he had weak neck muscles, and his head kept flopping over, and he drooled. Caligula kept him around to have somebody around to make fun of. In 45 A.D., the Praetorian Guard lead a coup to get rid of Caligula and put Uncle Claudius on the throne as emperor. Claudius was on the throne from 41-54 A.D."
Georgia Coleman (1912-1940): olympic diver
Judy Collins: singer
"I had polio when I was 11. I had to do physical recovery, physical manipulation of my leg. And I had to be in the hospital. I had to find ways to get through that. I used that time to read. Because it was a two-month period where I didn’t see my folks and I was in the hospital in isolation. So you find things to do with your mind and your body, and to believe that you can live through this while those around you are not so lucky." (From online interview at Beliefnet.com.
Francis Ford Coppola: director, producer, and screenwriter:
"When I was about 9, I had polio, and one of the conditions of polio was...people were very frightened for their children, so you tended, if you had it, to be isolated. So...there was about a year and a half when I stayed at home. I was paralyzed for a while."
Sir Julian Critchley (1930-2000): journalist, author and member of the House of Commons
Bill Cullen (1920-1990): game show host
"He was partially crippled by childhood polio."
Justin Dart: Activist
William Orville Douglas (1898-1980): Associate Justice, US Supreme Court
Ian Dury (1942-2000): British Rock Star
Mia Farrow: actress
She is also the mother to at least 13 children, one of which had polio. In Mia's memoir, "What Falls Away" she talks about her life before she got polio at age 9, as well as after her polio experience.
Hugh Gregory Gallagher, author and historian:
"...contracted polio at the age of 19, and like FDR, was rehabilitated at the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. He has used a wheelchair ever since." Book review of Gallagher's, "FDR's Splendid Deception:"
Tony Gould: author (UK)
Arthur Guyton: doctor
Dr. Guyton, from Jackson, MS, was stricken with poliowhile he was a young surgical resident in Boston, shortly after WW II. The polio left him partially paralyzed, forcing him to abandon his dreams of becoming a heart surgeon. He went on to develop an international reputation for his work involving heart diseases, writing one of the world's best selling medical texts as well as dozens of other books. He and his wife, Ruth, raised 10 children and all of them became doctors! (ABC News, 20/20, November 28, 1997)
John Hager: Lieutenant Governor, Virginia
Lauro Halstead: doctor (physiatrist)
Dr. Halstead is one of the most important medical experts on Post-Polio Syndrome. He is the author of a handbook on PPS, Managing Post-Polio: A Guide to Living Well with Post-Polio.
Lis Hartel: Danish equestrian
Elizabeth Twistington Higgins: ballet dancer
Ms Huges, who now lives in Orlando, FL, had polio at age 3 1/2 in Indianapolis (caught it from her brother) and was diagnosed with post-polio early 1980's. She has "graduated" from full time walker to power scooter user.
She is a freelance columnist who writes "Opening Doors" for The Orlando Sentinel (reprints in the Daily Record; Parsippany, NJ), author of Women and Disabilities: It isn't them at us at Ladybugbooks.com She has also written for New Mobility, Minority Nurse, Ivanhoe Broadcasting, PSL on-line medical publication, and runs a chat room for new fiction writers with/without disabilities in America On-Line Writer's Club.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): Artist.
Mexican painter Frido Kahlo contracted polio at age six or seven (sources differ on this) and was confined to her home for nine months of "recovery." One leg and foot were left permanently affected and caused her to walk with a limp. She began painting while recovering from a serious accident between her school bus and a trolley car in 1925. She later married world-famous mural painter Diego Rivera.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965): photographer
Dr. Henry Holland, polio survivor, writes about Dorothea, "At age seven, she fell ill to acute polio. The residual polio damage involved a withered right lower leg and a noticeable limp. Lange viewed her handicap as a determination factor in her life. She stated that her handicap shaped her very personality and was one from which she could never escape. In later years her limp might have been an asset in helping to disarm people on first encounters with her camera. She felt that her limp might have helped strangers be more accepting of her when she was photographing in the field."
Marjorie Lawrence (1908-1979): world famous opera singer
In her early thirties, Margorie got sick in Mexico City and was diagnosed with poliomyelitis. Margorie's husband, Tom "insisted on taking me back to the United States . . . to the world-famous waters at Hot Springs, Arkansas where he knew the hot waters would at least alleviate my terrible pain." There is more of "the fascinating life story of the famous singer and her triumphant battle to resume her career after a crippling attack of polio," in her book, Interrupted Melody, but it is unfortunately out of print. However, you can sometimes find her book or the movie on one of the auction sites, or at the library or book sales.
Tanaquil Le Clercq: (1929-2000) ballet dancer
At age 15, she was asked by George Balanchine to dance in a ballet he choreographed for a polio charity benefit. In the ballet, Tanaquil portrayed a character who became paralyzed by Balanchine's character, who was named Polio. In a terrible irony, Tanaquil contracted polio in 1956 at the age of 27 while touring Europe with her ballet company. She was paralyzed and never danced or walked again.
Frank Mars (1883-1933): founded M&M Mars chocolate company
Lois Catherine Marshall (1924-1997): Canadian singer in the 50s and 60s
Paul Joseph James Martin (1903-1992): Canadian politician and diplomat
Addison Mitchell "Mitch" McConnell, Jr. (born February 20, 1942): Republican Senator from Kentucky, first elected in 1984. He became the Minority Leader in the Senate in 2006 and the Majority Leader in 2011. Contracted polio at age 2, which paralyzed his upper left leg at the time.
Joni Mitchell (1943- ): singer (polio age 9)
". . . the 80s were a rough decade for me and on top of it I was diagnosed as having Post-Polio Syndrome which they said was inevitable for I'm a polio survivor, that forty years after you had the disease, which is a disease of the nervous system, the wires that animate certain muscles are taken out by the disease, and the body in its ingenious way, the filaments of the adjacent muscles send out branches and try to animate that muscle. It's kind of like the EverReady bunny, the muscles all around the muscles that are gone begin to go also because they've been trying to drive this muscle for so long. That's the nature of what was happening so I had it mostly in my back, so you don't see it as much as you would in a withered leg or an arm. But the weight of the guitar became unbearable. Also, acoustic guitar requires that you extend your shoulder out in an abnormal way and coincidentally some of the damage to my back in combination with that position was very painful. So, there was a merchant in Los Angeles who knew of my difficulties and knew that this machine was coming along that would solve my tuning problems and he made on spec a Stratocaster for me out of yellow cedar that was very light and thin as a wafer, so an electric guitar is a more comfortable design for my handicap. Then, a genius lothier built me this two and a half pound guitar which is not only beautiful to look at but it kind of contours to my body. It fits my hip and even kind of cups up like a bra! It's just beautifully designed and then also I abandoned regular medicine and fell into the hands first of a Kahuna and then a Chinese mystic acupuncturist who put down his pins and just points at you. I know this sounds real quacky but they did some mysterious good to the problem and I feel fine."
From a conversation with Joni Mitchell by Jody Denberg, September 9, 1998.
Phil Morrison (1915-2005): MIT Institute Professor Emeritus. Morrison was a distinguished theoretical astrophysicist and nuclear scientist. A member of the Manhattan Project who went on to become a vocal critic of the nuclear arms race, Morrison was widely known for his research and professional contributions in quantum electrodynamics, nuclear theory, radiology, isotope geology and, since the 1950s, in cosmic-ray origins and propagation, gamma-ray astronomy and other topics in high-energy astrophysics and in cosmology. Since his participation in the Manhattan Project he has been an active advocate of control and elimination of nuclear weapons.
Jack Nicklaus: golfer
In the foreword of his book, "Golf My Way" it states, "Even a slight case of polio failed to prevent him from turning up...for a golf match."
J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967): physicist and teacher
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was a "boy of delicate stature (he suffered from polio and repeated bouts of pneumonia")...as a child. (Biography Magazine/April 1997, p. 85-88). From Biography: "Robert Oppenheimer built the A- bomb, and struggled with his conscience forever after."
"Along the way, he managed to become conversant in eight languages--and to read...most of the great writings of Western civilization."
Itzhak Perlman : internationally acclaimed violinist (first on TV as a child on the Ed Sullivan Show)
"The Israeli-born Perlman, who walks with crutches and plays and conducts while seated because of a childhood bout with polio, has performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra more than 30 times since 1964. He made his debut on the podium last year." But Itzhak adds... "I am tired of being a human interest story, a brave handicapped musician. I am a musician for whom life is not easy. But then, is life easy for anyone?"
quote from the Saskatchewan Awareness of Post Polio Society Inc. (SAPP) Newsletter, December 1996: http://www.sfn.saskatoon.sk.ca/health/polio/issue22.html
Ray Peterson : singer
Peterson was born April 23, 1939 in Denton, TX. "He spent much of his childhood recovering from polio, and during an extended stay in a nearby treatment facility he began performing for his fellow patients. As Peterson's health returned he began singing professionally in local clubs..." Many will remember his rock and roll hits from the 1950s, Corina, Corina and Tell Laura, I Love Her.
Doc Pomus : song writer
Pomus was born Jerome S. Felder June 27, 1925, in Brooklyn, New York. He had polio as a child and used crutches until a fall in 1965. After that he used a wheelchair. Pomus wrote hundreds of songs and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of his most successful became a #1 hit for the Drifters in 1960 and has been recorded by many others since then: "Save the Last Dance for Me." He, himself, was unable to dance, but his wife was a Broadway actress and dancer. Watching her dance with others was the inspiration for this poignant song.
Owen Roizman: cinematographer, 5 Oscar nominations and Lifetime Achievement award
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945): 32nd President of the United States
"In 1921, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's life changed forever. At the age of 39 he contracted poliomyelitis (polio) - an acute neural virus that left him paralyzed from the waist down."
More quotes from remarks made by Senate Majority Leader, Bob Dole, on the floor of the U.S. Senate in honor of the 50th anniversary of FDR's death (April 12, 1995): "...on the evening of August 10th, while on vacation, he felt ill and went to bed early. Within three days he was paralyzed from the chest down. Although the muscles of his upper body soon recovered, he remained paralyzed below the waist." Dole goes on to say, "FDR believed in an independent life for people with disabilities--at a time when society thought they belonged at home or in institutions." You can read the whole article on the Polio Survivor's Page.
Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson star as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the movie, Sunrise at Campobello, an acclaimed drama of FDR's lifelong struggle with polio and his attempts to re-enter politics in the 1920s. Also staring: Hume Cronyn, Jean Hagen, and Tim Considine. Academy Awardï¿½ Nominations: Best Actress for Greer Garson, Best Interior Decoration (Color), Best Sound, Best Costume Design (Color).
Carol Rosenberger (born circa early 1930s?): concert pianist, recording artist, and vice-president of Delos Records.
At age 22, Rosenberger traveled to Europe to study at Fontainebleau. There she contracted polio. After two days of flu-like symptoms, she returned to 8-hour practice sessions. But a second fever brought "alarming symptoms," Rosenberger says. "Kids who got polio were up and running after the first fever. For them, the damage was their legs. I was practicing piano. For me, the damage was in the piano-playing apparatus - hands, arms, neck, abdominal muscles."
Doctors advised Rosenberger to give up her dream; she refused. It took nearly 15 years of intense physical therapy and unswerving perseverance to find new "neural pathways" that allowed her to play again. "The music was too important to me and too much a part of me. I couldn't give it up."
Today she advises young pianists to play for the love of it. "I've never laid down rules that you have to practice so many hours per day. I say, 'Do it for yourself. Do it because of your fascination with the music and because the music speaks to you and to have it be a part of your life.'"
Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994): athlete, olympic gold medalist
"She was born prematurely on June 23, 1940 in St. Bethlehem, Tenn. She weighed 4 1/2 pounds. The bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contacted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces when she was 6..." Then in Rome in 1960, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in one olympics.
Ruma: A man (possibly a priest) seen on a 3,000 year old Egyptian tablet.
According to the book, "Polio Pioneers" Ruma was Syrian, and the stone tablet is in a museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is perhaps the earliest pictorial record of polio. The man's atrophied right leg was thought to just be poorly drawn, but it seems obvious to many today that he must have been one of the earliest victims of Infantile Paralysis. ("Never to Die: the Egyptians in their own words," by Josephine Mayer and Tom Prideaux, p. 80)
Sir Walter Scott is believed to be the very first case of polio in the British Isles (1773). He writes: "I showed every sign of health and strength until I was about 18 months old. One night, I have been often told, I showed great reluctance to be caught and put to bed, and after being chased about the room... In the morning I was discovered to be affected with the fever... It held me for three days. On the fourth, when they went to bathe me as usual, they discovered that I had lost the power of my right leg."
"Although the limb affected was much shrunk and contracted, my general health, which was of more importance . . . [I] was now a healthy, high-spirited, and, my lameness apart, a sturdy child."
(Lockhardt's Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott, 1837)
Dinah Shore (1916-1994): singer
"Stricken with Polio at eighteen months, she recovered after receiving the Sister Kenny treatment."
Honorary Member, Ladies Professional Golf Association's "Hall of Fame" and the first female star with her own prime-time TV variety show.
Siptah: Pharaoh of Egypt from 1200-1193 BC.
He died suddenly at the age of about 20. His mummified body laid undisturbed in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings until 1905 when the tomb was excavated. The mummy shows that his left leg was withered and his foot was rigidly extended like a horse's hoof - classic paralytic poliomyelitis.
Sir John Cotesworth Slessor (1897-1979): British Marshall in the RAF in World War II
Lord Snowden: photographer, UK (Princess Margaret's former husband)
Margarete Steiff: German seamstress and manufacturer of Steiff Teddy Bears
Brooks Stevens (1911-1995): A life-long resident of Milwaukee and the "creative genius" at Harley Davidson, Stevens was a founder of the Society of Industrial Engineers. He helped design more that 3,000 products
Donald Sutherland: actor, from Canada
Christopher Templeton: actress
She was a lead character for 11 years on the television soap opera "The Young and the Restless." She is also starring in the movie, "Ready, Willing, and Able" as an FBI agent disabled in the line of duty, and trying to regain her career in a wheelchair. It is directed by Jenni Gold, another very capable and feisty disabled woman. "Templeton, whose disability was caused by polio, can walk with a cane but uses a manual wheelchair for the post-accident scenes in the movie."
Nyla Thompson: artist (using mouth)
Alan Toy: actor, activist and organizer; a writer, teacher and community leader
He got polio in 1953 at age 3. He is described as one who "...serves on the board of almost every disability-concerned organization in Southern California; has been called a disabled urban professional, a careerist; a champion for the human rights model." Alan has had "...roles in M*A*S*H, Matlock, Born on the Fourth of July, In the Line of Fire and Beverly Hills 90210, among many other productions."
From an interview by Barry Corbet, New Mobility, March 1996
Dennis Washington: businessman and entrepreneur
"I was about eight years old when I contracted polio. It was a very traumatic time in my life. I was just old enough to know that something was really wrong, but really too young to be able to digest it properly..."
Neil Young: 70s and 80s rock singer from Canada
Dr. Jonas Salk (1914-1995): research scientist
Dr. Salk was the first to develop a safe vaccine to protect against polio. He used a killed-virus injection to induce immunity to polio. While it has since been largely supplanted by the live-virus Sabin vaccine, it is still widely believed to be the safest to use. Official U.S. guidelines recommend that at least one of the three immunizations people receive for polio be of the Salk variety.
"Salk, his wife, and their sons were among the first to receive injections. In 1954, more than 1.8 million school children - nicknamed Polio Pioneers - participated in a nationwide test of the vaccine during history's largest medical experiment."
Dr. Albert Sabin: research scientist
Dr. Sabin (born Albert Saperstein) from Paterson, NJ, developed the oral polio vaccine, a live vaccine. It was first used in 1960 in Europe after extensive (5 years) testing and first used in the USA in 1962.
"Through out the world, he is one of the most recognizable and revered names in medical science. In the 1960s, Dr. John R. Paul, Professor Emeritus of Preventative Medicine and Epidemiology at Yale University wrote about Albert Sabin in the history of poliomyelitis, 'No man has ever contributed so much effective information and so continuously over so many years to so many aspects of poliomyelitis as Sabin.'"
Sister Elizabeth Kenny: Australian nurse
"Sister Kenny's first exposure to polio occurred in trying to help aborigine children in the Australian bush country. Here she observed that the aborigines used hot cloths on the involved extremities. She became inspired to learn more about polio, especially in the acute phase, and developed her own ideas about the disease and its treatment. . . .Her treatment involved no use of splints or casts, the application of heat with wool cloth, and treating the spasms of the muscles with physical therapy and not immobilization. "
Books by or about Sister Elizabeth Kenny:
Sister Kenny: The Woman Who Challenged the Doctors by Victor Cohn
And They Shall Walk: The Life Story of Sister Elizabeth Kenny written in collaboration with Martha Ostenso
The Kenny Concept of Infantile Paralysis and Its Treatment by John Pohl, MD, in collaboration with Elizabeth Kenny.
Sister Kenny is a film from 1946 starring Rosalind Russell as Sr. Kenny. Miss Russell, who insisted that the movie be made, won a Golden Globe in 1947, and that same year she received an Academy Award Nomination, too.
Olympia Dukakis, "Rose," Oscar winning actress:
"She was on a scholarship, so when she happened on theatre in her sophomore year and wrote and produced the class revue with another girl, she couldn't afford to go to drama school and become an actress. 'My mother was the one who sat me down and said that there was no money, and that I'd have to go and get a job. So I worked out that the the best-paid job for a woman at that time was as a physical therapist. And the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis was giving scholarships to people who would train and then go and work in the field.'
For several years she worked with polio victims all over the States, eventually quitting and going to Boston University in the late 50s to study acting..."
In 1998, Olympia Dukakis narrated the video of A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America.
Helen Hayes had a daughter, Mary Elizabeth, who died from polio. The hospital in West Haverstraw, New York, where her daughter was treated was renamed Helen Hayes Hospital in her honor in the 1970s. (The hospital was also known as: New York Rehabilitation and Research Hospital, New York State Reconstruction Home, and New York State Orthopedic Hospital for Children.) She served on the Board of Trustees until she died in 1993.
Helen Gurley Brown supported her sister who had polio.
Marlene Dietrich's daughter, Maria Riva, had polio.
Peter Falk's (actor) closest boyhood friend, Mike Holohan, was a polio survivor.
Laura Innes (actress - ER's Dr. Weaver) has a sister who had polio.
Mark McGwire's (baseball player) father had polio at age 7.
John W. Nordstrom's (founder of Nordstrom's Shoes) wife had polio.
Link to the American Academy of Achievement, and do a search for polio or individuals: Albright, Washington, Coppola, as well as Salk
"From the Internet - Did you know they'd had polio?" Post Polio Network (NSW-Australia) Inc. and Poet's Corner (with two Polio Poems).
Polio Survivors on the Internet, nice alphabetical list of many polios on Lincolnshire Post Polio Network.