Eye disease is more common than you may think. Though sometimes discouraging, eye conditions and vision impairments do not have to keep you from living your life. For 2020: Year of the Eye, the American Academy of Ophthalmology presents you with 20 actors, musicians, artists and other famous people who achieved success while living with chronic eye conditions.
1. Mila Kunis
"I was blind in one eye for many years, and nobody knew," said Kunis in an interview with Cosmopolitan. The actress had a cataract in one eye caused by iritis, potentially severe inflammation that occurs in the front part of the eye including the iris, the colored part of the eye. Successful cataract surgery restored her vision.
2. Claude Monet
The famous artist known for his scenic oil paintings had cataracts for many years. A cataract is a natural aging change of the eyes, which causes the lens to grow and become yellow/brown as it worsens. A symptom of cataracts is blurry vision and seeing colors that are dull or with a yellow-tint, which some believe impacted his art. He eventually had a successful cataract surgery.
3. Ray Charles
Untreated glaucoma stole musician Ray Charles’ sight as a child. In an interview, he told New Musical Express that he didn’t see blindness as a drawback at all. He learned piano using the Braille system and became one of the most famous blues musicians in the world.
4. Ella Fitzgerald
Known as the First Lady of Song, this award-winning jazz singer suffered from advanced diabetes. The disease came with many health complications for Fitzgerald, including loss of vision. Diabetic retinopathy happens when high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels in the retina and can lead to bleeding and swelling inside the eyes.
5. President Abraham Lincoln
The 16th president of the United States had strabismus, a condition where the eyes are not aligned and may be turned inward or outward. Malaligned eyes in children can lead to permanent poor vision development. In Lincoln’s case, his left eye was naturally higher than his right and rolled upward when he was tired or excited. His eyes were said to “roll wildly” during a passionate 1860 presidential debate.
The lead singer of U2 thought he had perfect vision, but was diagnosed with glaucoma during a routine eye exam. Treatments help him maintain his sight. Bono’s experience serves as a reminder that glaucoma doesn’t have to mean blindness; regular eye exams are important for early diagnosis and continuing treatment as instructed by an ophthalmologist is the best way to preserve vision.
7. Stephen King
The well-known horror writer has age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The disease begins in a part of the retina called the macula, causing the loss of central vision. Risk factors may include smoking, age, UV light exposure and genetics.
8. Sugar Ray Leonard
Professional boxer Sugar Ray Leonard had eye surgery to repair a partially detached retina. The injury happened after the boxer was hit in the eye during a fight. Leonard made a comeback and continued his boxing career after the surgery.
9. Stephen Curry
Professional basketball player Stephen Curry was diagnosed with keratoconus, a condition where the cornea, the clear cover of the eye, becomes thinned and cone shaped over time. It is progressive through adolescence and early adult hood. Luckily, he underwent a procedure called corneal crosslinking, to strengthen his corneas. With the help of specialized contact lenses, this has helped improve his vision. The athlete told The Athletic that although squinting on the basketball court was beginning to feel normal, corrected vision improved his game.
10. Missy Elliott
Grave’s disease is an autoimmune thyroid disease which sometimes causes the eyes to become more prominent and bulge, and in severe forms can even cause loss of vision. Hip-hop musician Missy Elliott experienced this eye-related symptom, but has seen significant improvement thanks to regular eye exams, medical assistance and a healthy lifestyle, she told People Magazine.
11. Kristen Bell
Actress Kristen Bell swears you can see her right eye drift on film sometimes—a result of strabismus. In an interview on The Late Late Show, she described how the camera crew often yells out “Wonky,” a code word to let her know her right eye is beginning to drift. Bell says the strabismus is most noticeable when she’s tired.
12. Jose Feliciano
Known for the Christmas classic, “Feliz Navidad,” musician Jose Feliciano lost his sight as a child due to untreated glaucoma. In an interview with Hawaii Public Radio, Feliciano, who began playing guitar at age nine, says he is grateful for “being born with vision,” even without his eyesight. “Vision is also what you feel inside and that’s what makes a great visionary.”
13. Dame Judi Dench
Diagnosed with dry AMD in one eye and wet AMD in the other, Dench continues her award-winning acting career. She uses various low vision tools and techniques to help maintain independence, such as a mobile app made for people with AMD to read the news. Dench told the Sunday Post, "I just want to go on being mobile, really, and being able to do things. I’m not going to be beaten by my eyes.”
14. Venus Williams
The famous tennis player has Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the body’s moisture-producing glands. This often leads to severe dry eye which can cause eye pain, blurry vision, and even lead to infections. Now Williams always brings eye drops on the court with her to help ease discomfort and improve vision.
15. Joseph Pulitzer
The newspaper publisher behind the well-known Pulitzer Prize had a retinal detachment at the age of 42. Although blindness eventually meant the end of his 16-hour workdays, Pulitzer continued to manage the New York World newspaper from home up until retirement.
16. Brittany Howard
The lead singer of the soul-rock band, Alabama Shakes, is blind in one eye. She survived retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer, as a child. The disease is often genetic, and sadly Howard’s sister passed away from retinoblastoma during childhood. To cope, Howard turned to music, which eventually led to her award-winning career. An abnormal white reflection in a childs eye, a wandering eye, or redness and swelling should warrant an immediate visit to the ophthalmologist in any young child.
17. Apl.de.ap (Black Eyed Peas)
A band member of The Black Eyed Peas, Apl.de.ap was legally blind before having artificial lens inserted during eye surgery. His vision declined to the point where he had trouble making out faces. In addition to being extremely nearsighted, he also had an eye condition where the eye moves uncontrollably called nystagmus.
18. Larry King
One of the most notable figures in television, award-winning talk show host Larry King had cataract surgery. Cataracts are a normal aging change of the natural lens inside the eye. Eventually the cataract grows so much that it causes vision to be blurry and can causes colors to appear less bright. Cataract surgery is a very safe and effective surgery to restore vision. Upon his retirement from CNN, King continues to write and appear on television thanks to his continued good vision.
19. Stevie Wonder
The famous musician was born blind due to a rare condition called retinopathy of prematurity. The eye disease can occur in premature babies and is when abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina in the back of the eye. Despite the disease, Wonder is one of the most successful musicians of his time. He holds many recognitions, including the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song awarded to him by President Barack Obama.
20. Georgia O’Keeffe
A famous painter known for her contributions to American modern art, O’Keeffe refused to give up her artistic vision once her eyesight began to decline from AMD. Instead, she hired assistants to help her mix her paints and eventually picked up sculpting as a new artform.