Famous people with ADHD may have a positive effect on the public perspective of ADHD. Generally, the extraordinary achievements or achieved successes can contribute to overcoming social prejudices against ADHD. To improve understanding of the life-long progression of ADHD, historical figures or celebrities who potentially had ADHD were studied.
Individuals who claimed to have ADHD in ADHD-related websites and the media, or individuals who self-proclaimed to have ADHD in their biography were included in this study.* Anecdotes of individuals that were compatible with a diagnosis of ADHD and comorbid psychopathology were reviewed. Based on the criteria for ADHD in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5TM), individuals were evaluated to determine the possibility of a diagnosis of ADHD.† Individuals potentially with ADHD before the age of 12 years‡ or in adulthood§ were categorised into five classes: Class 1, compatible with ADHD; Class 2, likely compatible with ADHD; Class 3, less likely compatible with ADHD; Class 4, uncertain and deferred; and Class 5, not compatible with ADHD. Individuals determined as Classes 4 or 5 were excluded from the final analysis, and only sociodemographic data and comorbid psychiatric disorders were analysed for individuals categorised as Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3.
Of the 131 individuals initially reviewed, 39 were identified as Class 4 and 12 individuals were determined as Class 5. Of the remaining 80 individuals (Class 1, n=30; Class 2, n=33; Class 3, n=17), 88.8% were male and 17.5% were unmarried. Most individuals (47.5%) had been married once, 12.5% had remarried, 18.7% had been married three times and 3.8% had married four times. Legal, social and cultural professionals represented the largest proportion (45.0%), followed by the group of chief executives, senior officials and legislators (25.0%). The proportion of science and engineering professionals was 11.2%, as was legal, social, cultural and related associated professionals (11.2%). For the remaining individuals, two were health professionals, three were teaching professionals and one was described as armed forces-other ranks. In total, 133 comorbid psychiatric disorders were identified (1.66 per individual); only four individuals were assessed as having no psychiatric comorbidity. Personality disorder was the most common psychiatric comorbidity (25.5%) and included the following subtypes: narcissist (18.8%), obsessive compulsive disorder (3.8%), histrionic (1.5%) and antisocial (1.5%). Among all psychiatric comorbidities, narcissistic personality disorder was the most common psychiatric comorbidity. Substance-related and addictive disorder was reported in 15.8% of individuals, followed by bipolar disorder (9.7%), specific learning disorder (9.7%), depressive disorder (9.0%), obsessive compulsive disorder (9.0%), disruptive disorder (5.2%) and autism spectrum disorder (5.2%).
The occupations of all 80 individuals corresponded to the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-08) Skill Levels 3 and 4. Jobs at Skill Level 3 usually involve the performance of complex technical and practical tasks that require an extensive range of factual, technical and procedural knowledge in a specialised field (International Labour Organization, 2012). Skill Level 4 generally involves the performance of tasks that require complex problem-solving, decision-making and creativity based on an extensive range of theoretical and factual knowledge in a specialised field (International Labour Organization, 2012). This emphasises that adults with ADHD may have occupations with higher skills according to personal characteristics, including higher level of intelligence.
This study has some limitations. Firstly, these data were based on research materials and not medical records. Therefore, it was not possible to guarantee the accuracy of ADHD diagnosis and comorbid psychiatric disorders in these individuals. Secondly, the individuals included in this study were socially or historically famous people, and the results may not be generalisable to the general population. Thirdly, the majority of these individuals had achievements in specific domains, which may require selective immersion with creativity unlike that observed in the general population, in addition to relatively less focus on certain parts of life. Finally, although the talents or intelligence could be attributed to the individuals’ achievement, it is possible that the parents/guardian, friends and partner may have contributed to the individuals’ success.
In conclusion, this study indicates that historical figures or celebrities with a potential diagnosis of ADHD have highly skilled occupations, highlighting the positive aspects of ADHD in adults.
Read more about ADHD in historical figures or celebrities here
*Using Google, the following keywords were used to search for individuals for inclusion in this study: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; ADHD; attention deficit disorder; ADD; historical person; celebrity; famous person; and adult ADHD. People of interest to the authors were also included. Data were accumulated from March 2011 to February 2017
†Individuals were classified according to the following criteria: (A) evidence and degree of symptoms (≥3 per category) prior to age 12 years; or (B) evidence and degree of symptoms in adulthood (≥5 per category)
‡Class 1, presence of ≥3 ADHD symptoms with obvious relevant evidence; Class 2, presence of ≥3 ADHD symptoms; Class 3, diagnostic criteria for ADHD are likely met but there are insufficient data available to confirm; Class 4, presence of <3 ADHD symptoms or there are insufficient data available to confirm diagnosis; Class 5, ADHD symptoms not identified
§Class 1, diagnostic criteria for ADHD met with no psychiatric comorbidity or ADHD is clearly prominent even in the presence of a psychiatric comorbidity; Class 2, possibility of overlapping ADHD symptoms with other diagnosis but predominant ADHD symptoms are confirmed; Class 3, difficult to distinguish ADHD from other diagnosis but ADHD characteristics are clinically confirmed; Class 4, difficult to determine the predominance between ADHD and psychiatric comorbidity, and the influence of external factors (e.g. environmental factors) on the occurrence of symptoms cannot be ruled out; Class 5, symptoms are likely to be due to a condition other than ADHD or are within the normal developmental range
International Labour Organization. The International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-08). Geneva. International Labour Office, 2012. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/stat/isco/isco08/. Accessed June 2020.
Lee JW et al. The positive aspects of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among famous people. Psychiatry Investig 2020; 17(5): 424-431.