Lots of famous people with Marfan syndrome have excelled in their respective fields, and THAT should be something to cheer about for all those who have been diagnosed with it and their families.
We have already talked at length about the causes of Marfan syndrome and Marfan syndrome symptoms and know very well by now that it isa predominantly genetic disorder though it may be caused by genetic anomalies in 30% of the cases.
Suggested reading: Causes of Marfan Syndrome
Famous People with Marfan Syndrome/ Famous Marfan Syndrome sufferers
Though it can cause a lot of complications and malfunctioning in many parts/ systems of the body, there is no reason to believe that people with this problem cannot lead normal, healthy and long lives.
These famous Marfan syndrome sufferers never took their disorder as a handicap and did not let it deter them from doing what they wanted to!
Suggested reading: Symptoms of Marfan syndrome
With a little care and regular medical check-up, it is very much possible to scale new heights in any chosen field inspite of being affected by this debilitating disorder.
Suggested reading: Diagnosing Marfan syndrome
Scientists now state in unambiguous terms that Tutankhamen’s father, Akhenaten, did indeed suffer from this genetic anomaly. His unusually wide hips and huge breasts almost made him look like a woman. And, strange though it may sound, his mother also showed some physical attributes typically characteristic of this syndrome. Some of their daughters too had unusually long limbs, fingers and toes.
This famous boy pharaoh, who died at the age of 17, was 1.65m tall and had an unusually curved spine which makes the scientists wonder whether he did suffer from this problem at all. Some of them assert that it might have been a similar disorder, the Klippel-Feil syndrome, and not the Marfan syndrome after all.
Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587)
This famous queen of Scotland (she inherited the throne when she was only six days old) was the only legitimate survivor of King James V and ruled on for the next 25 years inspite of being affected by the Marfan syndrome.
Known for her exceptional beauty, and delicately beautiful hands, she often suffered from ill-health since she had rheumatoid arthritis. Almost six feet tall (5’11”), she was held a captive for almost 25 years before being beheaded finally for ‘being a part of a conspiracy to kill Queen Elizabeth I’.
Niccolo Paganini (1780-1840)
This extremely talented Italian composer and violinist showed all the typical traits of a person affected by this problem though, of course, it went undetected. He was unusually tall and thin and his emaciated look made him the butt of many a jokes among the caricaturists of that era.
Paganini’s physician once did observe that his fingers were disproportionately long as compared to his palm which goes to reaffirm the fact that he was indeed affected by this disorder. He lost his voice towards the end of his life, and the scientists today attribute it to a paralysis of the laryngeal nerve.
Most people of the era believed that his ‘prodigious success with the violin’ was probably due to his unusually long and flexible fingers. He might, however, have been affected by a similar disorder of the connective tissue called the Ehler-Danlos syndrome.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Some physical attributes of the 16th US president actually have the researchers wonder whether he was actually a case of Marfan syndrome.
As against the average height of 1.68 m at the age of 17, he was 1.98 m tall and his height earned him the nickname of ‘tall spider of a boy’ at school. His long and bony face and disproportionately long fingers and hands make him, undoubtedly, one of the most famous people with Marfan syndrome.
Whether Prez Lincoln actually suffered from the syndrome will remain a matter of great speculation for a long time to come. More so because though an extremely distant relative who shared 1/4048th of his genetic material was diagnosed to be a case of this disorder, doctors believe his hands were too strong and muscular for a person suffering from this disorder.
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
I don’t quite know how but I’d missed out this famous Blues guitarist from this list. Thanks to an alert reader for pointing out the omission!
When this famous and extremely gifted guitarist died at the young age of 27, he was said to have died of pneumonia, syphilis, strychnine poisoning, blah blah.
It is now widely believed that his premature death was caused by heart complications, and not due to any of the reasons mentioned above. Infact, experts now believe that his unique style of playing the guitar could be because of arachnodactyly (loose joints), which made his fingers more flexible and quick than a normal person’s.
Vincent Schiavelli (1948-2005)
Vincent Schiavelli was a famous American actor who worked in many television shows and dazzled at the silver screen too.
Schiavelli was one of the first famous people to have been diagnosed with this defect, and he was closely associated with the National Marfan foundation, an association which provides support to those affected by this disorder. He lost his life to lung cancer after a long and protracted battle with the deadly killer in 2005.
Suggested reading: Marfan Syndrome Treatment
Jonathan Larson (1960-1996)
An American composer and playwright who took up serious issues like addiction, multiculturalism and homophobia in his works, Jonathan Larson was a classic case of undetected Marfan syndrome. Though he struggled for fame all his life (which he lost to aneurysm the night before he would have become famous), fame came to him only after he lost his life to aortic dissection. Posthumously (ALAS!), he received three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his rock opera Rent.
Larson’s audience was at an all time high when his cello piece, Song for Athene, was played at Princess Diana’s funeral. Inspite of having received several deathly blows at the hands of Marfan syndrome, he continues to fight the disorder valiantly.
Flo Hyman (1954-1986)
Almost 6’5” tall, this charismatic player walked this earth for a short span of 32 years only. She was a legend in her lifetime and one of the tributes paid to her read that it is “impossible to quantify the impact Flo Hyman had on the sport of volleyball with just words”.
She was an America volley ball player and an Olympic silver medalist. She died during a volleyball match in Japan in 1986 of aortic dissection. Marfan syndrome, in her case, was diagnosed only after she’d died.
Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011)
A very famous person with Marfan syndrome (??) of our times was the powerful, billionaire warlord Osama Bin Laden. Born to a Saudi construction magnate, he grew up to a height of 6’6”, which was extraordinary for his family.
Osama Bin Laden’s long, bony face and extremely frail body, very long fingers and arms all do point towards the fact that he did suffer from this disorder. Inspite of his height, he weighed only 160 pounds. He used a cane for walking most of the time, which further reaffirms that he had a problem with his spinal cord as well which is common with people suffering from this syndrome.
One of the famous Marfan syndrome sufferers, he was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the not so distant past.
The disorder could not be diagnosed in his case, probably because he spent most of his life as a fugitive. What we do know for sure was that he did suffer from ill-health on many accounts even while he was on the run.
Michael Phelps (1985- )
Aspersions have been cast over this Golden boy’s capabilities by some jealous detractors in the recent times. Some have gone on to allege that his unparalleled gold medal award winning feat is perhaps because of his affliction with this abominable disorder, making him perhaps one of the most famous Marfan syndrome sufferers (??)
Since it would not be fair to attribute all of his success for someone of his caliber to an affliction, we have talked about him at length in our article: Does Michael Phelps have Marfan Syndrome?
This list is meant to serve as a source of inspiration to those who have been diagnosed with this disorder. Timely Marfan syndrome diagnosis can go a long way in beginning the Marfan syndrome treatment in time and avoiding most of the problems that arise due to this disorder.
Don’t think of your disorder as a handicap, and take some inspiration from these famous people with Marfan syndrome.