Aphasia: From Bruce Willis to Emilia Clarke, celebrities who've battled the same devastating condition

Celebrities with aphasia: Bruce Willis, Emilia Clarke, Sharon Stone, Terry Jones. (Getty Images)
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Aphasia can be an upsetting health condition that affects your speech or language skills, usually caused by damage to the left side of the brain (like a stroke).

Symptoms can include trouble with reading, listening, speaking, typing or writing, but while it affects a person's ability to communicate, it doesn't affect their intelligence.

Despite aphasia affecting a third of the 1.3 million stroke survivors living in the UK, more than half of the British public have never heard of it, which is why the Stroke Association has launched the new Channel 4 documentary When the Words Away Went, to help give more of an insight.

Also helping to raise awareness, a number of celebrities have publicly shared their diagnosis or experience of the condition, which has affected some more severely than others.

Bruce Willis

Watch: Bruce Willis' family reveal his is 'stepping away' from acting due to aphasia diagnosis

Bruce Willis' family memorably announced he would be "stepping away" from his acting career due to the condition.

"Our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting hist cognitive abilities," his family – wife Emma Heming Willis, ex-wife Demi Moore, and daughters Rumer Willis, Scout Willis, Tallulah Willis, Mabel Willis and Evelyn Willis – shared in a joint statement in March 2022.

"As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him."

In March this year, his family said his condition has now progressed to frontotemporal dementia.

Emilia Clarke

Emilia Clarke, who has previously had aphasia, attends the EE British Academy Film Awards 2020 at Royal Albert Hall on February 02, 2020 in London, England. (WireImage)
Emilia Clarke's aphasia caused her to forget her own name. (Getty Images)

Emilia Clarke suffered an aneurysm (a bulge in a blood vessel) that caused a subarachnoid haemorrhage (an uncommon type of stroke) in 2011, shortly after finishing filming the first season of Game of Thrones.

She then had brain surgery, but two weeks afterwards, she couldn't remember her name. "Nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic," the actor, now 35, wrote in an essay for The New Yorker.

"I'd never experienced fear like that – a sense of doom closing in. I could see my life ahead, and it wasn't worth living. I am an actor; I need to remember my lines.

"I was suffering from a condition called aphasia, a consequence of the trauma my brain had suffered."

But, thankfully, after about a week back in the intensive care unit the aphasia passed, and she was able to speak again.

In 2013, she had to have a second operation to address another aneurysm that was about to "pop".

She has since set up SameYou, a charity that aims to provide treatment for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke.

Sharon Stone

American actress Sharon Stone, who spent two years recovering from aphasia, visits Dolce & Gabbana's boutique during the fifth day of the Milan Fashion Week Women's Fall Winter Collection 2022. Milan (Italy), February 26th, 2022 (Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Sharon Stone spent two years learning to walk, talk and read again. (Getty Images)

Sharon Stone was rushed to hospital in 2001 for a stroke that caused a "massive brain haemorrhage", she told The Hollywood Reporter.

After bleeding in her brain for nine days, the Basic Instinct star had a long journey recovering from typical symptoms of aphasia. "I spent two years learning to walk and talk again," she said. "I came home from that stroke stuttering, couldn’t read for two years."

Stone said it has been a "humbling journey", referencing that she had a hard time with her lines when on Law & Order. "I can talk about it now because I'm okay now."

Terry Jones

Terry Jones attends the Special Screening Narrative:
Terry Jones was diagnosed with a progressive form of aphasia, which affected his speech. (Getty Images)

Just before the late Monty Python star Terry Jones was about to receive the Bafta Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to Film and Television in 2016, his representative revealed he had been suffering from a severe case of aphasia.

"Terry has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a variant of frontotemporal dementia," the statement read.

"This illness affects his ability to communicate and he is no longer able to give interviews. Terry is proud and honoured to be recognised in this way and is looking forward to the celebrations."

Jones sadly passed away in 2020 at the age of 77 after battling the rare form of dementia.

Patricia Neal

Actress Patricia Neal attends the
Roald Dahl's wife Patricia Neal influenced the BFG with the way she began speaking after her stroke. (Getty Images)

Patricia Neal, wife of Roald Dahl, actually shaped the language in his book The BFG due to her aphasia symptoms. She suffered three consecutive strokes while pregnant with her fifth child, shortly after her first day of production on 1966 drama Seven Women.

When Neal woke from a coma, she was partially blind and paralysed on the right side of her body, and couldn't speak or remember anything. The Oscar winner semi-recovered from the paralysis but still had some difficulty speaking.

In an essay for The Guardian, a doctor and friend of the late Dahl said that while her speech began to return, "she struggled with the names of objects and people".

In his much-loved book, the Big Friendly Giant says, “Please understand that I cannot be helping it if I sometimes is saying things a little squiggly … Words is oh such a twitch tickling problem to me all my life.”

Neal died of lung cancer in 2010 at age 84.

For more information on what exactly aphasia is, see our useful guide detailing the signs and symptoms and causes.

For information on how to help people with aphasia, visit the charity Say Aphasia's website, call +44 (0)7796 143118 or email colin@sayaphasia.org.