16 Celebrities Who You May Not have Known are Deaf in One Ear

by JoHarrington

They are amongst some of the biggest names in entertainment, politics or the news, and these celebrities are deaf in one ear. Find out who they are and how it happened.

For every thousand people, between 6 - 12 will have some hearing loss in one ear. Around five of them will be completely deaf on one side.

With those kind of figures, it's hardly surprising that some amongst the rich and famous will be partially deaf in this way. But do you know who they are?

In this round-up of single-sided deaf celebrities, I've not included myself - because I'm not famous - nor any celebrity with partial hearing in one ear. Halle Berry didn't make the grade, as she has retained 20%, and One Direction's Louis Tomlinson isn't listed yet. He's going deaf in his right ear, but not yet profoundly so.

The World of Single-Sided Deaf Celebrities

Aka unilateral deafness, unilateral hearing, deaf in one ear, deaf on one side, one-sided deafness... I should imagine by now that a general theme has emerged!

Image: Skeikh Hasina WajedIt's not often that I've got anything in common with the glamorous, rich and famous, so forgive me this moment of milking it. 

Given a choice, I'd have probably gone for sharing the thunderous acclaim or fast cars over the single-sided deafness. But beggars can't be choosers.

I can console myself with the knowledge that my professional life must be so much easier than the average unilaterally hearing celebrity.

After all, I work from home, where all is peaceful and quiet.I can hide behind my computer screen, without having to worry about whether I've just missed hearing something important.

This is a luxury not apparent for people like Sheikh Hasina Wajed (pictured above). As the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, I should imagine that it's vital that she is kept in the loop. She can't get away with the kind of things that I do - piecing together what I think was just said, based on all of the visual clues and context.

I drive some of my friends up the wall doing that. She would end up driving a whole nation into wrack and ruin.

But unilaterally deaf people in general tend to be very resourceful in social situations. We have to be, because it's the least socially understood of all deafness. Hardly anyone intuitively knows how single-sided deafness affects how we discern sounds, especially since the rules change according to the types of background noise in our environment.

Given that Sheikh Hasina has been in politics for four decades, mostly at the head of her party - also taking into consideration that she's survived assassination attempts, military coups, arrest and ill-health, AND that she is one of the world's few female leaders, a democratic feat achieved in predominantly Islamic Bangladesh - I'm going to assume that Sheikh Hasina is very resourceful.

Not the sort to let a little one-sided hearing define her anyway, nor become an obstacle to achieving anything.

The Premier undoubtedly has a close circle of clued-in officials, with perfect understanding of when and where she can hear, the power to ensure favorable aural environments, and the ability to act as her ears when nothing else could be helped.

Thus the most powerful single-sided deaf person in the world can get on with running her country.

Much less able to control their environments are the entertainers who are deaf in one ear. Give or take the odd film set or recording studio, these individuals live in the limelight.

Stage shows, public appearances, press conferences (any conferences), promotional events, showbiz parties, even walking the red carpet into movie premiers and award ceremonies, have one thing in common - crowds.

With crowds come background noise aplenty, and the same kinds of noises en masse as well. I shudder to imagine it, but I can certainly do that.

The unilaterally deaf cannot tell direction of sound. You need two ears - dual sources of aural stimuli - in order to triangulate that. We can tell what's loud or quiet. The closest we get to hearing distance is assuming that quieter sounds are further away. We hear in 2D. The aural world is flat.

Moreover, some single-sided deaf people suffer from a phenomena called 'ghost beeps'. It's their brains attempting to compensate for the missed data by providing noise of it's own, similar but not quite the same as tinnitus.

Discerning individual voices - fans calling for autographs, or journalists yelling questions live on television - would the aural equivalent of picking out a turquoise line drawn against a turquoise base.

But it's worse than that. The sheer cacophony hurts. It muddies the mind, making it very difficult to think. It's hard work, concentrating through that. Do it for too long and you get a headache.

It's exhausting. Face that seemingly physical assault of sound while tired, and you become very unreasonable about it.

Single-sided deaf people have quite a reputation for suddenly lashing out - verbally or otherwise - because they just hit their limit.

Yet deaf in one ear celebrities can't let their guard down once.

They have to keep on smiling and doing their best to interact.. Appearing to ignore fans, or accidentally giving the wrong response after shouted journalistic inquiries, could destroy a career.

This is the age of cyber technology in the street. Within seconds of any mistake, that footage could be streamed across the globe.

So next time you see a known unilaterally deaf celebrity in a crowd, watch how they compensate for their lack of hearing and the confusion wrought within their heads.

Then truly understand how, for them, the show must go on.

Ready to meet some of them?

Mr Bungle 'Slowly Growing Deaf'

Mr Bungle lead singer and lyricist Mike Patten suffers from single-sided tinnitius.

'The louder you speak the more I can hear
The less I can understand
Pound on it, pound it in
To my ears the greatest sin
Feel a bit like Beethoven

Paint my lungs so silently
The darkest color of your noise
A crowd will contradict it's own audibility
Can't hear the dialogue for the voice

No one is listening
Yet ears are ringing...'

Slowly Growing Deaf

Single track from the 1991 eponymous album 'Mr Bungle'.

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Famous People with Unilateral Hearing

Can you name these eleven celebrities with single-sided deafness? Test yourself, then continue on down to see if you were right!
Famous people who are deaf  in one ear
Famous people who are deaf in one ear
Collage by Jo Harrington

Not every celebrity who is deaf in one ear is represented here.  (My latest list has amassed thirty-two famous names!)  But here is the low-down on those pictured, beginning with American actress Maggie Q in the center, and working around clockwise.

Maggie Q - SSD Caused by Stunt Explosion!

We are used to seeing Maggie Q in all action roles. Yet this actress paid for her fame with right side hearing loss.

While filming a stunt scene, an explosion was triggered so close to her, that Maggie's ear-drum was completely blown out.

Her left ear was also temporarily damaged, but she managed to regain the hearing in that one.

She's never publicly said which movie was to blame. It could have been any of them!

The majority of her films and television shows involve things exploding left, right and center. Just think of Live Free or Die Hard, Mission Impossible III, Nikita, Naked Weapon or any other that you care to mention, then tell me that I'm right.

Films and TV Shows Starring Maggie Q

Nikita: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray]

In this sexy and suspenseful series, NIKITA has gone rogue. Division is an ultra-secret government agency...

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Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon

In 228 AD, a time when China was plagued by constant war and divided among three kingdoms, a hero arose...

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Live Free or Die Hard (Unrated Edition)

John McClane takes on an Internet-based terrorist organization who is systematically shutting down the United States.

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Mob Star: The Story of John Gotti

Mafia Boss Who Was Deaf in One Ear

More infamous than famous, John Gotti was one of America's most notorious Mafia dons, before the law finally caught up with him in 1992. He died a decade later in prison.

What's rarely mentioned, in the gruesome retelling of his crime career, is the fact that Godfather John Gotti was deaf in one ear.

Apparently it's an occupational hazard.  Gotti's own capo Dominick 'Skinny Dom' Pizzonia had single-sided deafness. He used that in his trial, as an excuse to change his guilty plea, stating that he'd misheard the judge's question.

Another unilaterally hearing associate was mobster-turned-FBI-informant John Bologna.

Mafia informer Ralph Natale also revealed that he was partially deaf in one ear. His hearing was lost when a shotgun accidentally went off, right next to him, within the enclosed confines of a car.

Who Guitarist - Loud Live Music Caused Deafness

For a while there, The Who held the Guinness World Record for the loudest live concerts on Earth.

In 1976, 120 decibels were registered 50 meters away from the speakers at their Charlton gig.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But John Entwhistle is now profoundly deaf, and Pete Townshend still suffers tinnitus as a result.

The latter qualifies here because he was already deaf in his right ear by then.

During the early '60s, Keith Moon used explosives on his drum kit. Pete Townshend was standing close by at the time, and the impact destroyed his ear drum on that side.

Hearing loss issues are why The Who rarely play live anymore (reputedly to Roger Daltrey's extreme frustration). John can't hear well enough to keep time with the rest of the band, and Pete has been warned that he risks what little hearing remains for himself.

Pete Townshend Memoir and Music with The Who

Who I Am: A Memoir

From the voice of a generation:...smashed his first guitar onstage, in 1964, by accident....heard the voice of God on a vibrating bed in rural Illinois....invented the Marshall ...

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The Who: The Ultimate Collection

This 2-CD, 35-track juggernaut packs the maximum, 24-bit mastered rock action from the world's greatest 'maximum R&B band'.

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Who's Next

A mix of old favorites and buried treasures makes this edition of Who's Next a must. One of the defining albums of...

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Tommy (2013 Deluxe Edition)

Tommy, The Who's breakthrough concept album - a full-blown rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy....

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Queen of J Pop's Fame Cost Left-side Hearing

Ayumi Hamasaki is one of Japan's best selling pop artists, but back in 2000 she had a stark choice to make regarding that.

Her star was only just rising, when she contracted an ear infection while touring. It was bad enough to hospitalize her for a few days. Doctors advised Ayumi to cancel her remaining tour dates. She hadn't missed one yet, but to continue was to expose her now sensitive hearing to dangerously high decibels.

She refused to let down her fans and her chance at fame. By 2008, she had attained super-star status, and was completely deaf in her left ear.

Ayumi Hamasaki Best Album on CD or Mp3

Holly Hunter - Hearing Loss Through Mumps

Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter's performances are always passionate. Words like 'intense' and 'edgy' abound, when critics describe her work or film-makers recall working with her.

Nancy Miller - executive producer on Saving Grace - recalled twelve hour meetings with the actress analyzing every scene in the movie, admitting that such scrutiny 'made me a better writer'.

'I think that my intensity comes from being profoundly deaf,' Holly Hunter once told a Daily Telegraph reporter. 'I have no hearing at all in my left ear.'

She went down with mumps when she was nine years old. It caused her single-sided hearing. Afterwards, Holly became so paranoid about missing social nuances that she fell into the habit of paying acute attention to everything.

Films starring Holly Hunter

The Piano

Winner of 3 Academy Awards® including Best Actress (Holly Hunter) and Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin), THE PIANO weaves the passionate tale of Ada, a young mute woman (Hun...

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The Firm

Three-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise delivers the most electrifying performance of his career in this riveting film based on the international best-seller.

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"Brace yourself" (Rolling Stone) for a raw, revealing insight into urban adolescence that's so intense and realistic, "it's possible to turn away (Interview Magazine). Anxiously...

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Beach Boys 'Good Vibrations: Lost Studio Footage'

Brian Wilson is the one wearing the black shirt at the beginning, and the patterned waistcoat later. Orchestrating everything.

Beach Boys Music and Brian Wilson Biographies

Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story

Brian Wilson was the creative genius behind the Beach Boys. He turned a suburban California garage band into...

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Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson

Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, along with Mike Love and Al Jardine - better known as the Beach Boys, rocketed out of a working-class LA...

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Pet Sounds (Mono & Stereo Remasters)

2012 digital remaster of this classic 1966 studio album from beloved '60s band The Beach Boys...

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The Smile Sessions (2CD)

The long awaited release of the Brian Wilson and Beach Boys masterpiece, Smile Sessions. With the full participation of original Beach Boys...

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Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

The Beach Boys' musical genius Brian Wilson fell in love with 'Rhapsody in Blue' when he was just two years old. Decades later, he got to add his own remarkable talent to that of his idol.

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Sounds of Summer: Very Best of The Beach Boys

Nothing fancy about it, just a great deal-30 hits on a single CD! And here they are: California Girls; I Get Around; Surfin' Safari; Surfin' U.S.A.; Fun, Fun, Fun; Surfer Girl; ...

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Brian Wilson - Child Abuse Caused Deafness

When I was growing up, my parents were big Beach Boys fans. I was listening to them in the cradle. So when I went deaf in one ear aged nine, Brian Wilson was already there.

The first things I ever learned - about what was happening to me - were gleaned from Beach Boys biographies and interviews with the great man himself.

These tidbits included secret information that I've harbored ever since, like single-sided deaf people hear musical harmonies much better. Why else would folksie types stick fingers in one ear? And how else could Brian Wilson so exquisitely orchestrate his band?

For all that, I wish Brian hadn't been unilaterally deaf, because of the way that it reputedly occurred.

Murry Wilson - their mentally and physically abusive father - made the Wilson brothers' childhoods a living Hell. He was actually recorded verbally attacking Brian, captured on studio out-takes from the earliest albums of The Beach Boys.

"We had a sh*tty childhood," Dennis Wilson told the press, but only three years after his father was safely dead. "Our Dad used to whale on us."

Back in the 1960s, though Brian never publicly commented upon his deafness, his friends lined up to tell biographers what he said in private - parental violence had been the culprit, when he was only six years old. 

The most commonly reported story is that Murry smacked his eldest son over the side of his head, either with a 2 x 4 plank or with his fist, until Brian Wilson was deaf in his right ear.

More recently, Brian told an interviewer that he was born partially deaf. However, a decade before, he'd written that his hearing loss followed a beating from a neighborhood bully. Around the same time, he also had this to say:

"(My Dad) scared me so much I actually got scared into making good records."

Best-Selling Book by Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert - Deaf by Botched Surgery

American comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert has been deaf on one side since childhood.

By the very nature of his profession, he tends to joke about this a lot. Hence the stories surrounding it can be quite confused and contradictory. Piecing it together reveals the true horror behind the humor.

When Stephen was ten years old, his doctor identified a small tumor growing behind his right ear-drum. He was taken in for treatment, but the surgeon managed to perforate said ear-drum. Then decided to remove it along with the tumor.

The sharp-witted host of The Colbert Report is deaf in his right ear, because ear-drums are quite fundamental for hearing.

Robert Redford - Film Scenes Caused SSD

Until 2013, Robert Redford would not have been included in this list.

The veteran Hollywood actor joined the ranks of the single-sided deaf, while filming the epic adventure All is Lost

In his 76th year, Robert was determined to do his own stunts. He was playing to age anyway, so there was nothing too arduous on paper. Unfortunately the reality turned out to be a little more wearing than planned.

The survival movie takes place out at sea. This meant that Robert spent a considerable amount of time, perched on a prop yacht in a large water tank, being drenched repeatedly by a massive hosepipe.

As a result, the actor caught a chill, which turned into an ear infection. Antibiotics soon cleared that up, but it took his left-side hearing with it.

All is Lost Starring Robert Redford

Robert Redford stars as an older man alone, on his failing boat, in the middle of an ocean. Survival would take a lot in ingenuity and hope.

Rob Lowe Autobiography and DVDs

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography

A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe...

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The Outsiders

S.E. Hinton's best-selling classic, starting Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez. Directed by Ford Coppola.

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St. Elmo's Fire

Seven friends, recent college graduates, are searching for a place in the real world...

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The West Wing: The Complete First Season

Go behind the scenes and experience the inner workings of the White House in this innovative drama series...

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Rob Lowe - Virus Caused One-Sided Deafness

Movie and television actor Rob Lowe has been deaf in his right ear since infancy.

Nobody actually knows for certain what caused it. He was ill with a virus aged about eight or nine months. There has been some speculation since that it was undiagnosed mumps, but that's only guesswork.

It's certainly never held him back! Rob Lowe became internationally famous while he was still in his teens. He was a founding member of the Hollywood Brat Pack in the 1980s, and has never really dropped out of the limelight since.

These days, he's recognized mainly for his starring roles in The West Wing and Brothers & Sisters.

Growing up half deaf never really bothered Rob, because he didn't know any differently. Though his patience with background noise is now seriously waning.

'It's funny as I get older, it's harder and harder to be in, like, really loud restaurants drive me ballistic. That's really tough for me.' Rob told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 'Other than that, it's something I don't really think about.'

Rob Lowe played Dr Jack Startz in this 2013 star-studded bio-pic of Liberace.
Michael Douglas and Matt Damon star in a multi award-winning movie, that Hollywood executives deemed 'too gay' to make.

Jane Lynch - SSD Through Infant Fever

Actress Jane Lynch has starred in Glee, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Best in Show and Hollywood Game Night. She is deaf in her right ear.

Jane wasn't born with single-sided deafness, but she might as well have been. It's believed that a high fever, suffered when she was a baby, caused the nerve damage that took out her hearing.

Nobody even realized this until she was seven years old! 

As far as Jane was concerned, everyone heard the world from one ear. Then her brother plugged a set of earphones into a transistor radio, before holding them up to first one ear, then another. He was adamant that he could hear out of both ears.

Jane thought he was teasing her, so immediately reported him to their horrified mother. Thus her SSD was rumbled.

Happy Accidents: Memoir of Jane Lynch

Stephanie Beacham Autobiography and DVDs

Many Lives

Stephanie Beacham is one of the leading actors of her generation. In the course of a career which spans over 40 years, the RADA trained actress has treaded the boards of some of...

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The Nightcomers

Captivating and disturbing, this intense psychodrama with its haunting, twisted notion of sexuality puts a new spin on the characters from Henry James' celebrated ghost story, "...

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Dynasty - Season 9

The phenomenon of Dynasty reaches its crowning conclusion in the astonishing ninth and final season. A lifelong, deadly secret stuns everyone, marriages, fortunes and lives are ...

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Stephanie Beacham - Born Deaf in One Ear

British actress Stephanie Beacham has found fame on both sides of the Atlantic, in television and movies alike.

She's probably best known for her role Sable Colby, in the 1980s show The Colbys, which was later reprised in the last season of Dynasty.

Stephanie's mother Joan suffered a bout of chicken pox, while pregnant with her. The actress was born with no nerve endings - nor hearing - in her right ear.

She was badly bullied for it at school. Other pupils cruelly called her 'Deaf Steph'. (She still winces if anyone shortens her name to Steph.) Their assumption that deafness equated stupidity pushed her to really excel intellectually.

Known for her wit and the sharpness of her quick retorts, Stephanie credits that need to prove herself as the reason why.

Famous Achievers with Single-Sided Deafness

So how did you do on guessing the unilaterally deaf celebrities in the picture?

For your convenience, here's a full list of the sixteen individuals mentioned in this feature:

1, Sheikh Hasina Wajed (Bangladeshi Premier)  2, Mike Patten (Faith No More, Mr Bungle) 3, Maggie Q (Actress) 4, John Gotti (Mafia Don) 5, Dominick 'Skinny Dom' Pizzonia (Mafia Capo) 6, John Bologna (Mafia boss and FBI informer) 7, Ralph Natale (Mafia informer) 8, Pete Townshend (The Who) 9, Ayumi Hamasaki (Japanese singer) 10, Holly Hunter (Actress) 11, Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys) 12, Stephen Colbert (Television personality) 13, Robert Redford (Actor) 14, Rob Lowe (Actor) 15, Jane Lynch (Actress) and 16, Stephanie Beacham (Actress)

This is only a tiny sample of famous people who are deaf in one ear. Collectively they prove that SSD is no barrier to running a country, winning an Oscar, holding a world record, taking the music charts by storm, creating brilliant satire, running a criminal underworld or, indeed, writing for Wizzley.

Yes, I did ninja myself in at the end there. It's not often that I'm in such company, and I'm still milking that for all it's worth!

My Articles about One-Sided Deafness on Wizzley

Unilateral hearing can result in some excruciatingly awkward social situations. A heart-breaking search query has led to this article.
Alarms in your house warn of anything from a fire to a burglary. But what if the only person there is hearing impaired?
I've been deaf in one ear since I was nine years old. The most frustrating thing about that is other people. Grab an Angry Deaf badge to defend against the audists in your life.
The Age of the Internet has meant many things to many people, but for those with a hearing impairment it's been fantastic! Now we get a conversation without the hassle!
Updated: 02/19/2014, JoHarrington
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Taylor Made on 06/14/2016

Halle Berry was beaten by a famous boyfriend and lost hearing in one ear.

George Bailey from Bedford Falls lost hearing in one ear when he saved his brother from drowning.

JoHarrington on 02/25/2014

Thank you. And yes, Jane Lynch is SSD. :)

MonisMas on 02/25/2014

Jane Lynch - really?? Awesome article.

Guest on 02/24/2014

Or heading outside to have a sneaky fag (in your case) and a drink (in mine) so we can face the next onslaught? That must be how some of these celebs cope, I'm sure.

JoHarrington on 02/24/2014

Of course, we'll be signing at each other across a crowded and noisy conference room...

Guest on 02/24/2014

*Grins madly.* I think we're going to have a really good weekend if you make it to Revival this year, Jo. I'm looking forward to the weekend already, because it was such good fun last year even though you weren't able to be there.

JoHarrington on 02/24/2014

*cyber hi-fives your husband* That's my favourite party trick at wind down time too.

Guest on 02/24/2014

That sounds like my husband, whose party trick at geekend sleepovers is to sleep on his good ear!

JoHarrington on 02/23/2014

At least we get the excuse to just ignore it all. If it gets too much, I put my hand over my hearing ear and drown the lot of them out!

Guest on 02/23/2014

Seeing as I'm someone who can't cope with a roomful of loud people at the best of times, I can only imagine how much worse it is for those with SSD.

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