In his 1992 song The Sacrifice of Victor, rock legend Prince recounts how he was “Epileptic 'til the age of 7”. It’s impossible to know how much this challenging experience turned him into the superstar he became, but the song seems to suggest his difficult childhood contributed to his success. And Prince isn’t the only singer with epilepsy who overcame great challenges before his talent was recognized.
From country to classical, rock-n-roll to rap, pop to punk, people with epilepsy have made a name for themselves in every genre imaginable. Some singers with epilepsy have chosen to write music about their condition – but they certainly don’t let it define them. Here are six of the best-known singers with epilepsy in the world.
The 7 best-known singers with epilepsy
Here are 6 singers with epilepsy who have sold millions of records over the past few decades:
1. Prince, 1958 - 2016
One of the greatest guitarists of all time, Prince is a rock legend. Best known for songs like Purple Rain, Kiss and When Doves Cry, Prince had a flamboyant persona and once even changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol .
Prince was a private individual and revealed very little about his personal life. However, in one 2009 interview he told a talk-show host that he had seizures as a child and that his parents struggled to handle it.
2. Lil Wayne, 1982 – present
Hugely influential and with an unforgettable style, rapper Lil Wayne has played a major role in the development of the southern hip-hop movement. He is the winner of five Grammy Awards and has sold 120 million records worldwide.
Lil Wayne has been open about his epileptic seizures which he has lived with all his life. He told music magazine NME that he has experienced more seizures at times he’s been stressed or overworked.
3. Neil Young, 1945 – present
One of the best-known singers with epilepsy, Neil Young is a rock legend. The Canadian, who lives in Los Angeles, produces rock, folk and country songs and is instantly recognizable for his tenor voice. Songs like Heart of Gold, Harvest Moon and Rockin’ in the Free World have established him as one of the greatest musicians of the modern era.
Young has been very open about life with epilepsy which he describes in his memoir. He developed epilepsy as an adult in 1966 and once told a journalist that a seizure felt like “You slip into some other world”.
4. Sir Elton John, 1947 – present
Ranked as the most successful male solo artist of all time, English singer Elton John has sold over 300 million records throughout his career, including many number 1 singles in the Hot 100. He also holds the record for the best-selling single of all time, 1997’s Candle In The Wind which sold 33 million copies.
5. Susan Boyle, 1961 – present
Scottish singer Susan Boyle rose to fame after appearing on UK TV show Britain’s Got Talent. Boyle’s beautiful covers of songs like I Dreamed a Dream and The Winner Takes It All were hugely popular, and her debut 2009 album topped the Billboard 200 for six weeks.
Susan has often spoken about how she had epilepsy as a child and said that she would often have seizures which caused her to pass out at school.
6. Jimmy Reed, 1925 – 1976
With his instantly recognizable voice, Blues singer Jimmy Reed created a unique style of electric Blues. Songs like Baby What You Want Me to Do? and High and Lonesome were hugely popular and influenced other musicians like Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones.
Reed developed epilepsy in 1957, although it went undiagnosed for many months.
7. Martin Kemp, 1961 – present
Martin Kemp was the bass guitarist of British band Spandau Ballet, a new-wave group that formed in 1979 and had numerous global hits in the 1980s. Some of their best-known tracks include Gold and True. Spandau Ballet broke up in the 1990s, but have gotten back together for reunions over the years. Kemp has gone on to forge a career as an actor in films and several popular British TV series.
In 1995, Kemp underwent surgery to remove two brain tumors, and began having seizures due to the bruising and trauma from that experience. He has taken epilepsy medication ever since, which helps to control his seizures.
Kemp is passionate about raising awareness of the condition, and has spoken about how “public understanding of epilepsy is poor, clouded by misconceptions and unfounded fears”. He is also a patron of the Encephalitis Society, a charity that focuses on different kinds of brain inflammation (and which can be a cause of epilepsy).
Other singers with epilepsy
These are just some of the best-known singers with epilepsy – there are many more playing music from different genres, right around the world. While epilepsy can certainly be challenging, these music superstars remind us that many people with epilepsy can go on to achieve great things in art.