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Here Are 59 Actors Who Landed Oscar Nominations For Portraying Characters With Disabilities

History suggests that an Oscar-nominated actor in an physically or emotionally afflicted role has nearly a 50 percent shot of a win.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use OnlyMandatory Credit: Photo by ITV/REX/Shutterstock (733580my)'My Left Foot' - Daniel Day-LewisITV ARCHIVE

Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘My Left Foot’


Triumph over adversity is drama defined, and Oscar nominations often go to actors whose characters find victory over physical or mental afflictions. The earliest example goes back to 1947; that was the year that non-pro Harold Russell won Best Supporting Actor and a special award for “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Russell was a WWII veteran who lost both of his hands while making a training film. Of note: Of the 59, 27 of these nominations went on to a win. This year’s roster of stars playing afflicted characters includes Jake Gyllenhaal as bombing victim Jeff Baumer in “Stronger,” Andrew Garfield as polio survivor Robin Cavendish in “Breathe,” Bryan Cranston as a millionaire quadriplegic in “The Upside,” and Sally Hawkins in two roles, as an arthritic painter in “Maudie” and a mute lab worker in “The Shape of Water.” 

Check out Oscar’s rather astonishing legacy of afflicted contenders below.

Audrey Hepburn, Wait until dark (1967) starring Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna

Audrey Hepburn, “Wait until Dark”



1952: Best Actor nominee Arthur Kennedy in “Bright Victory.”

1966: Best Actress nominee Elizabeth Hartman in “A Patch of Blue.”

1968: Best Actress nominee Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark.”

1985: Best Supporting Actor nominee John Malkovich in “Places in the Heart.”

1993: Best Actor Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”

2005: Best Actor Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Ray.”

"The Miracle Worker"Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke 1962 United Artists ** I.V.

“The Miracle Worker” with Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke


1963: Best Supporting Actress Patty Duke as deaf/mute Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.”

1969: Best Actor nominee Alan Arkin as a deaf mute in “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.”

1971: Best Supporting Actor Sir John Mills as a mute “village idiot” in “Ryan’s Daughter.”

1988: Deaf Marlee Matlin won the Best Actress Oscar in “Children of a Lesser God.”

2007: Best Supporting Actress nominee Rinko Kikuchi plays a deaf teenager in “Babel.”

“The Piano”

Miramax Films


1994: Best Actress Holly Hunter is mute in “The Piano.”

2000: Best Supporting Actress nominee Samantha Morton is mute in “Sweet and Lowdown.”


Physically handicapped

1947: Best Supporting Actor and special award-winner Harold Russell in “The Best Years of Our Lives” was a non-pro veteran who lost both of his hands while making a training film during World War II.

1979: Best Actor Jon Voight plays a paraplegic Vietnam War veteran in “Coming Home.”

1990: Daniel Day-Lewis wins his first Oscar as Irish artist Christy Brown in “My Left Foot.”

1990: Oscar nominee Tom Cruise is paraplegic Vietnam vet Ron Kovic in “Born on the Fourth of July.”

1994: Supporting Actor nominee Gary Sinise is a CGI-enhanced double amputee in “Forrest Gump.”

1997: Best Actor nominee Woody Harrelson is a wheelchair-bound pornographer in “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”

2005: Best Actress Hillary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby” is a boxer who winds up a quadriplegic.

2006: Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva ends up in a wheelchair after a stroke in “Amour.”

“Born on the Fourth of July”

Mentally challenged

1958: Best Actress Joanne Woodward has multiple personality disorder in “The Three Faces of Eve.”

1969: Best Actor Cliff Robertson goes from mentally challenged to a brief run as a genius in “Charly.”

1983: In “Frances,” Best Actress nominee Jessica Lange took on institiutionalized actress Frances Farmer.

1989: Best Actor Dustin Hoffman is an autistic savant in “Rain Man.”

1992: Best Actor nominee Robin Williams plays a schizophrenic in “The Fisher King.”

1992: Best Actor Anthony Hopkins is insane serial killer Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

1994: Best Supporting Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio is developmentally disabled in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”

1995: Best Actor Tom Hanks is the simple-minded “Forrest Gump.”

1995: Best Actress nominee Jodie Foster can barely communicate as an isolated woman of the woods in “Nell.”

1995: Best Actress winner Jessica Lange is a flamboyantly manic-depressive military wife in “Blue Sky.”

1996: Best Supporting Actor nominee Brad Pitt is a mental patient in “12 Monkeys.”

1997: Best Actor Geoffrey Rush is schizophrenic pianist David Helfgott in “Shine.”

1997: Best Actor nominee Billy Bob Thornton is addled in the head in “Sling Blade.”

1997:  Best Supporting Actor Edward Norton has multiple personalities in “Primal Fear.”

1998: Best Actor Jack Nicholson is a control freak with OCD in “As Good As It Gets.”

2000: Best Supporting Actress Angelina Jolie is a conflicted mental patient in “Girl, Interrupted.”

2002: Best Actor nominee Sean Penn is developmentally disabled in “I Am Sam.”

2003: Best Actress Nicole Kidman fights depression and suicidal tendencies as author Virginia Woolf in “The Hours.”

2005: Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio is eccentric OCD sufferer Howard Hughes in “The Aviator.”

2008: Best Actress nominee Julie Christie has Alzheimer’s Disease in “Away From Her.”

2009: Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Shannon is insane in “Revolutionary Road.”

2013: Best Actor nominee Bradley Cooper suffers from bipolar disorder in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

“The Aviator”

Disease (physical and mental)

1984: Best Actress nominee Debra Winger fights cancer in “Terms of Endearment.”

1990: Best Supporting Actress nominee Julia Roberts fights diabetes in “Steel Magnolias.”

1991: Best Actor nominee Robert De Niro is catatonic due to neurological disease in “Awakenings.”

1994: Best Actress nominee Debra Winger succumbs to cancer in “Shadowlands.”

1998: Best Actress nominee Meryl Streep faces cancer in “One True Thing.”

1994: Best Actor Tom Hanks has AIDS in “Philadelphia.”

1998: Best Actress nominee Emily Watson battles multiple sclerosis in “Hillary and Jackie.”

2001: Best Actress nominee Ellen Burstyn is a delirious pill-popping addict in “Requiem for a Dream.”

2002: Best Actress nominee Judi Dench suffers from Alzheimer’s disease in “Iris.”

2008: Best Supporting Actor nominee  Tom Wilkinson stops taking his meds in “Michael Clayton.”

2011: Best Actor nominee Javier Bardem struggles with terminal prostate cancer in “Biutiful.”

2014: Best Actor Matthew McConaughey gets skinny with AIDS in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

2014: Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto also is rail thin with AIDS in the same movie.

2015: Best Actor Eddie Redmayne has ALS as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”

2015: Best Actress Julianne Moore has Alzheimer’s Disease in “Still Alice.”

“Dallas Buyers Club”

Other afflictions

2011: Best Actor Colin Firth stutters in “The King’s Speech” as King George VI.

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