They’re Just Like Us! Celebrities with OCD
There may be no illness more self-diagnosed than OCD. We hear it in everyday language as a matter of routine, people claiming they’re “so OCD” because of their own personal preference for keeping a bathroom clean or organizing their closet by color. But perhaps the surest way to know someone doesn’t have OCD is if they utter that statement.
OCD is a disease that dramatically (and often shamefully) interferes with the life of the sufferer. It’s not marked by minor bothers or slight annoyances – OCD is not the fly buzzing around the living room that you sometimes forget is there; it’s the wasp that flew into your bra and is stinging you over and over again.
Complicating things further, OCD doesn’t have a monopoly on its symptoms. This means that other mental illnesses can and do involve the hallmark sign of OCD: Intrusive thoughts. And, what’s more, intrusive thoughts happen in the normal brain, too.
When all of this is combined together, it’s no wonder that not very many people understand OCD for what it is. Even those in the mental health field who lack proper training tend to invalidate it and minimize it; some even poke fun at it. And it’s this almost pathological misunderstanding that has painted the wrong picture of a complicated illness.
All of this means that those who have been diagnosed with OCD will always have some suspicions of those who simply say they have it. Perhaps it’s invalidating of the other’s experience, but it’s a defense mechanism because OCD is so underestimated and misconstrued by our society. And, until it’s not, the defense mechanism is a necessary one.
Without knowing someone personally, knowing whether or not they were professionally diagnosed, or being privy to their inner thoughts and worries, it’s extraordinarily hard to say who truly has OCD. And so, this list, like most things on the internet, must be taken with a grain of salt.
Of course, some of the list consists of people whose OCD is very-well documented through first-hand accounts, their own candor, memoirs, and witnesses. When that kind of evidence doesn’t exist, it certainly doesn’t mean the person isn’t suffering from OCD (people have a right to their privacy, after all). But, because it is so misunderstood, it does mean some vigilance is required.
So, without further ado, here is a list of famous people who have OCD, believe they have OCD, or were believed, by historians, to have had it:
Howard Hughes was a business magnate, investor, philanthropist, film director, and aviation trail-blazer who was well-regarded as one of the most successful men of his era. But, in modern times, he’s almost as famous for his disease as he is for his accomplishments.
This is due, in part, to The Aviator, the Martin Scorsese film that centered around Hughes’s struggle with OCD (specifically, contamination and perfectionism). His OCD was so severe that he later became a recluse, never appearing in public and wasting away (due, partly, to a codeine addiction).
For most of his life, Hughes was regarded as an eccentric, rather than a man with a debilitating disease. OCD is misunderstood in modern day, which means it was even more misunderstood during his lifetime.
Looking back, many of Hughes’s obsessions were classic manifestations, while others were unique. They included:
- Compulsively eating the same types of food.
- Fixating on trivial details and insignificant imperfections in an effort to get things “just right”.
- Stacking and rearranging boxes of tissue.
- Using tissue as a barrier so he didn’t have to touch things.
- Watching the same movies over and over again while sitting in a chair, naked.
- Asking others to remove dust from their clothing.
- Storing his urine in bottles.
- Moving into the Desert Inn Hotel and refusing to leave (so he bought it instead).
- Leaving the drapes closed to the point they rotted through.
- Fearing radiation and pollution and going so far as to try to stop nuclear testing programs.
- Requiring people to give him a four-foot cushion and maintain a safe zone.
- Hiring an employee whose sole job was to catch flies (but the employee wasn’t allowed to kill them as Hughes believed that would spread germs).
- Writing a manual for his staff that instructed them on how to open a can of peaches (remove the label, scrub the can until it was bare metal, rewash, and pour the contents into a bowl without allowing the can to touch the bowl).
- Ordering staff to compulsively wash their hands with unused bars of soap.
- Ordering staff to cover their hands with paper towels or tissues whenever they served him food, opened cabinet doors, touched bathroom doorknobs, or retrieved his hearing aids.
- Ordering staff to wrap the spoons that Hughes ate with tissue and cellophane.
While contamination OCD is marked by compulsive hand washing or showering, Hughes proved to be an exception to this rule and rarely ever engaged in any personal hygienic practices. Some reports state that he believed germs could only come from other people (or outside elements) and not from himself, which led to his negligence regarding things like taking baths and brushing his teeth (and freed up his time to focus on his other cleaning compulsions).
In addition to OCD, Hughes suffered from chronic pain as the result of an experimental airplane crash in Beverly Hills when he was only 41. During the accident, he broke his back, cracked his ribs, crushed his collarbone, and severely burned his skin. He suffered in pain from then on and there’s some speculation that even showering – the pelting of water against his body – caused discomfort and played a role in his avoidance.
Howie Mandel, the comedian/game show host/talent show judge, is credited with making the fist bump famous, undoubtedly because his contamination fears kept him from wanting to ever shake hands. In his 2009 autobiography, Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me, he details a life hijacked by contamination OCD.
Some of his compulsions include:
- Taking multiple showers a day.
- Refusing to tie his shoelaces because they’d touched the ground.
- Wearing gloves and surgical masks around others due to a fear of germs.
- Refusing to shake hands or touch things (such as counter tops or doorknobs).
- Compulsively cleaning the environment around him.
- Setting up his hotel room so it feels safe (which includes removing the comforter and laying down a path of towels so he doesn’t have to touch the carpet).
- Shaving his head (as it helped him feel cleaner).
Marc Summers, of Double Dare, might be famous for a show that featured slime. But, in real life, he suffered from OCD and centered his life around neatness and orderliness. He wasn’t diagnosed until 1995 when he was 34-years-old (by comparison, most people are diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood) and he went public soon after.
Even though the nineties don’t seem like that long ago, they are centuries away in terms of our understanding of OCD and Marc’s career came to a screeching halt because of the ignorance about his condition.
He told People magazine, “I was supposed to be hosting Hollywood Squares and then lost the job because people didn’t understand what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was, and they were spreading rumors that I was difficult to work with and uncooperative, none of which was true. But people were not given the tools to learn what it was.”
Marc became an advocate to help spread awareness and credits Howie Mandel as a pioneer in speaking with candor about his condition.
Marc’s compulsions include:
- Cleaning his home at all hours, incessantly.
- Lying on the living room floor and carefully straightening the fringe of the rug.
- Reading every label on every product in the grocery store aisles.
- Making sure everything was in its place.
- Having to get things “just right”.
- Showering repeatedly.
Nowadays, Marc says he’s about 80% cured but OCD does sneak back in from time to time, which speaks to what we know about the disorder – it doesn’t go away entirely though it can be controlled.
OCD wasn’t really a thing back in the 1500’s, at least not in the sense of a diagnosable illness. Those who had it, had no choice but to wonder if they were crazy or evil; the true nature of the disease would not be discovered for centuries.
Even so, there are reports that Martin Luther, the German composer, priest, Augustinian monk, professor, and key player in the Protestant Reformation, suffered from what would eventually become known as OCD.
Specifically, it’s believed that he suffered from scrupulosity OCD. This makes perfect sense, given OCD’s unwelcome talent for attacking the sufferer’s highest values. As a man of God, he would have cared deeply about respecting religion and that provides OCD its desired fodder.
According to reports, Martin experienced the following:
- Intrusive thoughts of wrath that he tried to block from his mind.
- Blasphemous thoughts that left him confused and terrified.
- Tormenting urges to curse God or Jesus.
- Compulsive visits to confession so often that it annoyed other priests (which is in line with reassurance-seeking behavior that often occurs in OCD).
- An obsession with the devil’s behind that influenced the way he prayed.
To his credit, it appeared that he did recognize his thoughts as intrusive thoughts and not as a reflection of who he was as a person (though, to be fair, he erroneously blamed a God/Devil battle for these intrusive thoughts when OCD (its own type of devil) was really the driving force).
Martin once said there were two types of blasphemy, active and passive. He described the latter (which he experienced) as, “When the devil introduces such perverse thoughts into our heads against our will and in spite of our
struggle against them. By means of these thoughts, God wishes to occupy us so that we don’t get lazy and snore, but fight against them and pray.”
Samuel Johnson was an 18th century writer, poet, playwright, literary critic, editor, lexicographer, and moralist whose works found a place of prominence in English Literature. Among his many accomplishments: Creating the first English language dictionary.
It’s believed that Johnson not only suffered from OCD but also Tourette’s Syndrome, as there are reports of his “odd movements” and his own belief that he was falling into “madness”.
According to the book The Life of Samuel Johnson, Samuel once wrote, “When I surgery my past life, I discover nothing but a barren waste of time, with some disorders of body and disturbances of the mind very near to madness.”
Some of the acts he reportedly engaged in included:
- Performing a complicated ritual whenever he crossed the threshold of a doorway. The ritual involved twirling, twisting, and complicated hand motions before he jumped across in one giant leap.
- Avoiding cracks between the cobblestoned paths.
- Counting the steps when he walked up or down the stairs.
- Touching every post he passed to the point of needing to go back if he missed one.
His writings also speak to a tormented soul. In a 1766 prayer that’s widely credited to him, he wrote, “O God, grant me repentance, grant me reformation. Grant that I may be no longer disturbed with doubts and harassed with vain terrors.”
He also dropped clues in his works of fiction. In The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, he wrote the following: “Disorders of the intellect happen much more often than superficial observers will easily believe. Perhaps, if we speak with rigorous exactness, no human mind is in its right state. There is no man whose imagination does not sometimes predominate over this reason, who can regulate his attention wholly by his will, and whose ideas will come and go at his command. No man will be found in whose mind airy notions do not sometimes tyrannize and force him to hope or fear beyond the limits of sober probability. All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity; but while this power is such as we can control and repress, it is not visible to others, nor considered as any deprivation of the mental faculties: It is not pronounced madness but when it comes ungovernable, and apparently influences speech or action.”
Modern day sufferers might describe OCD in similar terms, though, admittedly, not as extravagantly.
Charles Darwin is the scientist best known for On the Origins of Species (from which the theory of evolution was first formulated). It’s possible that he could have also spoke on the origins of worrying, as many speculate he suffered from various ailments including OCD.
This speculation is due to Darwin’s well-documented struggle with intrusive thoughts. Some of his symptoms included:
- Intrusive thoughts that kept him awake at night.
- The fear that his children would inherit a mental illness unless he stopped and closed his eyes firmly.
- Craving reassurance from others and perfection from self.
- Repeating a reassurance mantra to himself.
- Fearing he had said the wrong thing or made the wrong impression.
- The belief that he had heart disease because he experienced the occasional heart palpitation (which are very common, usually benign, and nearly everyone experiences them from time to time).
Darwin also suffered from the belief that he was ugly. This is aligned with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which has similarities to OCD and is hypothesized to be on an OCD-spectrum. BDD typically manifests as an obsession over minor “defects” or “flaws” in one’s appearance, defects that are so small that others don’t even notice them. The sufferer experiences great shame in their appearance, nonetheless.
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor and engineer who revolutionized the way we use electricity. He is best known for his work surrounding the alternating current (which delivers power to houses, buildings, offices, hospitals, etc.).
In hindsight, the “Man who invented the 20th century” is also believed to be a “man who had OCD” and it’s rumored that he displayed symptoms as early as 1917.
At first, Tesla became obsessed with the number three and his obsessions dictated that he swim 33 laps at the public pool daily. If he lost count, he’d have to start over from scratch. He allegedly had the urge to walk a city block three times before entering a building as well. And, when he left the building, he only did so by making right hand turns.
His other reported obsessions and compulsions included:
- Eating dinner each night at exactly 8:10 PM with three napkins folded near his plate.
- Estimating the weight of his food before he ate it (he believed he couldn’t enjoy his dinner unless he knew how much it weighed).
- Counting how many times he chewed his food.
- Curling his toes repeatedly, hundreds of times a night (it’s difficult to say whether this was driven by anxiety or ambition as he believed curling his toes in this manner stimulated brain cells).
- A fear of germs that required him to polish and re-polish his silverware.
- A fear of shaking hands with others, touching hair, and pearls.
- An obsession with pigeons.
- An insistence that he stay in hotel rooms that were divisible by three (in the last decade of his life, he lived in Suite 3327 on the 33rd floor of the New Yorker Hotel).
Tesla was a lifelong celibate too (and perhaps the only man outside of the priesthood who would admit this). While he has said that he believed this enhanced his concentration when performing his various experiments, it’s always possible that OCD played a role. Contamination OCD, which involves the fear of germs, also involves the fear of communicable diseases and, specifically, STDs. Of course, it’s possible that he was simply asexual.
Amanda Seyfried, an American actress known for Big Love, Mama Mia, and Mean Girls (among others) has been candid about her OCD struggles.
During an interview with Allure magazine, she spoke about her medication, stating that she was on Lexapro and had been for eleven years. She also stated that she believed getting off of it to be too risky before advocating for the destigmatization of antidepressants. If they’re needed when dealing with OCD, they should be taken and looked upon in the same regard as medication taken for any physical problem. To her point, we don’t think anything of someone taking medication to control their high blood pressure; why should medication to control a mental illness be any different?
Some of her symptoms include:
- Health anxiety, especially the belief that she has a brain tumor (for those who have health-related OCD, a brain tumor is a very common obsession).
- Fear of leaving the oven on, ultimately burning down the house.
- Fear or remodeling the house due to her belief that placing the oven in certain spots could make it more dangerous.
David Beckham, the retired soccer player and husband of Posh Spice, has been one of the more visible celebrities when it comes to OCD. He’s a perfectionist and then some (side bar: you can be a perfectionist without having OCD but perfectionism is an OCD symptom).
His obsessions and compulsions include:
- Rearranging his hotel room to make sure everything is right.
- Lining up cans of soft drinks in the refrigerator and making sure the Pepsi cans are in pairs (if they’re an odd number, he stores the surplus somewhere else).
- Making sure things (like magazines) are lined up symmetrically.
- Counting his clothes to make sure they’re not odd-numbered.
- Spending hours straightening the furniture.
- Wearing a new pair of cleats to each soccer match.
- Buying a very specific (and even-numbered) amount of groceries.
Lena Dunham, most well-known for the TV show Girls, often speaks openly about her struggles with anxiety, including OCD. Her struggles were so severe that she missed 74 days during her sophomore year of high school (according to an interview she gave to Vogue).
She describes being afraid of everything, including obsessive fears surrounding:
- Unclean meat
- Foods that she didn’t witness come out of their packaging
- Foods that her mother didn’t taste first (assuring if the food were poison they would die together)
- Homeless people
- The subway system
Charlize Theron, the Oscar-winning actress who seems to be in every movie ever, has gone on record to say she has OCD. In a radio interview with Australia’s Kyle and Jackie she said, “I have OCD, which is not fun. I have to be incredibly tidy and organized or it messes with my mind and switches me off.” In a later interview, she relayed how her kids have helped with her condition by putting her anxiety in context and giving her the power to let go of certain rooms.
Some of the symptoms she’s addressed include:
- Anxiety that affects her ability to sleep.
- A need to keep everything in order.
- The idea that there are things in the cabinets that just don’t belong there.
The internet insists that Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor who rose to fame with Titanic, suffers from OCD though there’s not a lot of evidence to back this up. DiCaprio did, however, play Howard Hughes in the movie The Aviator, and it’s always possible that role linked him more closely with OCD. Naturally, it’s also possible that he does have it.
The only information circulated online focuses on his avoidance of cracks in the sidewalks and his insistence on stepping on chewing gum stains. These rituals are something that people with OCD may do, but they’re something that people without OCD (but who possess superstitions) may do as well.
In fact, the desire to avoid sidewalk cracks is present in many children thanks to folklore. Step on a crack and break your momma’s back – no kid wants to do that; they’d probably be grounded.
So, it’s possible that he has it or it’s possible that he merely has some particular quirks. It’s also possible that the internet is full of lies entirely.
Popstar Justin Timberlake is another celebrity who has admitted to having OCD (as well as ADD) but there’s not much detail involved in the revelation. He has said that OCD is severely disturbing to various aspects of his life, which paints the disorder accurately.
Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, didn’t reveal his struggles with OCD, but others did it for him. In the memoir, Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank, Barbara Sinatra conveys Frank’s afflictions of anxiety.
According to her, his symptoms included:
- An obsession with cleanliness.
- The compulsion to wash his hands over and over again.
- Taking several showers a day (around 12 or so).
Cameron Diaz, the blonde hair beauty who skyrocketed to fame thanks to her hair-raising role in There’s Something About Mary, is rumored to suffer from OCD.
But do you recall that grain of salt we discussed at the beginning of this article? Well, it’s time to grab the shaker.
While there are reports that Cameron suffers from OCD due to a fear of touching doorknobs, the need to clean her home compulsively, and her propensity for washing her hands multiple times a day, there is also a report that she went on record to say she doesn’t really think the condition is debilitating.
It’s hard to believe anyone with true OCD would ever say this as, by nature, OCD really must be debilitating in order to be OCD. It’s always possible to have OCD-like tendencies that don’t interfere with your life and don’t meet the definition of a “disorder.” It’s equally possible for OCD to become much less debilitating through treatment.
It’s always possible Cameron never said the above as the article from which the quote is pulled is, in itself, a bit suspect. It opens by describing her as a “former porn star” because she was in a movie early in her career where her breasts were allegedly exposed. The inflammatory and exaggerated reporting doesn’t really boost the reader’s confidence.
On the other hand, Cameron is widely reported as having OCD so it’s not a stretch to believe it, either.
Shock-jock and radio icon Howard Stern opened up about his struggles with OCD to David Letterman in 2018. He admitted to a failure to get help for a large part of his life and described going into the bathroom before work and touching things for hours.
He also offered poignant insight on the disorder, stating, “I’ve come to understand that this behavior is trying to control a world that is out of control.” As many OCD sufferers know, OCD is about control and the need to gain that control through absolute certainty.
He does discuss rage in his interview, which may be triggering for others with OCD, especially if they have harm obsessions. Rage and OCD are not linked in any regard and, often, those with OCD have a problem expressing anger, internalizing it and turning it into anxiety instead.
It’s possible to suffer from both rage and OCD as unrelated conditions. And Howard is an example of this.
Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton, the Oscar-winning actor and occasional director, playwright, and singer, has gone on record to say he has a “little bit OCD.” Again, as demonstrated throughout this article, OCD must affect your life in order to be OCD. That’s not to say he doesn’t have it (or didn’t get treatment that controls it) and it’s always possible that he’s minimizing the disorder out of shame or for another reason. But, if he does have rituals or worries that are minor in nature, it’s safe to say it’s not OCD.
Nonetheless, the rituals he admits to include:
- An obsession with mathematics.
- A compulsion towards repetition.
- Not being able to use certain numbers under certain circumstances.
Tim Howard, the well-known soccer goalie of World Cup fame, is very candid about his struggles with OCD and Tourette Syndrome, a disease that involves sudden and involuntary sounds or movements (called tics) that the sufferer can’t control.
While OCD and Tourette Syndrome are considered separate entities (and treated in separate ways), they do possess considerable overlap and the two disorders tend to accompany each other. In some studies, up to 60% of those with Tourette Syndrome have OCD symptoms and around 15% of children with OCD meet the Tourette Syndrome criteria (far more OCD-afflicted children have tics but not to the degree where it warrants a Tourette’s diagnosis).
Tim’s symptoms first began when he was ten and consisted of the following:
- The need to touch things (railings, door frames, walls, pictures) in a particular order and with a specific rhythm.
- The need to collect things (such as rocks, acorns, or dirt) he spotted on the way to school.
- Uncomfortable sensations in his body that were only relieved through a specific motor action (such as blinking, rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulders, or clearing his throat over and over).
Her symptoms include:
- A fear of public restrooms and the need to use toilet seat covers.
- The belief that flushing the toilet introduces all the bacteria from the bowl into the air.
- A fear of restaurant silverware that other people have used.
Jessica Alba, the actress known for Fantastic Four and Sin City, is reported as having OCD in the form of perfectionism and the need for control. While some of the rituals she’s discussed do align with OCD (such as unplugging all the appliances in the house or double checking the doors), she’s also claimed that OCD helps make her successful. She was once quoted as saying, “I can be a little obsessive compulsive about things, but that just means that when I do things, I do them proficiently and I do them to the best of my ability.”
With this quote comes a caveat because OCD isn’t something that drives people to success; it’s something that dramatically interferes with their lives. OCD can involve perfectionist tendencies that would help with achievement in theory (though you can be perfectionistic, even severely, without having OCD), but true OCD typically hinders success by forcing sufferers into time-consuming, nonsensical rituals.
As addressed in the beginning of this article, it’s hard to say for sure who has OCD and who doesn’t. People aren’t exactly walking around with their medical records for the world to see (nor should they be).
Several of the celebrities listed above only state that they have OCD, rather than stating that they’ve been diagnosed with it. It sounds like a silly argument around semantics, but – because OCD is so commonly and erroneously self-diagnosed – it’s a fair point.
The idea that everyone is “a little bit OCD” is worthy of discussion as well. Most people who suffer from OCD will tell you this feels like an extraordinary invalidating way to explain it. It’s inaccurate too, akin to saying someone is a “little bit clinically depressed” when they feel the occasional sadness.
However, people can have OCD-like tendencies without having OCD and when people claim that everyone is “a little OCD”, this is likely what they’re referring to.
Take superstitions, for example…..
Someone with OCD may go to great lengths to avoid walking under ladders or saying the number thirteen. They may never cross the path of a black cat or nearly pass out holding their breath under tunnels. But people without OCD might do these things too. If an OCD tendency, like a superstition, was enough to diagnose the disorder, nearly every player in Major League Baseball – a sport well known for superstitious compulsions – would be considered mentally ill.
Along these lines, you can be a germaphobe, a neat freak, or someone who likes order without having OCD. You can doublecheck your locks at nights without having OCD or count your steps from time to time when walking through the mall.
In short, you can have OCD quirks without having OCD. Typically, it’s when it interferes with daily life, causes intense and overwhelming anxiety, dictates your behaviors, and only lessens with treatment that it becomes OCD. By definition, OCD involves excessive thoughts and fears, often accompanied by even more excessive compulsions (though the disease does range in severity in individuals).
If the thoughts don’t really bother you (or only bother you a little bit), then you lack the disorder that defines OCD. It’s a disorder that is perpetuated by torment and terror. And that’s why it’s not really present on any minor level.
With all that said, we now know that there are celebrities who certainly have OCD and if they can find success in spite of their illness, so can everyone else.