"Changing obstacles into true potential!"  Epilepsy South Africa  |  


Achievers with Epilepsy

In the World and in South Africa there are many people with epilepsy who has achieved in life. Some well known people who have / had epilepsy include:

jonty rhodes
vusivan goghbonapartenobelvladimir
joan of arcdostoyevskylord byronjulius caesaralexander the greatsocrates

Jonathan Neil (Jonty) Rhodes

Born 27 July 1969 in Pietermaritzburg (South Africa).

He was a South African cricketer, who was especially noted for his feats whilst fielding. A right handed batsman, he represented the South African national side in both the Test match and one-day international forms of the game. During his career he also played first-class cricket for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, KwaZulu-Natal and Natal.

He is not only noted as a fantastic fielder, one of the best fielders in cricketing history, but also as a quick runner between the wickets and a batsman who likes to keep the scoreboard ticking over. In 1999 Jonty was voted as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year and in 2004 he was voted 29th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in SABC3’s Great South Africans television series.

A Jonty Rhodes 50 cent coin was made to commemorate the 2003 Cricket World Cup in South Africa. Currently, he tours extensively with the Proteas as the team’s fielding coach.

After Rhodes's famous run out of Inzamam-Ul-Haq, he revealed in an interview that he had epilepsy. On hearing this, Epilepsy South Africa approached Jonty to ask him if he would be interested in working with the organisation. He has become a role model to children and youth with epilepsy and has proved that the condition need not be a disabling one.


Back to top

Vusi Mahlasela


Born in 1965 in Lady Selbourne (near Pretoria, South Africa).

Growing up in Mamelodi, Vusi Sidney Mahlasela Ka Zwane never knew his father, lost his mother at a young age, and was raised by his maternal grandmother. The young Vusi began to teach himself to play on a homemade guitar (a remarkable instrument made of tin cans and fishing line) and was a seasoned performer by the age of seventeen.

He started writing his own music and lyrics focusing on the themes of political and social significance. An accomplished guitarist, percussionist, composer, arranger, band leader and performer, Vusi now enjoys an ever-growing following that spans worldwide. In his home country of South Africa, Vusi is fondly known as "The Voice".

Vusi’s music is featured in the Oscar-winning South African film “Tsotsi” and he has acted as a spokesperson for people with epilepsy and has become a local role-model for children and youth with epilepsy.

Back to top

Van Gogh


Born 30 March 1853 in Groot-Zundert (Holland); died 29 July 1890 in Auvers-sur-Oise (France).

A 19th-century painter, Van Gogh is almost as famous for his mental instability as for his vivid paintings. His career as an artist lasted only 10 years and coincided with frequent bouts of depression and anguish; in a famous 1888 incident he slashed off his left earlobe with a razor.

He died a pauper 2 days after shooting himself in the chest with a pistol, having sold only one single painting in his lifetime – a far cry from the millions paid for his work after his death. For the largest part of his life, Van Gogh was financially supported by his brother, Theo.

Van Gogh lived with focal epilepsy accompanied by simple focal and complex focal seizures. A difficult, protracted birth, pronouncedly abnormal behaviour in childhood but normal intelligence, and focal and possibly also secondary generalized epileptic seizures points to the temporal region as the focus of the epileptic activity. It is also possible that there was a genetic tendency to epilepsy in the family as evidenced by indications that van Gogh's mother's sister, his brother (Theo), and his nine years younger sister Wilhelmine also experienced epileptic seizures for a time. It will never be known in how far the therapy-resistant seizures played a role in van Gogh's decision to commit suicide. However, the painter's letters reveal that his seizures were a source of great suffering for him. His last words, spoken to his brother on his deathbed, enable us to guess some of the tragedy he himself felt about his life which had been so full of misfortune and disappointment: 'Sorrow is eternal'.

Back to top

Napoleon Bonaparte


Born 15 August 1769 in Ajacco (Corsica); died 5 May 1821 on St Helena.

The life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte was nothing less than chaotic, yet filled with brilliance. Following a series of successful battles, Napoleon aspired to the highest office in France and came to believe in his own superiority, to the extent that he crowned himself as emperor by placing the crown on his own head.

The downfall of Napoleon lies in his Russian campaign which resulted in his first exile to the island of Elba. Following his escape, he again rallied the French army and engaged the British forces at the Battle of Waterloo resulting in his ignominious defeat and his banishment to St Helena where he died.

Reports about Napoleon’s epilepsy include one by Talleyrand in 1805 (“He sighed and frothed at the mouth, he had the type of convulsions which stopped after a quarter of an hour...”). An anecdote taken from one of Napoleon's biographies (published as early as 1838) states: ”From his youth, he had epileptic fits. When he was at school in Paris, he had to eat on his knees as a punishment for insubordination, but he had such a huge seizure that they had to let him off.” And in the memoirs of the imperial chamberlain Constant, in the entry dated 10 September 1804, we can read that during the previous night the emperor had 'had a severe nervous shock or epileptic seizure, which he is afflicted with.'

Back to top

Alfred Nobel


Born 21 October 1833 in Stockholm (Sweden); died 10 December 1896 in San Remo (Italy).
Swedish chemist Alfred Bernhard Nobel built his fortune on his invention of dynamite in 1866. By the time of his death he held more than 350 patents and controlled factories and laboratories in 20 countries.

Nobel pledged his wealth toward the betterment of humanity and in his will directed the establishment of a foundation to award annual prizes for achievement in chemistry, physics, literature and efforts toward international peace.

The Nobel Prize is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the world.

The great 20th century American epileptologist William Gordon Lennox wrote that “Nobel was subject to migraine, and to convulsions from infancy.” (Epilepsy and Related Disorders). Nobel had epileptic seizures as a young child, which later made him write of convulsions and agony in a poem.

Back to top

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (better known by the alias Lenin)


Born 22 Apirl 1870 in Simbirsk (Russia); died 21 January 1924 at Gorky near Moscow. His preserved body is on permanent display at the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow.

Lenin was a driving forse behind the Russian Revoluntion of 1917 and became the first great dictator of the Soviet Union. After his brother was executed in 1887 (for plotting to kill the Czar), Lenin gave up studying law and became a full-time revolutionary. He studied Karl Marx and formed workers' groups, but was arrested and exiled to Siberia in 1895. In 1900 he went to Europe, and in 1903 he led the Bolsheviks in the split of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' party. When revolution broke out in Russia in 1917, he led the Bolsheviks to control the government. Lenin had complete political control over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.)until his death, and is remembered as the man who put Marx's ideas to practicla use.

Lenin's final year was characterised by neurological decline and loss of function. In his last few months, he developed epilepsy. His seizures worsened and he died in status epilepticus, which had lasted 50 minutes.

Back to top

Joan of Arc


Born 6 January 1412 in Domremy (France); died 30 May 1432 in Rouen (France).Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d'Arc was a national heroine of France and is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. She asserted that she had visions from God which told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege at Orléans as part of a relief mission.

She gained prominence when she overcame the light regard of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. She fell prisoner at a skirmish near Compiègne and a politically motivated trial convicted her of heresy. The English regent John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford had her burnt at the stake in Rouen. She had been the heroine of her country at the age of seventeen and died at just nineteen. Some twenty-four years later Pope Callixtus III reopened the case and a new finding overturned the original conviction. Her piety to the end impressed the retrial court. Pope Benedict XV canonized her on 16 May 1920.

Joan of Arc experienced religious messages through voices and visions which she said others could sometimes experience simultaneously. Some researchers consider the visions to be ecstatic epileptic auras, though more recent research may implicate idiopathic partial epilepsy with auditory features.

Back to top

Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky


Born 11 November 1823 in Moscow; died 9 February 1881 in St Petersburg.
Dostoevksy is the 19th century Russian author who wrote the classic novels Crime and Punishment (1866) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). In 1849 he was arrested for his participation in a literary/political group and sentenced to prison.

Although he narrowly escaped execution, he spent nearly ten years isolated in Siberia (four of them in prison) before returning to St. Petersburg. His novels explored the psychology and moral obligations of modern man, and he is famous for creating the "underground hero," a protagonist alienated from society and in search of redemption.

More than anyone else, Dostoyevsky used his own experiences as a person with epilepsy (and the suffering that went with it) as a theme in his writing. He created many characters with epilepsy in his stories and novels, the most well-known being Prince Myshkin (an autobiographical character in the novel The Idiot. This character also reveals most about Dostoyevsky's own condition. The many accounts of epileptic seizures which Dostoyevsky gives in his works (the crescendo-like onset of the seizures, their overwhelming symptoms, the dramatic effects which the seizures have on the people around the person with epilepsy) are based on the writer's own experience. It is believed that Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy was probably inherited as both his father and his son had seizures.

His seizures were probably secondary generalised tonic clonic seizures triggered by focal activity as Dostoyevsky's seizures were generally preceded by an aura which was apparently accompanied by an unusual feeling of happiness.

Back to top

Lord Byron


Born 22 January 1788 in London; died 19 April 1824 in Mesolongion, Greece.

George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron was an Anglo-Scottish poet and leading figure in Romanticism. Among his best-known works are the narrative poems Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan.

Many biographies suggest that Lord Byron experienced epileptic seizures and in various passages he writes of symptoms reminiscent of epilepsy. In the last weeks prior to his death, one of Byron’s companions (William Parry) describes seizure activity that can be linked to excessive alcohol consumption and extreme physical exhaustion. It is also possible that the seizures were caused by the onset of meningo-encephalitis, which led to Byron's death two months later (as was proved in the autopsy).

Back to top

Gaius Julius Caesar


Born 12/13 July 100 BC in Rome; died 15 March (the Ides of March) 44 BC in Rome.
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman military and political leader and one of the most influential men in world history, widely considered to be one of the foremost military geniuses of his time. He was also a brilliant tactician and politician, and one of the ancient world's strongest leaders.

After assuming control of the government, he was proclaimed dictator for life. Marcus Junius Brutus (Caesar’s friend) conspired with others to assassinate him.

Julius Caesar had four documented episodes of what where probably complex partial seizures. He may additionally have had absence seizures in his youth. There is family history of epilepsy amongst his ancestors and descendants. Some Roman authors linked Caesar's epilepsy to cerebral sclerosis, while others attributed it to alcohol. This would suggest that in ancient Rome a distinction was already being made between the 'genuine falling sickness' and a symptomatic type of epilepsy.

Back to top

Alexander the Great


Alexander was born I 356 BC in Pella. The exact date is unknown, but probably either 20 or 26 July. On either 20 or 30 May 323 BC he fell ill after a party and died on 10/11 June.

In 343 BC Aristotle was invited to Macedonia as Alexander’s tutor andy by 34o BC Alexander was left as Regent in Macedonia.

Of all those who have set out to conquer the world, Alexander the Great came closest to finishing the job. The son of King Phillip II of Macedon, Alexander first led troops at age 18. After his father's murder, Alexander acceded to the throne of Macedonia and embarked on a series of campaigns which led him to conquer much of the civilized world. On approximately 14 November 332 BC Alexander was crowned as Pharaoh at Memphis in Egypt and in April 331 BC he founded the great city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast.

Alexander died suddenly at age 33 after a bout of heavy drinking; some suggest he was poisoned, though no cause of death has ever been proved.

Although often referred to as a person with epilepsy, his convulsions would seem to be non-epileptic in nature, but rather due to other factors such as a collapse after taking strong medicine for pneumonia.

Back to top



Born 469/470 BC in Athens (Ancient Greece); died 399 BC in Athens.

Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy. As an old man, he fell into grave disrepute with the Athenian state powers, and was commanded to stop his public disputes, and his associations with young aristocrats.

He carried on as usual. Finally, he was arrested and accused of corrupting the youth, inventing new deities (heresy), and disbelieving in the divine (atheism). According to traditional accounts, he was sentenced to die by drinking poison. Presented with an opportunity to leave Athens, he believed it would be more honorable to stay in his home country. Therefore, at the age of 70, he drank the hemlock and died.

It is speculated that his daimonion was a simple partial seizure and that he had temporal lobe epilepsy.

.Back to top