6 Creatives on the autism spectrum – actors and filmmakers

Dan Harmon WonderConn 2012

By Colin Eldred-Cohen

I must say, I was really surprised at the reactions to my piece on Satoshi Tajiri, the autistic creator of Pokemon. I figured it would peek some interest, but the amount of of gratitude and love blew me away and really touched me. Clearly, the impact of representation in the world shouldn’t be discounted. After all, seeing Nichelle Nicholes on Star Trek is what inspired Whoopi Goldberg to pursue her dreams. So let me take this opportunity to showcase some more famous figures, particularly artists and creative people, on the spectrum. I’ve included people who are suspected to be on the spectrum since diagnoses were more difficult to come by when these people were younger.

Let’s start with the most public of artists — the actors and the filmmakers and TV show creators that allow them to show their stuff. They’re under the biggest spotlight and the most scrutiny, so coming out as autistic can be a huge risk. Let’s look at the ones that took that risk.

Dan Akroyd

Dan Aykroyd – actor

He’s a Ghostbuster, a Blues Brother, one of Saturday Night Live’s original “Not Ready For Prime Time Players,” and oh yes, a man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Some of the obsessions he got from his Asperger’s were ghosts and the police, to the point where he carried a fake police badge wherever he went and was a superfan of famous paranormal investigator Hanz Holzer. From these obsessions came the seeds of Ghostbusters.

Daryl Hannah

Daryl Hannah – actor

You may not know her by name, but if you’ve seen Blade Runner or Kill Bill, you’ve seen her before. She was actually diagnosed when she was very young, but sadly the doctors back in the day didn’t understand autism and recommended that she be medicated and institutionalized. The Asperger’s made her very shy, making public events very hard for her, and she needed to rock herself to self-soothe. Fortunately, she overcame a lot of the hurdles and acted in some of the most watched films in the last forty years.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams – actor

This one is unfortunately just speculation and sadly, Mr. Williams isn’t in a position to answer questions on the matter. However, many pointed to his social awkwardness and hyperactivity as proof that he may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. His battle with depression makes this more credible, as many autistic people have to struggle with secondary conditions like depression or bipolar.

Let’s move from actors to filmmakers.

Tim Burton

Tim Burton – filmmaker

This is another one that can’t be confirmed, but it has a more credible source than faceless hearsay. His wife, Helena Bohnam Carter, informally diagnosed him, saying he shares many of the traits of an autistic mind, which he agrees with. It’s not hard to see, either; he was said to be a recluse in his youth, focusing on drawing in his spare time. Even nowadays, he sticks with a specific group of actors in his body of work, stressing the need for many autistic people to be around familiar things. So yeah, I totally buy that he’s on the spectrum.

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick – filmmaker

Again, speculation, since Kubrick was born and died before our knowledge of autism was advanced enough. He was diagnosed in retrospect by Dr. Michael Fitzgerald and Victoria Lyons in their book Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or a Curse? He is described as having poor social skills, obsessive interests, literal thinking, and a lot of inflexibility, all of which are telltale signs of autism. Though if he was so literal minded, how in the world did he pull off something so open to interpretation like 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Dan Harmon WonderConn 2012

Dan Harmon – TV show creator (writer and producer …)

Now here’s one who definitely isn’t speculation. If you don’t know who this is, he was the creator and executive producer of TV’s Community and the insanely weird animated series Rick and Morty. The funny thing is that he got the diagnosis late in life as he was writing a character for Community and found a lot of the symptoms very familiar. He even went to a doctor to see if he was officially on the spectrum, which the doctor confirmed. Makes sense, really; I don’t think a neurotypical mind could have ever come up with Rick and Morty.

This is just the beginning of the enormous contributions of creative people on the spectrum. There are visual artists, creative writers, musicians and much more. October is Disability History Month. My next blog will include historical figures on the autism spectrum.



Colin Eldred-Cohen is a creative writer and story teller. He was born in San Diego and graduated from the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), where he discovered his talents for performing, singing and Irish dance. He graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in film.

He is currently living in San Jose where he is writing regularly for fishandcherries.com and putting his writing talents to use working on his first novel (that he hopes will be a best seller, made into an Oscar-winning movie and a line of happy meal toys.)

Colin is on the Autism spectrum, and has channeled his creative and active mind to become a talented writer and story teller. He is an active member of the Autistic Creatives Collective. His first children’s book, The Fire Truck Who Got Lost available in the The Art of Autism Store was released in September.


  • Great post, though here and there I’d like to see more about how asperger syndrome made positive contributions to each person’s success. I really do think it can be a gift and it certainly is for me (professor, writer, editor, blogger) and my son (wonderful kid).
    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

  • A possible answer to this question:
    Though if he was so literal minded, how in the world did he pull off something so open to interpretation like 2001: A Space Odyssey?

    Another sign of autism is incoherent storytelling and speaking. But…. I don’t know If he had autism. I don’t think he would get the diagnose according to DSM 5. People with great succes and a wife and kids are functioning to well to be diagnosed with a disease. Maybe he was just introvert. Who knows. How can someone like him work with so many people and function? I have autism to and I make movies but dealing with people is so difficult….

    Kubrick was one of my favourite filmmakers anyway. Great and inspiring.

    • Nope you cant really be too well functipning to be defined on an autism spectrum disorder, that just means youre a high functioning/functioning autistic like almost every autistic are

    • My daughter is Autistic and she is very creative. She is an emerging film film maker and has just completed her first feature film. It can be harder for an autistic person is some aspects but in other ways they can be quite gifted. She had at least two other autistic people as part of her crew. One was the audio tech and he has also completed some mini features. So please don’t make loose comments that try to make the world fit into your way of thinking….

  • Great post, but I do have a question for you people here. Does anyone here think that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had Asperger’s? If you watch or read some of the interviews with him or some of the cast members, you’ll notice how obsessive compulsive he was. Plus certain Star Trek characters had Asperger’s traits.

    Human characters:

    Reginald Barclay
    Julian Bashir
    Malcolm Reed
    Sylvia Tilly

    Not Human But Had Asperger’s Traits:

    Vulcans (Spock, Tuvok, T’Pol)
    Tam Elbrun (from the TNG Episode “Tin Man”; he had his species version of ASD because he was born with his abilities turned on)

  • How about you write an article on people who ACTUALLY have an Autism diagnosis! Assuming people have it is RIDICULOUS! Shame on Art of Autism for publishing crap like this!

    • How do you know that they are not autistic??? I have an autistic daughter and she has autistic friends. My nephew is a high functioning autistic man and you would not know it if you did not know him. He gets by it the real world but nobody knows his secret.

  • Interesting. Autism doesn’t preclude creative ability – art is often an alternative and individual perspective, a strong sense of visual patterns and logical progression which lends itself to movie making, where dialogue and social interaction is exaggerated in a way that aspies can understand. Another interesting example is Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, who was considered to have Asperger’s. He was very shy and reclusive with an unusual use of language and a very artistic view of the world. I’m on the spectrum and have written hundreds of songs, poems and stories. My professional life was spent as a non fiction write. I struggled with plots and characterisation required for longer prose, but songs and film storyboards were always much easier to create. There is still much misunderstanding about art and autism, so such articles and websites are very useful.

  • Anthony Hopkins is diagnosed as having an ASD. No speculation. A confirmed diagnosis. I agree with AW. Ridiculous to speculate. Robin Williams has known lifelong mental illness. His diagnosed personality disorder is was led to his stardom and ability to play other characters and voices so incredibly well. His depression was his downfall. What a disappointing article.

    • If you read the above article correctly it said: ‘However, many pointed to his social awkwardness and hyperactivity as proof that he may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. His battle with depression makes this more credible, as many autistic people have to struggle with secondary conditions like depression or bipolar.’ There is no speculation!!! They are just reporting what many people believe. I know many autistic people and he certainly fits the mould!!!

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