I'm interested in learning about musicians who've had major careers while managing significant physical or mental limitations.

A few I know of:

Mental illness

Missing limbs



  • 1
    This question has the potential for lots of answers. Should that happen, it could be made into a community wiki.
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 0:52
  • It's an interesting question. I think converting it to community wiki is the correct move. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 14:57

6 Answers 6


Jeff Healey, blind guitarist; appeared in the movie "Road House".


Robert Wyatt, originally the drummer for Soft Machine and Matching Mole in the late 60's and early 70's, had a fall out of a fourth story window in 1973 which left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Wyatt continued to write music and record after the fall up until 2014, with his first post-accident album, Rock Bottom, considered a classic:



  • R&B legend Curtis Mayfield was tragically paralyzed late in his career in an onstage accident when the stage lighting fell on him. However, he continued to record, and subsequently won two additional Grammy awards.

Missing Limbs:

  • Rick Allen, one-armed drummer for Def Leppard
  • Tony Melendez, Mark Goffeney - well-known independent "foot guitarists"


  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Blind Boys of Mississippi - Two (very) long-running black gospel groups with blind members. Although they are/were independent, unaffiliated groups, they got their similar names as part of an early marketing stunt pitting them against each other. Although both groups originally formed in the 1930s, the Blind Boys of Alabama had a late-career renaissance, peaking in their 2001 Grammy-winning album Spirit of the Century.
  • Blind Lemon, Blind Blake, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, many others - Many, perhaps most of the best-known early black blues musicians were blind. In fact, there's speculation that the association of dark glasses with musicians (and from there, with "coolness") came from all these blind bluesmen.
  • Blind Blake (of the Bahamas) - A different musician than the bluesman, he wrote a number of well-known calypso standards.
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk - A jazz virtuoso known for playing multiple instruments at once.

Mental Illness:
There are probably too many famous musicians who fall in this category to be named, from those who struggled with depression, like Kurt Cobain, to the many jazz musicians with mental illnesses. However...

  • Daniel Johnston was an outsider artist whose struggles with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses were well-known (and depicted in a critically acclaimed documentary).


  • Gaelynn Lea - Lea is a singer and musician who won the 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Contest. Her entire body is tiny and underdeveloped.

Honorary Mention:

  • Table Top Joe - the eponymous narrator of the Tom Waits song, who becomes a "rich" and "famous" musician despite only being a disembodied head with a pair of hands.

There was Jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani, who suffered from brittle bone disease.


The Congolese dance band Staff Benda Bilili was formed by a group of disabled street musicians. Their music is powerful, often joyous, and combines elements of Congolese dance music, funk, and rock-n-roll.

The core of the band consists of four senior singers/guitarists, who are paraplegic (they had poliomyelitis when they were young) and move around in spectacularly customized tricycles.


Two former members of the group also went on to form the band Mbongwana Star.

  • Could you add a bit about the band members and their particular conditions?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 24, 2021 at 4:12

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead lost part of one finger on his right hand as a child.

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