Epilepsy Talk

Did you know Snow White’s “Dopey” had epilepsy? | June 21, 2014

No he wasn’t dumb…slow…or retarded. “Dopey” had a condition known as Angelman syndrome (AS).

Angelman syndrome (AS) is a neurogenetic disorder (prevalence 1/12000), characterized by developmental delay, virtual absence of speech, peculiar organization of movement, characteristic facial features, sleep disturbances, seizures, and despite all that, a happy demeanor.

The condition was first known as “Happy puppet syndrome”.

Although this syndrome was first described by Harry Angelman in 1965, it was Walt Disney who presented an original depiction of Angelman syndrome in his first full-length animated film.

You could say that “Dopey” put Angelman syndrome on the map! Even though relatively few people knew about this obscure form of epilepsy, even today.

If you review his character, you’ll find an excellent (and sometimes innocent) picture of Angelman syndrome. Right down to “Dopey’s” occasional myoclonic jerks and tremors and a generalized clonic seizure while he was asleep.

Surprisingly, the character was NOT taken from any person with disabilities, and yes, some important data is lacking, like developmental and past medical history.

But despite that, the features presented in the film are strikingly consistent with Angelman syndrome.

Like most people with Angelman syndrome, “Dopey” has no speech (although Mel Blanc was drafted to be his voice), yet he does show eagerness to communicate.

His understanding of speech is rather good, and he manages to express himself by efficient mimic and gesture.

He has a wide smiling mouth and a happy disposition. He enjoys playing jokes and tricks, and he can be overwhelmingly affectionate.

And he’s definitely the most popular of The Seven Dwarfs among audiences.

He’s silly but sane, with a seizure disorder. And he’s famous!

So, even though the name “Dopey” is pejorative and ill-adapted to people with Angelman syndrome, this lovable character could help present a friendly and positive picture of those with the condition.

And perhaps he can even help spread knowledge and awareness of Angelman syndrome to physicians, caregivers, and the public at large.

He’s even got his own Facebook page!

Another article of interest: Epilepsy Hall of Fame   http://epilepsytalk.com/2009/09/13/epilepsy-hall-of-fame/

To subscribe to Epilepsytalk.com and get the latest articles by email, simply enter your email in the bottom box on the right and click on “Follow”.








  1. Interesting, especially considering when that movie was made, and how little was known about Angelman’s at that time.

    Does Dopey actually have a seizure in the film? (I hate to sit through it again after all these years to find out; the witch gave me nightmares for years when I was a child, and probably still could. She was far more frightening than any seizure!)

    Comment by Martha — June 21, 2014 @ 5:15 PM

  2. LOL!

    His whole behavior is that of Angelman’s in the movie.

    It’s not a seizure but actually an epilepsy syndrome.

    (Do I think Walt Disney purposely gave him this syndrome as part of his character? No. I think it was sheer coincidence. A means of developing the kind of character he sought.)

    But if you look at the links, they’re fascinating!

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 21, 2014 @ 5:33 PM

  3. I had a list of famous people that have had epilepsy. a couple I remember is Bud Abott from Abott and Costello, and Charles Nobel, who started the Nobel Prize. Everyone knows Julius Caesar had it, oh and I just remembered Vincent Van Gogh also had it. I either heard it on the news or saw it on a website. The actor Harrison Ford says epilepsy runs in his family.

    Comment by Shawn Wittman — June 21, 2014 @ 11:52 PM

    • Good memory Shawn!

      Here’s an interesting little piece of trivia…

      Richard Burton was NOT an alcoholic. He actually had epilepsy, but used the alcohol to cover it up.

      He’d rather be known for his alcoholism than as someone who had the big “E”!

      And there’s a previous article, you might like. It’s not by any means complete, but it is interesting…

      Epilepsy Hall of Fame


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 22, 2014 @ 10:14 AM

      • I forget the name and sport. But there is a professional ball player that has epilepsy. Thanks for the hall of fame website.

        Comment by Shawn Wittman — June 22, 2014 @ 4:57 PM

  4. There’s a football coach named Jerry Kill who recently collapsed on the field with a seizure.

    He’s now going around to educate and spread epilepsy awareness.

    I guess you could say, from lemons, he made lemonade!

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 22, 2014 @ 5:25 PM

  5. Don’t forget “FloJo.” Fastest woman in the world, and she died in her sleep of a seizure.


    Comment by Martha — June 22, 2014 @ 6:14 PM

  6. Never even heard of her…that’s how informed I am.

    You’re one up on me! ;-)

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 23, 2014 @ 6:31 AM

    • She was like the race horse, Secretariat: nobody even close to her. You can see her here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2MGfxwl3WM

      (A little off-topic, sorry. But there have been some spectacular Olympic athletes who had serious medical issues.)

      Comment by Martha — June 23, 2014 @ 9:01 AM

      • No, it’s not off topic at all. Athletes who have epilepsy are right on the mark.

        Even dogs have epilepsy. I just don’t know how famous they are! :-)

        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 24, 2014 @ 10:30 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I've also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

    View Full Profile →

    Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,130 other followers

    Follow Epilepsy Talk on WordPress.com

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,130 other followers

%d bloggers like this: