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/

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Resources:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1059131199902893
https://www.orpha.net/data/patho/GB/uk-Angelman.pdf
http://www.angelmanuk.org/downloads/infosheets/Dopeys_seizure_Bernard_Dan_1999.pdf
http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Dopey

 


26 Comments »

  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!)

    Like

    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!

    Like

    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.

    Like

    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

      http://epilepsytalk.com/2009/09/13/epilepsy-hall-of-fame/

      Like

      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.

        Like

        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!

    Like

    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.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Griffith_Joyner#Death

    Like

    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! ;-)

    Like

    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.)

      Like

      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! :-)

        Like

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

  7. even Danny Glover . Ward Bond { my favorite actor }…Margaux Hemingway a beautiful woman & actress

    Like

    Comment by cathy — January 7, 2015 @ 2:34 PM

    • Here’s an eye-opener: Edward Snowdon — the famous NSA whistleblower, got leave from his job at the NSA to be treated for his epilepsy and used the time to give revelatory interviews about America’s security regime!

      Like

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 7, 2015 @ 3:04 PM

  8. The “R” word is unacceptable language and should not be used as slang. It is also a pejorative as the author has acknowledged the word “dopey” to be. The current medical term is intellectually disabled.

    Angelman Syndrome (AS) is not a form of epilepsy. Epilepsy is one facet of Angelman Syndrome, and while it does occur in a vast majority of patients with AS, many people with AS do not experience or have epilepsy.

    As the medical community draws more knowledge from study of patients with AS, it is becoming more understood. Persons with AS may or may not have an intellectual disability. A person who cannot speak or move their body the way they would intend to, may seem intellectually disabled, but this is not a valid assumption.

    Like

    Comment by Kathy — January 8, 2015 @ 10:41 AM

    • I agree Kathy.

      I only saw this post from a share from my sister whose 3-year-old son was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome at 10 months. In her exact words…”I think not. Someone has too much time on their hands. Dopey is nothing like Angelman Syndrome.”

      I mean this in the nicest, most sincere way possible but Phylis, do you actually know someone, family or friend, who suffers from AS or just from epilepsy? It’s a bit offensive to just assume so much based on medical descriptions so far as to write a blog post attempting to convince others of these similarities. Epilepsy is just ONE complication of AS among many others. Every angel is different like all other people. Some are unable to walk at all, some crawl, some walk assisted. Some are able to communicate through POD books or sign language while others are able to communicate very little. Some angels may be overly affectionate but some, like my nephew, are unable to correctly channel their affections to one specific person like others without AS would be able to. There’s never such a thing as one size fits all.

      No major harm done but it can be hurtful to some who have loved ones who suffer from or have even died as a result of AS complications. It’s a hard enough thing to adjust your day to day life because of AS–being reminded that your child is different than others and may or may not ever be able to do certain things in their lifetime doesn’t help. Saying “‘Dopey’ put Angelman syndrome on the map” by comparing human beings to a seemingly intellectually disabled Disney character doesn’t make AS loveable. It seems like you’re innocently attempting to help others think of AS as less than what it is by giving it a loveable, friendly face. Angelman sufferers aren’t intellectually disabled either. They are just as intelligent as others who do not suffer from the disorder but are often misunderstood due to their inability to communicate like those without AS. This is clearly evident in the writings of angels who communicate through technology such as iPads, tablets and other computer devices.

      This isn’t written in anger or hate, just in an educated, thoughtful perspective from one whose entire family struggles from the repercussions of Angelman Syndrome.

      Like

      Comment by Andrea — January 10, 2015 @ 2:50 PM

  9. I’m sorry to offend you Kathy.

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 9, 2015 @ 9:16 AM

  10. I agree with Kathy, except that Angelman sufferers aren’t intellectually disabled.

    I only saw this post from a share from my sister whose 3-year-old son was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome at 10 months. In her exact words…”I think not. Someone has too much time on their hands. Dopey is nothing like Angelman Syndrome.”

    I mean this in the nicest, most sincere way possible but Phylis, do you actually know someone, family or friend, who suffers from AS or just from epilepsy? It’s a bit offensive to just assume so much based on medical descriptions so far as to write a blog post attempting to convince others of these similarities. Epilepsy is just ONE complication of AS among many others. Every angel is different like all other people. Some are unable to walk at all, some crawl, some walk assisted. Some are able to communicate through POD books or sign language while others are able to communicate very little. Some angels may be overly affectionate but some, like my nephew, are unable to correctly channel their affections to one specific person like others without AS would be able to. There’s never such a thing as one size fits all.

    No major harm done but it can be hurtful to some who have loved ones who suffer from or have even died as a result of AS complications. It’s a hard enough thing to adjust your day to day life because of AS–being reminded that your child is different than others and may or may not ever be able to do certain things in their lifetime doesn’t help. Saying “‘Dopey’ put Angelman syndrome on the map” by comparing human beings to a seemingly intellectually disabled Disney character doesn’t make AS loveable. It seems like you’re innocently attempting to help others think of AS as less than what it is by giving it a loveable, friendly face. Angelman sufferers aren’t intellectually disabled either. They are just as intelligent as others who do not suffer from the disorder but are often misunderstood due to their inability to communicate like those without AS. This is clearly evident in the writings of angels who communicate through technology such as iPads, tablets and other computer devices.

    This isn’t written in anger or hate, just in an educated, thoughtful perspective from one whose entire family struggles from the repercussions of Angelman Syndrome.

    Like

    Comment by Andrea — January 10, 2015 @ 2:52 PM

  11. I re-read these articles a few times and I’m sorry, I fail to see where Phyllis said AS HAS disabilities, she didn’t. In fact, I believe what she was trying to reference in her remarks towards the lovable character of “Dopey” in “Snow White” is that he is by far the most famous character and is because he is unique and special which is exactly the type of character Walt Disney wanted to create. No 2 epilepsy patients are the same just as no 2 angels are the same. I think Phyllis is on the right track by saying that Dopey can be a symbol or role model of sorts to help bring about awareness and help educate others that there is nothing to fear in these illnesses. All families struggle in this regard and we need each other to help each other to point out the positive. I think that is what Phyllis what helping to point out.

    Like

    Comment by Janet — April 27, 2015 @ 3:56 PM

    • Yes Janet and thank you.

      If you really wanted to look at it through a microscope, you could say that Grumpy had depression…Sleepy had narcolepsy…and so forth.

      And just the fact that they’re called “dwarfs”! Totally unacceptable in today’s distinguishing characteristics.

      Like

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 27, 2015 @ 7:50 PM

      • Anytime a write says,”You could say…” it usually means an example is being represented but not necessarily an exact replica is being modeled. It would also seem highly unlikely that in 1937 Walt Disney had all the facts to represent the Dwarfs as they are being portrayed today. I find that highly unlikely. Again, we are looking to find more positive role models that children and people in general can relate to and if there are some similar characteristics that role models might have to an actual person all the better in helping to create awareness and educate others to the AS Syndrome and other forms of Epilepsy. We all need to learn how to become more aware and is one of the sole reasons I joined this site. I’m hear to help too.

        Like

        Comment by Janet — April 28, 2015 @ 12:34 AM

  12. Janet we’re on the same page. And I’m so glad you joined us.

    THANK YOU!

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 28, 2015 @ 9:24 AM

    • Thank you Phyllis and you are very welcome! I’m glad I joined too :) I have read many of your articles and I enjoy them. I would like to point out a very important fact to other readers that seems to be missed by a lot of people and you like to point this out too and that is that Epileptics and people with seizure disorders tend to be people of intelligence, great intelligence! We are also very creative and perhaps that is why we are so different in the things we say,write, and in the things we think about. Some of the greatest minds in the world are set apart and stand out from the rest and that isn’t a bad thing.

      Like

      Comment by Janet — April 28, 2015 @ 1:21 PM

      • Does that include me? (I’m a writer. Have been since 5th grade when my teacher sent me home accusing me of plagiarism!)

        Like

        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 28, 2015 @ 2:14 PM

      • LOL….Of course it does Phyllis:) You should only see the number of times I share what you have written to a support group because it’s just plain, intelligent, common sense advice! I’m hoping this is one way to start spreading the awareness and education to others.
        I’ve been writing a long time too…and researching. We ARE on the same page and that’s a good thing!

        Like

        Comment by Janet — April 28, 2015 @ 2:27 PM

  13. Generally speaking, anyone who has a form of Epilepsy suffers from being stigmatized as being intellectually impaired and I can say this because I am one who has struggled with this illness my entire life. Whether or not you have a family member who has Angelmans Syndrome and it is complicated by seizures is not the point. The point is we all need to educate and create awareness for each other and support each other. There are so many illnesses and syndromes that may or may not be connected to epilepsy or seizures that can also be complicated by them. So, I’m asking does that mean we allow them to go ignored? Does that mean we show less compassion? I lost a brother at 49 years old to Parkinson’s Disease. He was barely able to do anything for himself especially towards the end of his life but he never gave up. He may have also had seizures, I have no idea. He couldn’t speak or move his body at all. I never felt he was intellectually impaired. If anything, in speaking about these illnesses we are becoming more aware and it is causing me to WANT to become more involved in research, I want to be an advocate for those who have lost their voice because I still have one. I was a voice for my brother when he needed it. What I’m trying to say is that we need less criticism of what may be lacking and more support of those who are truly trying to make a difference. We will never please everyone that’s for sure but, there are so many people who are trying to make a difference in so many areas. I am 57 years old and none of what is happening now was around when I was going through my struggles, it didn’t exist. If we are making mistakes along the way, that’s the way we learn. I’m also an educator and being one means I have had to judge many people along the way and I have worked very hard at not doing that. Instead, I’d rather research my answers I’m better at that. Teaching people to drop the stigma, create awareness and help them educate others is a much better way and probably the only way every other disease and illness on the planet got past the fear stage….

    Like

    Comment by Janet — April 28, 2015 @ 1:58 PM

  14. Hooray for your advocacy and your brother!

    As you can see, I’m a big proponent of education. That’s the very purpose of Epilepsy Talk. To educate and inform.

    That’s also why I participate on 12 Facebook epilepsy pages. (Whew!)

    Any why I research so thoroughly. (Take a look at the lists of “resources” at the end of each article.)

    And that’s the reason I get up in the morning.

    Since I almost died, epilepsy has become my raison d’être. And remains so.

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 28, 2015 @ 2:24 PM

  15. Yup Janet, we’re on the same page…right down to the support group I helped start. (With the support of the EFA and the generous help of a local epileptologist.)

    I’m the “facilitator” — the go-to girl for research and answers.

    Without books and Google, I’d be dead in the water. :-)

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 28, 2015 @ 2:40 PM


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    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.

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