Musicians who overcame disabilities

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Overcoming great odds

Ray Charles, who died 10 years ago, overcame blindness to put together a legendary career. Here are other musicians who triumphed over their disabilities to excel at their craft. See gallery

Clockwise from top left: Ray Charles performing in 1970, Mary Wells rehearsing in 1964, Ludwig van Beethoven (undated) & Hank Williams circa 1950s

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Ray Charles

Ray Charles (see more photos) began to lose his sight at 5 years old and went completely blind at 7. That didn't stop him from developing a musical talent while attending school (which one?). Turn the page and Charles fashioned a music career (listen to his music) that included 12 Grammy wins and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (when?). He died on June 10, 2004.

What likely caused him to go blind?

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Rick Allen

Rick Allen (see more photos), the drummer of English hard rock band Def Leppard (listen to their music), was thrown from a car in a street-racing accident on New Year's Eve in 1984. Allen figured his drumming career was over, but thanks to a specially designed kit, he made his post-accident debut (at which concert?) and has toured with the band since.

What happened to Allen during the accident?

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Paul Stanley

KISS frontman Paul Stanley (see more photos) was born with a congenital disease that is believed to affect one out of every 5,000-7,000 newborns. He developed a love for music by watching this TV show and ultimately joined the choir. Fast-forward about a decade, and Stanley collaborated with Gene Simmons to form KISS (listen to their music), and the rest is history.

What does he suffer from?

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Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (see portraits) composed some of his best work after his hearing began to deteriorate at the age of 26. Before going deaf, Beethoven (listen to his music) was a virtuoso pianist and conductor; in the final decade of his life, he was solely a composer. Many of his iconic pieces live on two centuries after they were written.

What are the varying opinions on what caused his deafness?

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Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder (see more photos), born six weeks premature, became blind shortly after birth. He quickly gravitated toward music, launching his career by signing a contract with Motown at age 11. Wonder (what was his birth name?) went on to become one of the most decorated male solo artists of all time (listen to his music), winning 22 Grammy Awards while selling more than 100 million albums and singles.

What caused him to go blind?

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Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels (see more photos), frontman for the glam-metal band Poison (listen to their music) since 1983, was hospitalized for three weeks when he was 6 years old. The illness diagnosed during that stay is something he monitors every day, often on the hour. Michaels had a scare in May 2014, when complications from his affliction combined with exhaustion and dehydration forced him to leave the stage after just three songs.

What does Michaels suffer from?

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Kenny G

Kenny G (see more photos) has been playing saxophone for almost 50 years (listen to his music), gathering legions of fans while selling more than 75 million records. Kenny G (what's his real name?) even set a Guinness World Record in 1997 (for what?). All the while, he has lived with a disease that affects the lungs.

What disorder has he overcome?

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Neil Young

Neil Young (see more photos) has been rockin' in the free world for nearly five decades despite a number of afflictions. Young (listen to his music) released his first album in 1968 (what's it called?) and hasn't slowed much since, releasing 35 studio albums total. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (who was inducted three times?).

What all has Young suffered from?

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Edgar Winter

Experimental musician Edgar Winter (see more photos) has a condition that causes sensitivity to light and rendered him legally blind. Despite not being able to sight-read, Winter (listen to his music) developed a trained ear for music, setting him on a career path. Once established, Winter recorded two of the most famous songs of the 1970s, "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride."

What do he and his musician brother suffer from?

Getty Images: Kevin Winter
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Brian Wilson

For Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson (see more photos), success was often offset by his inner darkness. During the height of the band's fame, Wilson suffered a mental breakdown and lived in seclusion (what else did he experience?). None of that seemed to affect his musical genius, as he has created popular music off and on — with the Beach Boys (listen to their music) and solo — for four-plus decades.

What affliction from birth has he also overcome?

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Hank Williams Sr.

Hank Williams Sr. (see more photos), aka "Luke the Drifter," "The Singing Kid" and this ode to a legendary playwright, fit a lifetime worth of activity into his 29 years. Despite being born with an affliction that brought constant pain, Williams (what was his birth name?) recorded 11 chart-topping hits (listen to his music) during a Hall of Fame career.

What did he suffer from?

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Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi (see more photos), founding member of heavy metal band Black Sabbath (listen to their music), was an aspiring guitar player growing up in England, when he was injured in an industrial accident at a sheet metal factory. Iommi (what other famous band did he play with?) considered giving up playing guitar but was inspired to continue after listening to a famous jazz guitarist (who?).

How was he injured in the accident?

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Teddy Pendergrass

Teddy Pendergrass (see more photos) was a celebrated R&B artist in the late 1970s and early '80s (for which band did he sing?) until a car accident in March 1982 derailed his career somewhat. Three years later, Pendergrass (listen to his music) sang a set at Live Aid, his first live performance since the accident. He died in 2010 (cause of death?).

What did he overcome to keep performing?

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Itzhak Perlman

Internationally acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman (see more photos) contracted a disease at age 4 that still forces him to play his instrument while seated. After being informed at 3 years old that he was too small to hold a violin, Perlman instead taught himself (listen to him play). As a professional, he has played notable performances all over the world, including at US President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration (listen to it).

What was he afflicted with at an early age?

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Mary Wells

R&B singer Mary Wells (see more photos), aka "The Queen of Motown," contracted a disease at age 2 that left her temporarily paralyzed, partially blind and deaf in one year. Originally setting her sights on science, Wells turned her attention to music and recorded her first single (what's it called?) at 17 years old. Shortly thereafter, Wells (listen to her music) became the first Motown star to perform in the UK when she opened up for the Beatles in 1964 (what was her signature hit?).

What was her affliction?

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