Shyness is Everywhere . . .  Shy/Socially Phobic Celebrities & Everyday People

There is no question that shyness robs us of opportunities that other people take for granted. But what if we didn't give in to our shyness? Or what if some of our equally shy historical figures did? What if they had given in to their shyness and never achieved their goals? Would their lives have been the same? Would our lives have been the same? You be the judge.


Did you know that Abraham Lincoln, Orville Wright, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were all shy at one time in their lives? How about Tom Hanks or Lucille Ball?

Personally, I wasn't surprised to hear about Abraham Lincoln. He always seemed to have a mysterious quality about him, as many shy people do.; And Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein---well, they were scientists. I think we expect scientists to be more reserved because their craft demands a high degree of concentration that often isolates them from the general public. But Lucille Ball---the woman we watched stuffing chocolates in her mouth from a conveyor belt with sidekick Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy---somehow that's harder to believe. And Tom Hanks---that multifaceted actor we've grown to know and love?

I have included this page to prove a point. While shyness challenges us and makes our lives more difficult, shyness does not have to rule our lives! All of the people listed below have struggled with shyness at some point in their lives, but that didn't stop them. The human spirit is a wonderful thing, capable of overcoming monumental hurdles---even shyness!  

As you read on, you may be surprised to see just how many famous people have been shy. But remember, nearly 50% of the adult population in the United States is believed to be shy, with almost 40% of adults reporting they used to be shy at some point earlier in their lives, that leaves only 11% of those surveyed reporting they have never been shy at all. Fear of public speaking is considered to be the number one phobia in this country and as many as 13.3% of the population is estimated to have struggled with social phobia at one time or another. With numbers like these, it would be hard to find enough people to be celebrities, if we excluded all the people who have ever been shy.  

Shyness is not who we are,
but something we feel while we do the things we do.  

Shyness does not have to keep us from achieving our goals unless we let it! Many of the people listed below overcame their shyness, but some never did---at lease not completely. But that didn't stop them. You can still be shy and achieve your goals. And while you may not become the president of the United States, a great inventor or the star of your own television show, with the right support and enough hard work, chances are you, too, can achieve your goals.

Pick a few people on this page and surf the biographical links to their life stories. Don't be disappointed if the celebrity sites only mention shyness in passing. That's as it should be, because shyness is not who these people are, but rather something they felt while they were doing the things that made them special. I have included links to famous people, living people, dead people and plain ordinary people like you and me.  

* Hint -- To search for references to shyness in the links below, click on the webpage you want to search, press "CTRL" and "F" at the same time, and enter the word "shy" in the "Find" box that pops up. The location of the "Find" box may differ from browser to browser, so you may have to look around the page to locate it. The lower left and upper right corners are common locations for the box.

Historical Figures . . .

Abraham Lincoln   He may have given the Gettysburg Address and led our country through a civil war, but when it came to courting women, Lincoln was a shy and, in many ways, awkward man.\

Albert Einstein   Einstein didn't let his shyness get in the way of saving Jews from Hitler's rule and developing the Theory of Relativity and E=MC2.

Annie Oakley   Annie Oakley overcame both shyness and poverty to become a star in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.

Clara Barton     Best know for having founded the Red Cross, Clara Barton was a nurse who braved the battlefields to tend the wounded during the Civil War.

Eleanor Roosevelt    Painfully shy as a child, Eleanor Roosevelt grew into one of our nations strongest female political figures."

Orville Wright   By trade Orville and his brother Wilbur repaired and manufactured bicycles, but their real fascination was with flight. What most people don't know is that Orville was exceptionally shy.

Theodore Roosevelt   Roosevelt's shyness was said to stem from asthma which led him to be slight in build in his youth.

Thomas Edison   Extremely shy, this inventor is said to have given up hopes of becoming a Shakespearian actor due to shyness and a high pitched voice. Fortunately, his shyness didn't prevent him from inventing the light bulb. 

Thomas Jefferson   He may have written the Declaration of Independence, but the only time this shy politician was said to have spoken publicly during his presidency was at his inauguration and when it came to delivering legislative proposals, that was done in writing.

Ulysses S. Grant   His success as a general in the Union army led to his election as President of the United States, but he, too, was shy.

Shy Athletes . . .

Bill Walton   "A shy and nervous seventh grader who stuttered, Walton was in no hurry to leave the restroom before the tip-off of a local Catholic league championship game," writes Lisette Hilton. Fortunately, Bill heeded the words of his coach, Frank "Rocky" Graciano, who encouraged him to love, not fear, the opportunity that championship games offered. Appearantly that worded as Bill Walton seems to have "loved" his way into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Cathy Rigby  Cathy Rigby turned to gymnastics as a way to help her overcome severe shyness.  Eight gold medals later, she found herself working as a sports commentator for ABC and starring in Peter Pan on Broadway.  Not bad for a shy girl!

Mia Hamm    Said to be the greatest all round women's soccer player, Mia, who holds the record for women's soccer goals, comes from a family of shy Hamms.  But that didn't stop her from having a building dedicated in her name.

Shy Entertainers . . .

Ann-Margret   Winner of five Golden Globe Awards and veteran of forty-two films that span more than thirty years, Ann-Margret was also shy as a child, but that didn't top her from starring in movies with folks like Elvis Presley

Barbara Streisand   Her shyness, born in part from painful childhood experiences and a distinct look that challenged her ability to fit in, Barbara's remarkable drive, ingenuity, and commitment to pursue her dreams paid off not only for her, but for the generations of people she's moved through her movies and music over the years. But it doesn't stop there. The "confidence" with which Barbara has presented herself to the world (and I put "confidence" in quotes as this otherwise strong woman has struggled with stage freight for years) has opened the minds of many to new ways of thinking about beauty. In her own way, this truly beautiful woman has been a role model for us all.

Barbara Walters   She may have been shy, but at this point Barbara Walters has so many credits to her name that few interviewers--shy or outgoing--can come close to matching her accomplishments.

Bob Dylan  Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941, this shy youth went on to become one of the greatest folk singers and composers of his time.

Brad Pitt   Known for his portrayal of exciting energetic characters on the screen, Brad Pitt is said to be shy and protective in his personal life.  

Carol Burnett  Don't ask me why" said Carol Burnett, about her performance in a play required to fulfill acting prerequisites for entrance to a playwriting program at UCLA. For whatever reasons, Carol decided to extend the length of the words she was saying delivering the first line of her performance as "I'm baaaaaaaack!." The laughter that followed was enough to change everything for this shy young woman who said, "You spend the rest of your life hoping you'll hear a laugh that great again." And so she did . . . on television, on stage, and in the movies.

Carrie Underwood  She "isn't shy about her shyness." That's what they're saying about Carrie Underwood, the fourth winner of the American Idol television series. Her first album debuted in the number one position on Billboard's chart. Not bad for this shy, but talented, young Oklahoma woman!

Cathy Rigby  Cathy Rigby turned to gymnastics as a way to help her overcome severe shyness.  Eight gold medals later, she found herself working as a sports commentator for ABC and starring in Peter Pan on Broadway.  Not bad for a shy girl!

Cher Bono   Shy and introverted earlier in her career, Cher and Sonny Bono's successful records, unmistakeable style, and popular TV show, made them a household name. While their marriage evenutally came to an end, Cher continued to mature as an artist; singing, touring, acting, and establishing herself as a creative fashion icon that would leave many wondering how this woman could ever have been shy

Courteney Cox Arquette   Shy as a young girl and frequently picked on, Courteney Cox felt like an outsider growing up, but that didn't stop her from joining us in living rooms around the country in her role as Monica Geller on Friends. Despite being disappointed over being the only member of an illustrious cast who didn't win an Emmy for her performance, it's hard for those of us who grew to know and love her as Monica to see her as anything but a winner. And while Courteny has been known to describe her shyness as holding her back in both her personal and professional life, she continues to persevere and bounce back in ways that most shy people would never think to consider

David Bowie   Even rock stars can be shy.  Check out David Bowie. 

David Letterman  Like many of his fellow shy talk show hosts, David Letterman doesn't let his self-proclaimed "painful shyness" get in the way of interviewing his guests or entertaining his audiences.  http://

Dennis Rodman  This once "frail and shy" bad boy of basketball who as a child bore the "brunt of beatings by his bigger, more aggressive school mates," grew up to be a colorful, strong willed, award winning, Hall of Fame NBA basketball star who sometimes rubbed people the wrong way, but other times seemed only to have a " heart of gold." See for yourself.

Diane Schuur   Jazz fans will know this name.  Blinded as a child when too much oxygen in her incubator damaged her optic nerve, this once shy talent didn't let a little thing like that stop her and has gone on to be one of our great female jazz vocalists.

Don Rickles  Don Rickles imitated his father's style of kidding people about themselves and found that, like his father, he could make friends by making people laugh.

Donny Osmond   In the public eye from the time he was small, the pressure of performing and being constantly judged eventually caught up with Donny in the form of Social Phobia. With the help of therapy Donny learned to "play with his fear instead of running from it."

Ella Fitzgerald   Shy offstage, this Jazz legend was surprised to find that onstage she had no fear.

Elvis Presley   Music was a form a self-expression for this talented shy young man who lost his footing to fame.   

Garrison Keillor   This multifaceted multitalented man brought us Lake Wobegon, made "A Prairie Home Companion" a household term and taught us to laugh at the shyness that he and so many of us have shared.

Gene Hackman   Gene Hackman's film credits include the likes of Bonny And Clyde, The French Connection, Unforgiven, Mississippi Burning and Enemy of the State in spite of a childhood shyness that has carried forward somewhat into adulthood.

George Harrison   Often referred to as the "Quiet Beatle," this shy superstar helped shape the face of modern music.

Gloria Estefan   It helps to have a mentor. Husband and group leader, Emilio Estefan, is said to have helped a relatively shy Gloria come out of her shell to become the dynamic entertainer she is today.!

Harrison Ford   Sexy and shy in one package? Sure, check out Oscar nominee Harrison Ford, who didn't let shyness get in the way of his pursuit of a successful acting career.

Henry Fonda   It's hard to believe this talented actor from Nebraska was painfully shy.

Ingrid Bergman   This talented actress and only child was afraid of her classmates in school. Sound familiar? But what a talent!

James Earl Jones   It's hard to imagine James Earl Jones, the voice behind Star War's Darth Vader; Walt Disney's Mufasa, King of the Jungle from the Lion King; or my personal favorite, Terence Mann from Field of Dreams, as having ever been shy. But makes this man's illustrious stage and film career even more remarkable is the story behind his recovery from the struttering that developed around the age of 10 after witnessing his his brother's epileptic seizure and running for help. This is one you need to read for yourself.

Jim Carrey   Yes, Jim Carrey---he too was a shy quiet child who and didn't have many friends until he showed his comedic talents.

Jimmy Stewart   You can pretty much count on seeing this man when the holiday season roles around and It's A Wonderful Life makes it's way to the screen. If you're too young to remember Jimmy Stewart, let it simply be said that he didn't let his shyness prevent him from becoming one of the greatest actors during the heydays of Hollywood filming making. Filmed in black and white, his movies are nonetheless timeless and moving to this day.

Joan Rivers   Probably best know for her work as a guest host pinch-hitting for fellow shy person Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, Joan was said to have used jokes to cover up her shyness when she was younger.

Johnny Carson   Many a television watcher shared the dawn of a new day with this fellow shy late night talk show host who seemed anything but shy on the screen.

Julia Roberts   Born in Smyrna, Georgia, this once shy young woman has become one of the most popular actresses in America.

Kevin Costner   Awarding winning actor in his adult life, Kevin's mother encouraged him to join the choir as a way to help him overcome shyness caused by frequent moves as a child.

Lady Gaga   Yes, even Lady Gaga, has a shy side to her. Like many of us, she may not as shy with people that she knows, "but with people that I don't know, I am very shy." Sound familiar? Remember, shyness doesn't have to stop you from pursuing your passions. It didn't stop Lady Gaga from becoming a superstar. Shyness may slow us down, but it doesn't have to stop us.

Louise Siversen    Some of you baby-boomers may remember Louise from the television show The Prisoners or, perhaps, you saw her in one of her films. In any case, Louise is one of the many people who didn't let her shyness keep her from a career in show business.

Lucille Ball   Perceived as shy by teachers at the John Murray Anderson dramatic school and discouraged from pursuing a career in show business, Lucille Ball did not give up. The rest is history.

Mary Chapin Carpenter   I was surprised to learn that his dynamo on stage is one of us shy people. But as Mary says, "when you're in that place where you're really into what you're doing-whether onstage, or by yourself at your desk, or wherever-there is a great sense of fulfillment. It's one of the few times that you know who you are."

Michael Feldman   Who would have thought! Michael Feldman---shy? If you've ever heard his quick witted radio program, Whad'Ya Know? on NPR, you're probably as surprised as I was.

Michelle Pfeiffer   This "Cat Woman" with three Oscar nominations to her name, used to be " paralyzed" when she had to make small talk.

Nancy Marchand   Sent to acting school at age 10 to help her overcome her shyness, this Golden Globe winner and two time Emmy Award Nominee's career has spanned everything from soap operas and Mary Tyler Moore to the role of Livia Soprano on the HBO series The Sopranos (1999-2000).

Neil Armstrong   His shyness and tendency toward deliberation was mistaken for arrogance by some of his fellow fliers, but he is best known for being the first man to set foot on the moon.

Nicole Kidman   Like so many of us, Nicole Kidman describes herself as confident in some situations and shy in others. 

Paul Potts     I expect we'll be hearing a lot more from this fellow shy person, now that Paul has won the 2007 "Britain's Best Talent" competition for his moving operatic renditions judged by no less than Simon Cowell. Paul follows in the footsteps of another fellow shy singer judged by Cowell, Carrie Underwood, who has gone on to become an award winning singer in her own right following her win on American Idol.

Regis Philbin   Who would have thought this seasoned talk show host, who ruled the air ways for 28 years, co-anchored Live! With Regis and Kelly, and mastered the art of "TV gab," could ever have been so shy as to think he would never able to do what "he saw other people doing on camera or heard on the radio?" Now retired, I miss watching the style and grace with which Regis put his guests as ease--a style that from time to time I used to encouraged my students to watch for tips on body language and ways to overcome their own fears of shyness and social awkwardness. Little did I know when I first gave those assignments, that Regis was once one of us too. I just thought he was good at what he did--and so he is.

Rene Russo   Discovered at a Rolling Stones concert at age 16, this shy young woman went on to become a cover girl for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and to act in movies with the likes of Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman, Mel Gibson and Kevin Kostner.

Richard Gere   Shy men take heart, Richard Gere is one of you, but that hasn't stopped him from establishing a successful acting career.

Robert De Niro   At the age of ten, Robert De Niro assumed his first stage role as the "cowardly" lion in The Wizard of Oz in an effort to help him overcome shyness. He now has dozens of movies to his credit.

Roy Rogers   Roy Rogers and his horse trigger would never have warmed the heart of millions, if he'd given in to his shyness.

Sally Field   A woman with an illustrious television and film career, Sally Field is said to describe herself as having a crippling shyness into her early adulthood.

Segourny Weaver   Being extremely shy as a child didn't stop Segourny Weaver from pursuing a successful acting career.

Sir Alec Guinness   The son of a baker, Sir Alec achieved his dream of being an actor whose talents ranged from Shakespeare to comedy and who was well known for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

Tina Fey   Whether she's impersonating political candidates on Saturday Night Live where she became the first female head writer or creating, producing,and winning an Emmy for her performance on 30 Rock, or starring in and producing movies, it's hard to keep up with this once shy woman.

Tom Cruise   Heart throb of many, this illustrious actor struggled with both shyness and dyslexia as a child.

Tom Hanks   One of the greatest actors of our time, Tom's family moved frequently when he was child---making it harder for him to make friends. His involvement in theatre helped to ease his resulting shyness.

Yul Kwon   Survivor winner on the 2006 series ... okay, so I don't really follow the show, but Yul Kwon's story is so compelling that I couldn't help digging a little deeper. Born in New York to Korean immigrant parents, Yul had a severe lisp which people took to mean that he didn't speak English very well. The victim of child hood bullying and Asian stereotyping, this socially anxious "Yale University-trained lawyer put his career on hold to compete the [2006 season] of the CBS show Survivor" in part, to provide the kind of positive Asian role model he hungered for as a child. But don't listen to me, listen for yourself.

In A Class By Themselves . . .

Albert Ellis   Most of you probably don't know who his man is, but he is often credited with the development of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. What's more, the importance of his contribution to the field of psychotherapy is sometimes likened to that of Freud. Ellis's work was required reading for my very first undergraduate psychology class and I can safely say that his book, A Guide to Rational Living, was probably the single most important thing I have read in my career. Add to all that a reputation for colorful language coupled with independent thinking and then Imagine my surprise to learn that he too was once shy. (press listen on page for NPR broadcast of radio report on Ellis).

Premier Alden McLaughlin   I have to admit I donít l know much about the Cayman Islands or Alden McLauglin, its Premier. But I do know about shyness and totally get it when he admits to having been painfully shy as a child and having his demeanor mistaken for arrogance as an adult. How shall I say? Been there done that. For those of you who question whether or not you can achieve your goals despite being shy, check out the article and video Primier McLaughlin released prior to the run up to the polls.

Authors . . .

Agatha Christie   While shyness and stage fright may have discouraged this accomplished pianist from pursuing a career, it didn't stop her from becoming a great mystery novelist with over one hundred novels to her credit.

Beth Winegarner   Painfully shy as a child, Beth Winegarner not only realized that she could write, but that she could write well—so well that she decided to make journalism her career. There was just one catch. Beth was shy and being a journalist "meant walking up to people on the street and asking them personal questions." In time, Beth developed strategies for "tricking" herself into doing the things she needed to do which she shares in the article I've linked you to.

Elfriede Jelinek   Novelist, poet, and playwright Elfriede Jelinek may have allowed her social phobia to interfere with the public acceptance of her award, but it didn't stop her from creating a body works worthy of the Noble Prize in Literature.

George Bernard Shaw   Nobel Prize winner, celebrated play write and author of Pygmalion on which the musical My Fair Lady was based, among other things George Bernard Shaw overcame his shyness to become a talented public speaker, as well.

Harriet Beecher Stowe   When Abraham Lincoln met this shy author of Uncle Tom's Cabin he is said to have commented "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!" 

J.K. Rowling   If it hadn't been for her shyness, J.K. Rowling speculates about whether there would even have been a Harry Potter series. Too shy to ask for a functioning pen while on a train, J.K. Rowling explains that she "simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn't know he was a wizard became more and more real to me."

Kimberly Willis Holt   This award winning children's book author attributes her shyness to frequent moves her family made as part of her father's military career.

Nathaniel Hawthorne   For me, Nathanial Hawthorne brings back memories of middle school (called junior high in my day), when raising my hand to comment on The Scarlet Letter in English class was too terrifying to even consider. It sure would have helped to know the book's author was shyer than me when he wrote it.

Raymond Carver   This shy author initially turned to writing poetry and short stories because he lacked the time it took to create longer works.

Robert Frost   This famous poet's public performances are credited with helping him overcome his shyness.

Business People . . .

Craig McCaw   Telecommunications billionaire and wireless pioneer, Craig McCaw recognized that shortcomings (shyness and dyslexia) could also be assets. "Maybe my whole attitude toward life comes from being forced, as a relatively shy person, to confront people and ask them to do something, and try to explain why it might be in their interest ." 

Katherine Graham   Not only did Katherine Graham describe herself as shy and insecure when she took over responsibility for running the Washington Post after her husband's death, but Katherine Graham went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for telling her story in her memoir entitled Personal History.

Leroy Grumman   Established in 1930 in Baldwin, Long Island, New York by painfully shy co-founder Leroy Grumman, Gruman Aircraft Engineering Corporation became a major supplier of warplanes during World War II, as well as the largest single employer on Long Island. The company was later purchased by Northrup Aircraft in 1994 and merged with Northrop to become Northrop-Grumman.

Just Plain Folks . . .

Caroline Knapp     Like many shy people, Caroline didn't understand how her shyness was being interpreted by others until she overheard neighbors talking about her at a potluck dinner behind her house.

Kristy Heslewood   "I can't believe the little girl who suffered from mutism was even me." That's what Kristy Heslewood, said looking back on the days she was too scared to speak in public as a child, but a video her mother made of Kristy talking changed that in a big way. 

Megan Franzen    Megan did as many people do, she turned to sports to help her get out of her shell and has risen to the top, winning national awards in Taekwondo.

Gordon Irlam   Not only did Gordon choose to deal with his own shyness (see but he has helped many others do the same, having posted one of the earliest online resource pages on shyness:

A College Student's Guide to Overcome Shyness   Written by Jonathan---"a 24 year old college student who has seen first hand what severe shyness can do to someone"---this site documents Jonathan's journey to overcome his shyness and provides tips on how you can do the same.

Shy and Free   Shy people talk about how they feel on this award winning site.


* Disclaimer . . .

While I have done my best to verify the biographical information presented here, celebrities are often misquoted and misrepresented.  Please report inaccuracies and supporting documentation of your concerns to, as well as names and references to documentation of additional shy celebrities you would like to see included on this page.  Thank you.


© copyright 2017, All rights reserved by Renée Gilbert, Ph.D.
Protected by Copyscape DMCA Copyright Detector