There are not many celebrities who are recognizable merely by their first names but Hollywood actor Tom Cruise is an exception. Just mention his first name in a conversation and the chances are that your friends will go, “Oh, you mean Tom Cruise? The latest Mission: Impossible film was pretty awesome. You should check it out.”
Cruise, now 53 years old (yes, he is already in his fifties as unbelievable as it may be) has been a household name for nearly 30 years – and his stardom does not seem to waning anytime soon. If anything, it is only growing brighter with every blockbuster he puts out. People need not look any further than at his most recent movie offering for proof.
The fifth installment to the Mission: Impossible franchise, Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation has grossed over 370 million dollars to date, more than double of its 150 million-dollar budget while receiving rave reviews from initially cynical critics. One popular film review website was even quoted as saying: “MI: 5 continues the franchise’s thrilling resurgence – and proves that Tom Cruise remains an action star without equal.” In a time and age where movie stars are getting younger and younger, Cruise is holding his own real well. Not bad for someone in his fifties – and especially not bad for someone who once struggled with something as seemingly simple as reading and writing.
The dyslexic behind the actor
Most of us know Tom Cruise the actor but not many know him as Tom Cruise the
“functional illiterate” – or so he described himself in an interview with People magazine. Having inherited dyslexia (a specific learning difficulty mainly affecting skills involved in the spelling and reading of words) from his mother, Cruise remembers how difficult it was for him during his schooling years.
“I couldn’t remember what I read or wrote. I’d try to focus on what I was reading but when I got the end of the page, I’d have very little memory of anything I’d just read. I’d blank out and feel frustrated, bored, nervous, angry and dumb all at once. It came to the point where I was so stressed that my legs and head would actually hurt whenever I studied,” he recalls. But lagging behind in class was not the only worry his younger self had; hiding his dyslexia from his classmates also became a priority. “I didn’t want the other children to know about my learning disability. I constantly felt like I had a secret.”
Trouble at home
As if struggling with dyslexia was not enough, Cruise had to deal with bullying at school. His father who was an electrical engineer by profession was always on the lookout for jobs – and that meant lots of travelling. As a result of the constant moving around, Cruise’s family never settled down in one place for long. “By the time I was 14 years old, I had been to as many as 15 schools. And I was bullied very often. My heart would be pounding and I’d feel like throwing up whenever the bullies came near.” As anxious as he felt, he tried standing up for himself. “I wasn’t the biggest guy, I never liked hitting people but I knew if I didn’t defend myself, they were going to pick on me all year.”
Tom may have stood up to bullies as best as he could but defending himself against his father was a whole other story. “I was frequently abused by my father. He was this merchant of chaos. If something went wrong, he’d kick me. He was the kind of guy to lull you in, make you feel safe and then, ‘bang!’ He was a bully and a coward,” Cruise divulges. “I learned to be careful around him. I didn’t trust him.” The abuse lasted till he was 12 when his mother decided enough was enough. She filed for divorce and was given custody of Cruise and his three older sisters.
“You’ve got potential”
Being the sole breadwinner now that Cruise’s father was out of the picture, his mother had to work three jobs to make ends meet. However, she still managed to carve out time for her son. “Despite everything on her plate, my mum would help me with my studies. If I had a writing assignment, I’d dictate it to her first. She’d then write it down and I’d copy it extremely carefully.” Cruise still clearly remembers his mother’s advice to him. “She always said ‘You’ve got so much potential. Don’t give up’. She’d encourage me to do the things I was good at.” And one of those things was acting.
“Because of dyslexia, I wasn’t great at school. So, I dabbled in other things like sports and drama. I’d often imitate people to get some laughs. But I started taking acting seriously in 4th grade. Some boys and I put on an improvised play to music at my elementary school drama festival. The drama organizers loved it! That was when I discovered I could be good at something.” With that new-found realization, he began channeling all his efforts into acting. The rest, as we know it is history.
Not impossible, after all
These days, Cruise is doing what he can to help kids who face the same struggle as he once did. A founding member of the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project (H.E.L.P.), he hopes that dyslexic children will not have to experience what he went through. “Through this non-profit program, I want kids to be able to write, read, understand what people are saying to them and to solve problems. When I was a kid, I didn’t have the tools to help me. So, I hope to help others like me.”
“Being diagnosed with dyslexia isn’t the end. It’s about how you cope with it,” Cruise stresses. “Every time I start working on a film, I still get nervous. But I remind myself that when faced with problems, I can either sink or swim. I choose to swim.” Now that’s one mission, accomplished.
- Being Dyslexic. Available at www.beingdyslexic.co.uk
- Dyslexia Consultants.com. Available at www.dyslexiaconsultants.com
- Dyslexia Help. Available at www.dyslexiahelp.umich.edu
- People. Available at www.people.com