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Sgt. Pepper and epilepsy

Sgt. Pepper's 50th anniversary, but who is connected to epilepsy?

Thursday 1 June marked exactly 50 years since the release of the iconic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles. The cover is best known for featuring more than 60 historic figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries, including the Fab Four.

However, what hasn’t been realised is that some of the people featured on the album cover had some association or links with epilepsy. Here, we take a look at who they were and how history treated the big names with the neurological condition.

Writer Edgar Allen Poe is listed in Epilepsy Foundation’s Hall of Fame. According to their website, “For many years, people attributed his mental problems to alcohol and drug abuse but, today many believe that he was not properly diagnosed. Most authorities now believe he was epileptic, which would sometimes explain his frequent confusion.”

Writer Lewis Carroll was also known to have seizures. Having lived with migraines through his life, it was suspected he had temporal lobe epilepsy in which consciousness is not always completely lost but altered. He had been diagnosed with ‘epileptiform’ and wrote about this in his diary.

According to The Independent, Albert Einstein also had epilepsy. However, this may be due to a lack of understanding of the condition as other sources, such as the Telegraph, say that if he were living today, he’d be diagnosed with autism.

Oscar Wilde also features on the cover. While he didn’t have epilepsy, in the 19th century the condition was considered by some to be psychological rather than neurological. As a gay man living at the time, Wilde was subjected to serious discrimination which, in at least one case, attempted to link his homosexuality to epilepsy. According to the book The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde by Peter Raby, journalist Frank Harris attempted to “explain Wilde’s homosexual behaviour as a form of epilepsy or madness”. This attitude reflects prejudices of the time towards homosexuality and epilepsy.

It was suspected that psychiatrist Carl Jung had epilepsy as he had fainted a number of times during his childhood. However, according to his memoirs, it stated that he had neurosis. It has also been claimed that author H. G. Wells had epilepsy, according to the Yo Disabled Proud website.

These links and associations with epilepsy shows how much has been achieved to understand the condition. But as Young Epilepsy’s recent #ExplainEpilepsy campaign in partnership with River Island shows, there is still a long way to go. As the famous Beatles lyric goes, “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see”.

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Cyber EssentialsFundraising RegulatorYoung Epilepsy is the operating name of The National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy (NCYPE).
Registered Charity number 311877 (England and Wales)

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