Christy Brown was a famous Irish author and painter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, and as a result was severely disabled all of his life. Most people have probably heard of him from the 1989 film My Left Foot, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the leading role, based on Brown’s autobiography of the same name, which was published in 1954. The film depicts him as an inspirational character in overcoming the extreme hardships of his life.
Born in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, to a poor family in 1932, Brown was one of 22 children (17 of whom survived to adulthood). Shortly after his birth, he was discovered to have severe cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder which causes one's limbs to become entirely spastic, meaning that one is prone to shaking and has little conscious control of it. Despite being urged to have Brown committed to a hospital, his parents were determined to raise him at home with their other children, so that he could have more natural supports in his life. This was possibly what made him so independent as an adult, despite his severe disability.
Initially, Brown was unable to stand, walk or speak, and had to be fed, washed, etc. His mother never gave up hope for him, and taught him to read, write and paint with his left foot. Despite the medical view that he was an imbecile, his mother knew that his mind was extremely astute, although his body was almost completely paralyzed. During his youth, he could not speak properly and he communicated mainly through grunts which were understood by his family and close circle. Through therapy, he was later able to improve his speech and muscle coordination. He received hardly any formal schooling during his youth, but early on he showed a keen interest in arts and literature, and was brought books and painting materials by a social worker who visited the family. He demonstrated impressive physical dexterity by learning to both draw and write with the only limb which he had definitive control - his left leg. He matured quickly into a serious artist and attended an educational institution intermittently where he met author Dr Robert Collis. Collis helped Brown to publish My Left Foot, a memoir which had been a long time in the creation, vividly describing his struggle with day-to-day life amidst Dublin’s vibrant culture.
The autobiography became a literary sensation, and Brown received letters from many people following its publication, among them an American woman named Beth Moore. They became regular correspondents and Brown started an affair with her in 1965 when he visited her in America, despite the fact that she was married at the time. When he visited America again in 1967, Moore helped him finish Down All the Days, his magnum opus he was working on, by making him stick to a strict working routine and denying him alcohol (which he depended on) until the work was finished. It was published in 1970 and Brown’s fame continued to grow internationally, and he achieved celebrity status. When he returned to Ireland, he was able to use the proceeds from his book sales to design a specially adapted home to move into outside Dublin, with his sister’s family. He had originally planned to marry Beth Moore, but then he met Englishwoman Mary Carr at a party in London and started an affair with her. He then ended his relationship with Moore and married Carr at Dublin Registry Office in 1972. They subsequently moved to Somerset, England, where Brown continued to write novels, plays and poetry.
Sadly, Brown’s health deteriorated after he married Carr, which was thought to be a direct result of her reputed abusive nature. He died in 1981 at the age of 49 while choking during dinner. It is theorized that his wife was guilty of his manslaughter, since his food had to be cut up very small in order for him to eat it, and he had choked on a large piece of meat. It was an untimely end to an extraordinary life. Christy Brown achieved far more than ever had been predicted for him, due to his talent and indomitable spirit.
Picture courtesy of www.newstalk.com