Another performer is in the news for going public about autism: This time it’s Dan Aykroyd—comedian, singer, actor and screenwriter, Blues Brother and, of course, Ghostbuster—who tells the Daily Mail that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s in the 1980s. Aykroyd’s news comes close on the heel of singer Susan Boyle and Daryl Hannah, who both revealed that they have Asperger’s. But Aykroyd’s story is a little different.
Both Hannah and Boyle said their autism made their careers more challenging—Hannah retreated from Hollywood because she couldn’t handle the demands of doing publicity, and Boyle has struggled to control outbursts that have drawn a lot of negative attention. But Aykroyd, who said he was diagnosed when his wife urged him to see a doctor, cheerfully credited his Asperger’s with being responsible for his huge hit, Ghostbusters:
One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement—I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.
It’s not the first time Aykroyd has mentioned Asperger’s—a couple of years ago in a delightful interview with NPR’s Terry Gross he also cites the badge: “If I don’t have a badge on me I feel naked,” he says. And he notes that his obsession with police and college study of criminology also served him well when it came to writing the Blues Brothers: “They were classic recidivists, they could never stay out of trouble, always looking for it, borderline sociopathic hedonists, and I was well armed criminological terms and knowledge.”
Akroyd also says in both interviews that he was diagnosed with Tourette’s at 12, and had “pretty bad” physical and verbal tics that made him shy, until they were controlled with therapy and the symptoms eased a couple of years later. Hard to imagine the wild and crazy guy from Saturday Night Live ever being reluctant, but it’s a story we hear all the time—kids who struggle with social limitations find acting, and humor, thrilling and liberating.