“I’m like a tree. I feed the branches of the people.”
Pretty par for the course from Kanye West these days—making an outrageous statement about his unquestionable genius. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that West knows how to keep himself in the headlines, and for a musician, that’s a skill that can make or break a career. It may pains us to admit, but in many ways he is a genius, even with quotes like: “I would never want a book’s autograph. I’m a proud non-reader of books.”
In fact, there’s reason to believe that he’s been so successful because of this behavior. And he’s not the only one. Though none of the following people were ever diagnosed with mental disorders, experts have studied their careers and personalities and concluded that they likely did have a disorder of some kind, which may have been the defining quality that took their talent to the next level.
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Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder He was a billionaire who sat on the floor of his mansion for years because he couldn’t find furniture he liked. While planning the first Apple stores, he spent half an hour trying to figure out which shade of gray the restroom signs should be. Hallucinating in the hospital after surgery, he demanded that doctors bring him five different types of oxygen mask so he could select the one that looked best.
Steve Jobs couldn't write code, but he catapulted Apple into the upper echelon of tech companies through his intense obsession with design. Some now think this perfectionism was pathological. Jobs may have suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, which would account for his unyielding commitment to putting out products that met impossibly high standards. It's generally agreed that the design features are the key to Apple's success, giving us reason to believe that Jobs' OCPD was the driving force that made the company the behemoth it is today.
2. Douglas MacArthur
Narcissistic Personality Disorder The jury's out on whether or not Douglas MacArthur was a brilliant military strategist, or a flawed figure with a good instinct for PR. Most agree that he could be kind of a dick, though. He acted like a bratty kid when it came time to accept responsibility for mistakes, directly violated orders from President Hoover, and obsessed over making sure everyone saw him as a genius. Not exactly admirable traits, but they are the reason he was able to attain and hold onto such a high role in the military. They also happen to be signs that he suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which involves an insanely high regard for yourself and a chronic need to be appreciated. Experts now think MacArthur's behavior was a prime example of the condition.
3. Marilyn Monroe
Histrionic Personality Disorder She caught the public's eye with her looks, but Marilyn Monroe became the definitive Hollywood bombshell thanks to her attention-grabbing public identity. She was a seductress who walked, talked, and acted in ways that demanded you notice her, even if you were the President of the United States.
Looking back, it appears she might have had histrionic personality disorder, a condition that's also been applied to people like Lindsay Lohan. Monroe might have been plagued by self-esteem issues that made her behave in ways that would get her the approval and attention she craved.
Michelangelo was a man of many talents, and a perfectionist, to boot. He spent eight years working on one painting—and let's be honest, The Last Judgment was worth the wait in ways that Chinese Democracy could never be.
He was so focused on control and order that there's good reason to suspect he was autistic. Social and emotional interaction weren't his forte—he skipped his own brother's funeral—but devoting all of his energies to a project or interest was. It was how he was able to create so many masterpieces, and it is one of many signs of his high-functioning autism.
Bipolar Disorder Beethoven churned out masterpieces with all the frenzy of a cokehead. His gloomy music makes metal sound like Kidz Bop. And that may have all been due to his mental illness. Friends noticed that, during his manic phases, Beethoven took to composing with a passion that bordered on obsession. His improvisational skills were inhuman, he refused to eat dinner when he was in the middle of work, and he could fly into rages that ended relationships. But it was during those manic phases that he made his most memorable music.
6. Van Gogh
Bipolar Disorder Van Gogh, your go-to answer whenever the Final Jeopardy! category is "Famous Painters," was not a mentally well man. Dude went all Mr. White on his own ear and gave it to a prostitute. When he wasn't inflicting Tarantino-style torture on himself, Van Gogh was either mired in intense periods of productivity, or prolonged bouts of misery.
That's because he probably had bipolar disorder, which would not only explain his rash overreactions, but also his ability to create work at a feverish pace. Those manic phases were the spark that pushed him to create his masterworks.
7. Andy Warhol
Autism Andy Warhol astounded art students and confused the hell out of the rest of us with iconic pieces like the repeating Campbell's Soup cans. His fresh take on art, along with his notoriously eccentric behavior, made Warhol a pop culture landmark. But some now think that his perspective on consumerism wasn't an ironic jab, but the product of autism. Warhol struggled in social situations, compulsively bought the same pair of underpants, and obsessed over the order of those soup cans. And there's reason to believe it was that obsession that led to his acclaimed work.
8. Kanye West
Narcissistic Personality Disorder When Kanye claims that he'll be remembered as a character in "today's modern Bible," he's not just trying to become the most trending hashtag on Twitter. It's too early to tell for sure, but there are many who think that he probably suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Like MacArthur, he needs people to know that he's brilliant. That's why he compares himself to people like Jim Morrison, Picasso, and, uh, God.
Talent aside, his antics are a large part of why he's managed to stay in the public's eye for so long. We can't ignore him, because his neuroses won't let us. But we shouldn't, because well, he's a genius.
Joe Olivetois a staff writer at Supercompressor and a baffled non-reader of Kanye's modern Bible. Follow him on Twitter.