Marlee Matlin is an Academy Award winning American Actress and author. She has been deaf since she was 18 months old, she is also a prominent member of the Deaf community and supports the use of sign language, closed captioning, and is an active member of the National Association of the Deaf.
Marlee Beth Matlin was born on August 24, 1965, in Morton Grove, Illinois. Her mother, Libby, was a jewelry sales woman and her father, Donald, operated a used car dealership. Marlee is the youngest of three children and is the only member of her family who is Deaf. She is of Russian Jewish decent and was able to have her Bat Mitzvah by learning Hebrew phonetically.
As Matlin recounts in her autobiography, I’ll Scream Later, growing up, her parents expressed a concern that her deafness would be an insoluble barrier in a hearing world. But instead of agonizing over this, her parents faced it head on and embraced it. They sent Matlin to schools where she learned to both speak and sign, and encouraged her to make friends in the neighborhood. With strong support from her family, Marlee’s childhood world was unlimited.
Matlin made her stage debut at the age of 7, as Dorothy in the ICODA (International Center for Deafness and the Arts) version of The Wizard of Oz. Matlin maintained a passion for acting throughout her childhood and while earning her degree in Criminal Justice at Harper College. At the age of 20, during a performance in the Midwest, Matlin caught the eye of American actor, director, and producer Henry Winkler and was cast for the lead role in Children of a Lesser God (1986). This film brought her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Drama and an Academy Award for Best Actress, making her both the youngest and the only deaf actress to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She learned of her Oscar nomination while receiving treatment for a substance abuse problem while in an abusive relationship. Matlin viewed this acknowledgment as an opportunity to turn her life around and to shift her focus onto her dream of acting.
Since her Academy Award, Matlin has played a variety of compelling roles and has since earned multiple Emmy Award nominations. She has appeared in the independent film “What the Bleep Do You Know?” and has occurring roles in hit television series The L Word, The West Wing, Dancing with the Stars, and Switched at Birth. On the television set of Reasonable Doubts, Marlee met her husband, policeman Kevin Grandalski. She and her husband have 4 children: Sarah, 15, Brandon, 11, Tyler, 9, and Isabelle, 8.
After the birth of her children, Matlin branched out into a new direction, fulfilling a longtime dream of writing a children’s book and telling the world what it’s like being Deaf. In 2002, she published her young adult novel Deaf Child Crossing. In 2009, she published her autobiography I’ll Scream Later. Marlee is often credited for introducing millions of viewers and readers to sign language and issues involving the Deaf community.
Outside of acting and writing, Matlin is a strong supporter of the Deaf Community. Matlin is particularly influencial because she has worked directly with policymakers. She was instrumental in estabilishing congressional legistlation that all television sets manufactured in the USA be equipped with Closed Caption technology. She also serves on the boards of a number of charitable organizations and is a prominent member of the National Association of the Deaf.
While addressing discrimination and barriers during an interview with About, Marlee stated:
“I look at these situations not as challenges, but as opportunities to show how proud I am of my rich culture — deaf culture. Actually, I like the new way of looking at Deaf culture. It’s called Deafhood. It’s the idea that deafness has a positive value rather than as something that needs to be cured or is challenging. It’s all about making noise and standing up for who we are. Being deaf means being anything but silent. On the contrary, when one accepts deaf people of all kinds and language preferences as their culture, one realizes that silence is the last thing one will ever hear from them.”
And Marlee Matlin, you are heard.