Eric and Julia Roberts are a brother-and-sister act that is unique in the world of acting. They are only the third brother-and-sister act to be both nominated for Oscars for acting. Eric was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his 1985 role in Runaway Train. His sister Julia won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Erin Brockovich in 2001, after receiving previous nominations in 1989 and 1990, for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman, respectively. Only two other brother/sister combos have done the same thing. Lionel and Ethel Barrymore both won Oscars, while Warren Beatty and his sister Shirley MacLaine received multiple nominations as actors. MacLaine won Best Actress in 1984 for Terms of Endearment. While Beatty has never won an Oscar as an actor, he won one as Best Director for Reds in 1981.
While the public knows much about the careers of Eric & Julia Roberts, as well as their estrangement over family issues, the public is largely unaware that this distinguished brother-and-sister act are both entered on the SFA’s list of Famous People Who Stutter. The Roberts siblings stuttered as children and ironically give credence to the factor of the heredity/genetic link in the stuttering equation.
Julia has stated in public several times that she stuttered as a young girl. However, it seems that she has not gone into much detail. On the other hand, Eric has spoken very candidly about his childhood speech, and one could surmise that he not only stuttered into more advanced years of childhood than his sister, but also that his stuttering was more severe.
Eric appeared on the cover of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in October 1986, a period in time which could be considered a high point in his career. In the interview he did with the magazine, he said, “I read a lot when I was little because I had the worst stutter in the world – “The the the wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-water is cold”. And the class cracked up. I suppose it was funny, but it was so painful for me. So I read because it was a solitary thing where I didn’t have to be cracked up at.”
Similarly, the 2004 biography Julia: Her Life by James Spada goes into detail about Eric’s painful stuttering several times throughout the book. Spada wrote, “Eric had not uttered a word until he was five, then suffered from a nearly crippling stutter.” Spada quotes a family friend as saying, “When I knew Eric, he was so eager to please, he was a delight – he was this really cute kid who stuttered and who tried so hard.” The book then goes on to say that Eric was so afraid of taunts at school that when his teachers went from pupil to pupil to read out loud in class, Eric would strategically figure out his passage in advance and then memorize it because he would not stutter when
speaking from memory.
There was talk of putting Eric into a special ed class, but when his father, an acting teacher, saw him reciting memorized lines in front of a mirror without stuttering, he immediately decided that acting was the route for his son.
The fact that both Eric and Julia Roberts appear on the SFA’s list of Famous People Who Stutter no doubt has inspired young people struggling with the problem. Maybe someday in the future they might consider becoming spokespeople for the SFA. Until then, the worldwide stuttering community will continue to be proud to have such a unique brother-and sister combo among our ranks.