TWAP051 Famous People with Autism: Tim Burton

Clay Marzo, Darryl Hannah, Temple Grandin are just a few famous people with autism. Each one has strengths and weaknesses. So do you.

famous people with autism tim burton

Every person, whether famous or not, has gifts, talents, and purpose. And everyone who perseveres despite flaws and adversity makes a difference in the world.

Here’s a portrait of another famous person with autism, and how he can teach you about your own potential? Read on to find out more about Tim Burton.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do." Helen Keller

Timothy Walter “Tim” Burton is an American film director, film producer, writer, artist and animator. His awards include Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program, Future Film Festival Digital Award, and National Board of Review Award for Best Director.

Facts About His Life

He spent most of his childhood as a recluse. He was a very introspective person, and enjoyed painting, drawing, and watching films.

Tim Burton hasn’t been formally diagnosed with autism, but he identifies with the condition.

His ex-wife, Helena Bonham Carter, informally diagnosed him with Asperger’s syndrome.

While she was researching for a film she had a bit of an “a-ha moment” when so many of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome lined up with the traits that she loves in her husband. Helena says: “We were watching a documentary about autism and he said that’s how he felt as a child. Autistic people have application and dedication. You can say something to Tim when he’s working and he doesn’t hear you. But that quality also makes him a fantastic father, he has an amazing sense of humour and imagination. He sees things other people don’t see.” Tim Burton autism claims

Does He Have Autism, or Doesn’t He?

Here’s a thread from Wrong Planet, where different people with Aspergers voiced their opinions:

I don’t think he does, by virtue of the fact that he’s a director which is a job i’d imagine requires lots of human interaction and getting large groups of people to do as you please. Surely that would be extremely difficult for someone with asperger’s.
But then again, Spielberg is officially an aspie…

It is fairly narrow to assume someone with AS cannot be a director. Obsessive interest, the capacity to hyperfocus, a capacity to communicate and talk in relation to a special interest…. persevering with specific goals, attention to detail….
Directing does not require “social” engagement with others. It simply requires the communication of what needs to be done. He would be working within the realm of a special interest………

I’ve asked this before, I used to be a frequent visitor at a Tim Burton forum, and this question would crop up once in a while. I would think so, from watching Edward Scissorhands, and from seeing in interviews, he’s got a very soft voice, and he’s always gesturing to get his point across, since words seem to fail him sometimes. I’ve felt many times like Edward Scissorhands myself, that sad feeling of wanting to “touch” with the rest of the world, but being unable to.

I have Aspergers, and I plan on being a director when I am older.
I get along FINE and am usually the leader in video projects, and I am very focused on my movies.
I don’t have any problem seeing Tim Burton have Aspergers.

Whether he has autism or not, here are some interesting facts possibly supporting autistic traits.

  • His ex-wife finds him highly intelligent, yet lacking in social skills.
  • He has the ability to hyper focus on his interests, like Michael Burry on numbers, or Clay Marzo on surfing.
  • He’s capable of seeing details that other more generalized brains would miss.
  • He usually dresses in black, because he doesn’t like spending too much time matching colors. Most non-autistics are conscious of how they appear, including how their dress. Tim Burton doesn’t really care.
  • He and his now ex-wife lived in adjoining houses in London with a hallway that connected the two homes. When I read this fact, I was reminded of this article describing two people on the autism spectrum who live in separate bedrooms due to their sensory and other sensitivies.

Finding His Place In the World

Tim Burton found his place in the world via his strengths and talents. Although he struggled with real life drawings during college, he embraced his unique style.

I remember, I was at Cal Arts and I wasn’t a good life-drawer; I struggled with that realistic style of drawing. And one day I was sitting in Farmer’s Market sketching, and it was this weird, mind-blowing experience. I said, ‘Goddamit, I don’t care if I can’t draw, I’m just gonna draw how I feel about it.’ All of a sudden I had my own personal breakthrough, and then I could draw, and satisfied myself. I’ve had very few experiences like that, and I’ll never forget it.

Go to his website,, to appreciate his unique viewpoint and art.

I speculate that Tim Burton struggled with loneliness in his life. His movie plots often focus on a misunderstood cast. Yet his characters are often friendly and optimistic, despite bleak surroundings. His heroes, while often neurotic, somewhat cowardly and bizarre, are also intelligent and highly moral. [source, facts from Tim Burton’s biography page.

Takeaways from Tim Burton’s life for Parents, Teachers, and People on the Autism Spectrum.

  • Parents, value your child’s positive characteristics and unique viewpoints. Don’t box her in with your expectations of who she should be.
  • Teachers, value your student’s unique learning style and temperament. Learn about the autism spectrum and work on teaching to your student’s style of learning. Never underestimate his talents and abilities.
  • People on the autism spectrum, embrace your life purpose, mission, and strengths. Don’t give up on living. Learn about others who have gone through adversity, yet remained strong. Overcome critical voices from the past or present.

Interesting Facts and Quotes about Tim Burton


  • He was married to Lena Gieske, a German-born artist, for two years.
  • He left her to live with actress Lisa Marie, between 1992 and 2001.
  • He left her and began a romantic relationship with English actress Helen Bonham Carter.

Source – Wikipedia

Facts About His Movies

  • The plot of his movies often focuses around a misunderstood outcast.
  • Many of his films feature townspeople who misunderstand and/or distrust the lead character
  • His heroes are often neurotic, somewhat cowardly and bizarre yet also intelligent and highly moral

Source – IMDb

Odds and Ends

  • Usually dresses in black, because he doesn’t like to spend too much time matching color
  • He and his ex-wife, lived in adjoining houses with a hallway that connected the two homes – they have a son, Billy-Ray Burton, born on October 4, 2003, and a girl, Nell Burton, born on December 15, 2007.

Source – IMDb

Tim Burton Quotes –

tim burton quote


“Wanting people to like you is nice, but I’m confident that there’s always going to be lots that don’t," Mr. Burton said with gallows humor and genuine pride. “I’ll always be able to hang on to that."

Regarding his childhood and teenage years –

I felt like an outcast. At the same time I felt quite normal. I think a lot of kids feel alone and slightly isolated and in their own world. I don’t believe the feelings I had were unique. You can sit in a classroom and feel like no one understands you, and you’re Vincent Price in “House of Usher." I would imagine, if you talk to every single kid, most of them probably felt similarly. But I felt very tortured as a teenager. That’s where “Edward Scissorhands" came from. I was probably clinically depressed and didn’t know it.

On leaving a legacy –

I think it’s wise to plan ahead. Start early — plan your funeral now. It’s not a morbid thought. If you want something to happen in a certain way, especially the last thing, you might as well.

The thing that I care about most — that you did something that really had an impact on them. People come up on the street, and they have a “Nightmare" tattoo, or little girls saying they love “Sweeney Todd," and you’re like, “How were you able to see it?" Or you see people, especially around Halloween, dressed up in costume, as Corpse Bride or the Mad Hatter or Sally. It’s not critics, it’s not box office. Things that you know are connecting with real people.

Source – New York Times Article – Tim Burton, At Home in His Own Head

Articles about People Overcoming Adversity

Give Up On Living?

Homeless To Harvard

No Legs Didn’t Stop Him

Overcoming Critical Voices from the Past or Present


What have you learned from Tim Burton and other famous people with autism? Please let me know below!

photo credit Wikimedia creative commons, author Gage Skidmore

Join the Conversation

What topics would you most like covered on the show? Who would you like me to interview? Share you answer in the comments below or Ask me a question via my Contact Page.

Do you enjoy this podcast?

Subscribe to the Thrive with Aspergers Podcast via Stitcher, iTunes, or RSS

Please leave a review on iTunes! Your positive reviews will help drive awareness of the podcast so that many more can see it!

Print Friendly
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Website

I'm Steve Borgman. I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

Are you tired of feeling alone, like you're the only one in this world? Please join the Thrive with Aspergers Community to connect with others just like you!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Perfect Reject

    More and more we are hearing about well known, successful people having Asperger’s. It is inspiring and sends a hopeful message. ~nina

  • Thanks, Nina 🙂