After Chris Rock Received A Life-Changing Diagnosis, He Opened Up About Its Impact On His Life

After years of dealing with issues caused by a disorder he was unaware of, Chris Rock finally got a diagnosis in his mid-50s. The revelation led the comedian to seek serious help for the first time. And it would seem that the development had life-altering effects for the famous joker.

Rock is arguably one of the most popular stand-up comedians of all time. The entertainer is known for his unadulterated approach to humor and his willingness to talk frankly about issues such as race and gender. But the funnyman also uses his past trials and traumas as inspiration for his act.

As a result of becoming more and more popular, Rock has sustained an acting and comedy career for over three decades. But in 2020 the comedian received a life-changing diagnosis. And as he came to terms with this, Rock was forced to address some of the traumas he’d carried with him since childhood.

Rock was born in Andrews, South Carolina on February 7, 1965. He is the oldest child of parents Rose and Julius Rock, a teacher and a truck driver, respectively. When Rock was just a toddler, his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, and it was here that the funnyman grew up, mainly in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Over the years Rock’s family grew in size. Indeed, the comedian gained seven siblings while his parents also welcomed numerous foster children. Rock’s mother, in particular, was eager to help disadvantaged children and did so despite the financial pressure on the household.

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Therefore Rock’s parents made sure they instilled a work ethic in their children. As a child, the comedian was bussed to school in a largely white area. But despite his aptitude when it came to writing, Rock’s early educational experiences were far from happy. Was this perhaps connected to something deeper going on with Rock himself?

It appeared not at this stage. In an interview with Ebony magazine in 1999 Rock compared his time at school to “Vietnam.” He also claimed that he was too busy trying to avoid a beating to really apply himself in class. Things got so bad that Rock’s mom and dad pulled him out of high school at 17, with his mother later admitting she’d feared for his life.

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So even before his life-changing diagnosis, Rock was no stranger to hardship. He would eventually drop out of high school altogether, though he did earn a General Educational Development (GED). But during his hardest times of being bullied, it would seem that Rock found an escape through comedy.

Rock actually wasn’t the class clown you might have expected. Instead he would stay up late during his school days so that he could tune into The Tonight Show. The funnyman told Ebony, “Especially when Bill Cosby used to host… because he’d do his monologue and he’d… smoke when he did it… He used to smoke a cigar… He was so cool. He was a Mac Daddy back then.”

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And the Carolina-native soon decided to follow the comedy path himself. So alongside working menial jobs in restaurants like McDonald’s and Red Lobster, he started gigging in New York comedy venues as a late teenager. But success was not forthcoming, with the comedian earning just $5 for his first paid job at a Catch a Rising Star club.

Then Rock caught his first big break in 1984 when Eddie Murphy saw him perform at an open-mic night. Murphy decided to take the young talent under his wing, helping him to land a gig on the 1987 HBO special Uptown Comedy Express. The same year he also starred alongside Murphy in a small role in Beverly Hills Cop II.

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The comedian rose further in 1990 when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Just one year prior, he’d considered quitting comedy when a tragedy rocked his life. It was then that his dad died following a ruptured ulcer, and the comedian felt that his job was failing to support his grieving family.

Rock later told Ebony, “The only time I ever wanted to give it up is when my dad died and I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t making enough money as a stand-up to help my family.” But with the new gig on Saturday Night Live the comedian had the opportunity to bring his work to a larger audience.

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But SNL failed to be the career-defining opportunity Rock may have imagined. And the comedian enjoyed limited success with his character Nat X, a militant black power talk show host. Plus Rock saw his SNL co-stars’ careers take off but felt his own opportunities were limited to token black characters. A great pity.

Thus Rock left SNL after three seasons. And while he joined the black sketch show In Living Color, the series was soon to be canceled. It was then that the funnyman decided he’d have to make his own opportunities if he wanted to make it in comedy. Something, we can all agree, takes courage.

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First the Carolina-native created and starred in the rap spoof film CB4 in 1993, which proved a box office hit. But the comedian’s career really took off after a series of HBO specials which saw him transfer his stand-up material to the screen. The second of these, Chris Rock: Bring the Pain, aired in 1996 and won him two Emmy awards. So whatever disorder he had didn’t appear to be interfering with his talent.

Thus with the help of his TV specials, Rock gained a reputation as one of the greatest stand-up talents. His work often dealt with issues of race in America. That being said, he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at all races and sexes. And while his candid approach to comedy won him a legion of fans, it wasn’t without controversy.

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Rock had honed his stand-up skills in his Brooklyn-basement, which he’d lined with mirrors so that he could see himself. The comedian was reportedly eager to be the best in the business. But it seems that his perfectly slick and confident on-stage demeanor belied the funnyman’s well-hidden insecurities.

In September 2020 the comedian told The Hollywood Reporter, “I had this great combination of big ego and low self-esteem. And the ego gets you out onstage, but the low self-esteem is the thing that makes you practice so much because you don’t believe in yourself at all.”

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But Rock’s stand-up success ushered in a golden era for his career. In 1997 he was given his own TV series The Chris Rock Show and also starred in a number of films. Some of his big-screen appearances from this era included Beverly Hills Ninja , Dogma and Nurse Betty.

And 2005 proved to be another busy period for Rock. That year, the comedian voiced a character in the Dreamworks film Madagascar. He also hosted the Academy Awards for the first time in what turned out to be a little controversial. As well as aiming gags at audience members, Rock critiqued the Oscars saying it didn’t appeal to “straight black” men. Controversial, but probably true.

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Despite the nature of his first Oscars outing, Rock returned to host the awards in 2016. Again, he didn’t shy away from race, telling the audience, “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed… That’s how Hollywood is. But things are changing.”

Throughout the 2010s Rock enjoyed continued success as an actor and comedian. Because he starred in films such as Grown Ups, The Week Of and Dolemite Is My Name. Recently, though, the comedian bagged the lead in the fourth series of Fargo and will narrate the upcoming Roald Dahl adaptation The Witches. So not bad by anyone’s standards.

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But away from the spotlight, it emerged in September 2020 that Rock had been dealing with a life-changing diagnosis. And he shared the news in a tell-all interview with The Hollywood Reporter. In response to the development, the actor had been seeking help in the form of therapy.

Yet the comedian had been led to investigate the issue after a friend suggested to him that he might have Asperger’s. The neurodevelopmental disorder is a form of autism, and can hinder nonverbal communication and social interaction. And people with Asperger’s often carry out repetitive patterns of behavior or interests.

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So confronted with that possibility, Rock decided to do some digging. He underwent nine-hours of cognitive testing until he finally discovered that he didn’t have Asperger’s. Phew. But he did have a condition known as nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD). And NVLD can cause motor, visual-spatial and social skill issues.

That being said, the way that NVLD presents itself can differ in each individual. For Rock, the disorder caused difficulty with non-verbal signals which form 80 percent of communication. As the comedian explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “All I understand are the words.”

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Another way that NVLD appeared to affect Rock was in his tendency to take things literally. In line with others with the disorder, he said that he could be inflexible in his thinking at times. He noted, “By the way, all of those things are really great for writing jokes — they’re just not great for one-on-one relationships.”

Plus in recent years the comedian has had to deal with one relationship issue in an all-too-public way. He was previously married to Malaak Compton, the mother of his two daughters Lola Simone and Zahra Savannah. But almost 20 years after they tied the knot, Rock filed for divorce, confessing to a porn addiction and infidelity in the process.

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And Rock’s divorce from Compton was finalized in 2016, subsequently becoming the source material for packed out arena shows as well as a $20 million Netflix special. Indeed, lots of his jokes suggested he was taking on less-than-desirable jobs to keep up with his alimony payments. In real life, Rock did line up a flurry of new projects, including a book, a movie and a Super Bowl ad.

But the comedian didn’t suggest that his then-undiagnosed NVLD had played a part in his divorce. Although he did admit it had made some interactions more awkward, particularly when he encountered people who didn’t seem to like him. Now the diagnosis had arrived, however, he appeared to have the power to reassess such incidents.

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As Rock explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “I’d always just chalked it up to being famous. Any time someone would respond to me in a negative way, I’d think, ‘Whatever, they’re responding to something that has to do with who they think I am.’ Now, I’m realizing it was me. A lot of it was me.”

So to make sense of his NVLD diagnosis and the impact it’s had on his life, Rock sought therapy. He began to see not one, but two therapists, spending seven hours each week in their company. And as well as helping him to understand his limitations, the sessions have also allowed the comedian to unpick his childhood trauma.

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Throughout his career Rock has often used his childhood experiences – including the racial abuse he endured at school – as material for his comedy. In fact, his sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, which ran from 2005 to 2009, was informed by his teenage years and education in an all-white school in 1980s’ New York.

Because Rock was able to joke about his difficult formative years, he believed he was over them. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “I thought I was actually dealing with it, and the reality is I never dealt with it. The reality was the pain and the fear that that brought me, I was experiencing it every day.” Maybe many of us can relate to that.

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So while the comedian’s NVLD diagnosis pushed him into therapy, it seems that the experience is also helping him deal with underlying issues that he’s carried through life. Reflecting on his childhood bullies, Rock said, “I’m not belittling today’s youth, but I wish somebody had sent me a bad text when I was a kid. These m************ were trying to kill me.”

And revealing some of the more painful memories from his school days, Rock told The Hollywood Reporter how he dealt with signs reading “N***** Go Home.” Plus he recalled regular beatings and how his classmates threw balloons filled with urine at his head.

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Despite the abuse he encountered, Rock was not one to run home in tears. Plus he says his mom and dad were “from the suck-it-up school.” He explained, “No matter what I was going through, it paled in comparison to what my mom or my dad went through. So, there wasn’t a lot of dealing with it.”

The Carolina-native also told The Hollywood Reporterof his fear of failing in his career as well as his personal life. And now he’s decided that he just couldn’t keep up with the pressure of being perfect anymore. He explained, “It just depletes you. I had to let it go. I was just dying, dude.”

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Now in his mid-50s, Rock is finally putting his well-being above all else. Aside from taking care of his mental health at therapy, he’d been looking after his body with a new fitness regimen that included learning to swim. Yes, he’d never done it before. With a little self-care, Rock feels more creative than ever. So it would seem that the best is still yet to come for the much-loved comedian.

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