As the Fear Strategist, I get asked a lot about phobias. It is estimated that around 4% of the world’s population has a phobia at any given moment in time. That’s a lot of people. And celebrities are not immune, of course.
Sometimes it is interesting or even reassuring to see who else might be experiencing the same things as us, to reassure us that we are not alone.
So let’s take a look at 51 phobias, and a few of the famous people who suffer from them.
- Antique furniture
Billy Bob Thornton
“I get creeped out and I can’t breathe or eat around it,” he says. “It’s that French, English, Scottish, old mildewy stuff. Old dusty heavy drapes and big tables with lions’ heads carved on it. Stuff that kings were around. That’s the stuff I can’t be around. It was too big to be functional. It creeps me out.”
- Being Touched
“All you have to do is just touch her collarbone… she starts dry-retching,” her brother Jack once said.
She told New York magazine that she’s scared to death of birds, especially after filming We Bought a Zoo (2011). “Something about wings and beaks and the flapping,” she said. “I’m terrified of them. That still hasn’t gone away…I was terrified of the peacocks on set. Like, ‘Ahh, don’t get too close.’ They’re like, mean.” Interestingly, her uncle is also scared of birds!
- Being Buried Alive
Hans Christian Andersen, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Frederick Chopin
In the olden days, many people were reported to have been mistakenly buried alive when their bodies went into a state of death-like rigidity stemming from certain illnesses. This sparked a trend for people to be buried in coffins with a string to pull if they woke up, which then rang a bell above-ground to alert people to their predicament.
“Sometimes when I would come home from school the biggest butterfly or moth you’d ever seen would be just sitting on our front gate,” she told Contact Music. “I would climb over the fence, crawl around to the side of the house – anything to avoid having to go through the front gate.”
Julius Caesar, Mussolini, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander The Great, Genghis Khan, William Shakespeare, Louis XIV, Isadora Duncan, Adolph Hitler
It is interesting just how many of the most famous names from history appeared to suffer from this!
Sarah Michelle Gellar
As well as her fear of being buried alive, in an interview with Rolling Stone she admitted to being brought to tears when shooting in graveyards. Not too helpful when you play a Vampire Slayer.
- Chewing Gum
Having been really put off by her grandmother’s habit of sticking old gum in rows in the kitchen cabinet, Oprah’s fear of chewing gum is so strong that she has banned it from her studios, and even once threw out a plate on which a guest had deposited some used gum.
Sean “P Diddy” Combs, Johnny Depp, Daniel Radcliffe
There’s no doubt that Stephen King’s “IT” has a lot to answer for here, but a dip seated phobia of clowns has been recorded for a long time, and afflicts many people. Johnny Depp says they scare him because clowns display an underlying darkness and display a potential for real evil. He attributes this to “something about the painted face, the fake smile”.
- Coat Hangers
In an interview with The Telegraph Kylie said, “I have a hanger phobia. I don’t like the way they sound when you put them in the wardrobe.” As a result, she can’t hang her clothes up, instead she has to lay them all out in her room.
Research conducted in 2014 suggests that humans fear cockroaches the most, even more than mosquitoes, due to an evolutionary aversion. This is despite the fact that unlike mosquitoes, ticks or fleas, cockroaches aren’t disease vectors, and they do not feed directly on our blood, skin or fluids.
Keanu Reeves, Megan Fox, Katy Perry
In an interview in 2010, Katy admitted she has to sleep with the lights on because she thinks “a lot of evil things go on in the dark.”, while Megan says “I leave the lights on all the time and if the light is off, I have to run across the room to get to the switch”.
Robert De Niro
David needs to have everything in order. His phobia is related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). “I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs. I’ll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there’s one too many then I’ll put it in another cupboard somewhere. I’ll go into a hotel room and before I can relax I have to move all the leaflets and all the books and put them in a drawer,”.
In Channing’s case, it’s specifically porcelain dolls, as he revealed on the Ellen Degeneres Show, explaining that “I just think they look freaky!”.
“I’ve been afraid of [them] since I was 8 or 9,” she once told People magazine. “I have dreams that I am in a pool and there are dolphins bumping me and I’m frightened.”
Apparently Cameron’s phobia is so severe that these days she absolutely refuses to even touch them with her bare hands, instead using her elbows.
This is something Barbara has mentioned on more than one occasion. She told People Magazine in 1976 that she was afraid to drive, and she also touched upon it in her moire Audition.
- Dry Paper
Megan discussed her phobia and its impact when she appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s show, saying that any paper that is unlamented she finds really hard to even touch. She mentioned that when reading scripts, she always has a cup of water nearby so she can dip her fingers in before touching the paper.
Master of horror and suspense, he told a reporter that he was terrified of eggs. “That white round thing without any holes…have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid?”
Jennifer Aniston, John Madden, Tony Curtis, Muhammad Ali, Cher, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Travis Barker, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Katherine Heigl
A very common phobia, which can have massive impacts. Aretha’s career was nearly ruined as she was unable to accept gigs across the world for a long time. Football coach and sports commentator John has never been able to do a Pro Bowl commentary because they are in Hawaii. And Blink 182’s drummer Travis was not able to join the band on their Australian tour because he’d have to fly there.
Howie Mandel, Donald Trump, Jerry Seinfeld, Howard Hughes
Howie famously will not shake hands with anyone, instead going for a fist-bump, because of his phobia.
LSD advocate Timothy started cutting his own hair as he was afraid of visiting barbers.
Woody Allen, Sheryl Crow, Liam Neeson, Sheryl Crow, Zach Galifianakis, Gustave Eiffel.
Zach had to miss a press event for his film Hangover 3 because it took place near Sugarloaf Mountain, such is his fear of heights.
Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart
Both Robert and Kristen had to work with horses in films, despite being terrified of them. In Water For Elephants, Robert had to be knocked down by a fully grown stallion, whilst Kristen had to ride a horse in Snow White And The Huntsman. She attributes her fear to the time she fell off a horse when she was aged 9, breaking and dislocating her elbow.
Christina says she can’t even be in the same room as a plant, because they are dirty. Just touching a leaf is, in her words, “like torture”.
Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen
“I have this phobia: I don’t like mirrors. And I don’t watch myself on television. If anything comes on, I make them shut it off, or I leave the room,” Pamela reported in an interview.
- Number 13
Franklin D Roosevelt
Suffering from a not-uncommon phobia of the number 13, Franklin refused to travel on the 13th of the month, and he would never have 13 guests at a table.
- The Ocean
Michael Jordan, Carmen Elektra
Michael became terrified of the ocean when he witnessed the death of a childhood friend, whilst Carmen experiences panic attacks at the sight of through of water because she is unable to swim.
While filming 2005’s Kingdom Of Heaven, unfortunately a pig got loose on set, causing Orlando to squeal and run in fear – such is the power of a phobia on anyone unfortunate enough to suffer from it.
- Public Speaking
Barbara Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, Sir Lawrence Olivier
That so many famous people were able to give amazing stage performances, whilst at the same time being terrified of public speaking, shows how a phobia of one thing does not necessarily mean related things will also terrify you. An encouraging thought!
So terrified of rabbits is Andy that it caused him to freak out during an Easter Brunch at the St Regis Hotel when he spotted the Easter Bunny. He had to ask that they keep the Bunny as far away from him as possible while he was there.
For Britney it is larger reptiles which trigger her phobia, especially the Kimono Dragon.
- Revolving Doors
Matthew reports that he gets anxious just being near revolving doors and he avoids them at all costs.
- Sea Urchins
Taylor discussed her phobia on Ellen Degeneres’ show, explaining that they terrify her enough that she won’t even go into the water in case there are any sea urchins there.
In the singer’s own words to Now Magazine, she believes this started when she was 9 – “I was walking down the promenade in Tenby eating [an ice cream], when this huge ****ing seagull came down and swiped it off me… I thought it was going to take me away with it.”
Justin Timberlake, Matt Damon
His phobia of snakes caused Matt to freak out during the filming of We Bought A Zoo when snakes were brought onto the set.
Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lawrence
Such is his phobia of spiders that Justin reported he once had to call down to Reception in a very upmarket hotel at which he was staying when he spotted a spider in his room.
- Talking Food
Kyra’s husband, Kevin Bacon, reported that such is her phobia of talking food, she has to leave the room if an advert containing talking food comes on the TV. And it caused Kevin to turn down a lucrative M&Ms commercial because he feared it would upset his wife for him to appear as a talking sweet.
- Talking on telephone
“I’m definitely frightened of the phone,” Helen was quoted saying. “It makes me so nervous. I always avoid picking it up if I can… The invention of the answering machine was amazing.”
Sean “P Diddy” Combs
When appearing on the Tonight Show, Sean confessed that he has a very strong fear of a long second toe. So strong is his phobia that when on any first date, he always finds a way to check out his date’s toes, and if they have a long second toe, there’s no second date.
Eva Mendes, Carmen Elektra, Will Smith, Snoop Dogg
For many of these celebrities (as with other people), their fear of water stems from not being able to swim. Although, of course, learning to swim then becomes a major difficulty itself because of the fear. Not that it stopped Eva from buying a house with a swimming pool in 2011, she just never uses the pool.
In particular, Matthew is terrified of driving into or through tunnels.
For Rita, it’s the thought that the toilet is one and of a tunnel, which must start from somewhere else, and she gets to thinking “What if something comes out of the toilet?”. She has to always make sure the light is on when she goes, as a result.
To answer the inevitable question, yes phobias can be cured – I’ve helped countless people to conquer their phobias since 2010 (including conquering my own 3 phobias comprehensively). If you’e got a phobia and want to find out a little more about how you can conquer it, just pop along to Freedom From Phobia.
And even if you are not ready to face conquering your phobia, perhaps simply knowing that you are not alone, and that there are undoubtedly celebrities out there with the same phobia as you, can itself be very reassuring!