He became an actor despite his rare congenital disability – now he’s an inspiration for millions

What an amazing life story!

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Accepting yourself for who you are, with all your virtues and flaws, seems to be the key to a fulfilled life. At times, we find ourselves in a position to question our looks or our abilities, but once we learn to love ourselves, everything will fall into place.

The story of actor Michael Berryman cannot be a better proof of that.

This man was born with a rare congenital disability known as hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia. This means he doesn’t have fingernails, hair, and teeth, and his head has a unique shape. Despite all this, he did manage to fulfill his dreams and we can all agree that he succeeded that a great deal.

Michael was born in Santa Monica, California, on September 4, 1948. From the start, his life has been full of challenges, but he managed to overcome each and every one of them, although it was never easy.

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Although anyone can be born with hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, in Michael’s case, doctors were able to trace the cause. Namely, his father was a surgeon in the Navy and shortly after the US had dropped their atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he was sent there to monitor the effects of the radiation. Michael’s mom fell pregnant with him upon his father’s return from Japan.

“I was the second born and I had a whole bunch of birth defects which is, obviously, from the radiation damage to my father from being at ground zero for an atom and hydrogen bomb,” Berryman told Lacomba Express.

He added: “I learned a lot about reality, humanity and medical situations growing up as a child. I dealt with bullying and learned what makes  someone a decent person and what makes someone a tool.”

Besides the struggles, he was determined to succeed in life so he moved out from his parents’ house and attended university. At first, he studied to be veterinarian, but the program was shut down because of lack of funding, so he majored in art history and continued studying theoretical physics.

Eventually, he returned to his hometown but found himself in a crossroad and didn’t know what to do next in life. Then, he decided to open a gift show, and that decision changed his life.

“We didn’t have flowers, we had house plants, and some local artists would bring in their paintings and sculptures, and we would display them,” Berryman recalled.

“It wasn’t a booming business in ’73 or ’74. There was an antique store across the street, however, that catered to the wealthy of Beverly Hills, really upscale people, and they had Ming Dynasty and egg urns, and this and that. We were friendly with our neighbors in business, and there was a big sale going on at the Gala Mofrey, which was this antique store across the street in Venice near our store, so we put in some palms.

“We made the place look nice. So we were waiting for the sale to finish that evening and when it was finished we took our plants that didn’t sell back over to shop, and that’s how I met Producer George Pal.”

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George Pal, who was a legendary film director, learned about Michael from his son who owned a shop next to Michael’s. It was then that Michael was offered to take part in his upcoming film Doc Savage. Michael said yet to the role of Juan Lopez Morales, the chief coroner in the film. 

“I said, ‘Maybe this’ll be fun,’” Michael recalled. “So I worked for two days at the estate of Herald Lloyd, and I had enjoyed it so much.”

Although he found acting fun, Michael never meant it would turn into a career. He had a plan to go to Alaska and find a job there when he received a call that changed everything. “That phone call was from George Pal’s casting directors, Micheal Fenton and Jane Feinberg. And they were casting for a very famous movie that won seven Oscars, and that movie was called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

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“They said,’ we saw your picture from George Pal. You have a look we need for a lobotomy patient called Ellis,’” he recalled in a 1995 interview.

“We got to talking; I told them I’d had a medical history. My father was a brain surgeon, my mother was a nurse. So I had a lot of intuitive feelings about hospitals and institutionalization.”

He added: “They said, ‘we’re basically hiring you just for your looks, but now that we’ve talked to you, we realize that you’re intelligent and sensitive enough to do the role.’ So I didn’t have to audition at all.”

Although these acting credits were very significant for his career in the world of film, nothing could really prepare Michael for what followed.

In 1977, he was cast in the horror film The Hills Have Eyes.

“My agent sent me to meet the producers and Wes, and he told me the back story of the Bean family and how that was somewhat factual, and they said, ‘We saw you in Cuckoo’s Nest, and the family perhaps has mutations from living on a bomb range,’ which is kind of ironic,” Berryman said.

“I was born with some defects that were the direct cause of being irradiated, so it sort of dovetailed with the Hills story.”

He added: “They said, ‘We’re hiring you because of your looks,’ and I said, “Okay, perhaps the performance will meet your expectations,’ and I believe it did.”

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As expected, this role helped Michael rise to stardom and become fan favorite among the lovers of the horror genre. The film remains iconic until this day.

 “It feels great, especially because of the friendships that we made. We had a cult following come about, and it just reflects on Wes’s brilliance in writing, directing, and how he put the film together. It’s just very well executed, and it holds its own,” Michael said of the film. “A lot of the more recent horror films go in and out with the fascination with splatter, special effects, etc., but Hills was just so well put together. It has just been a blessing to have met Wes and worked with him on numerous occasions.”

Other films he took part in are My Science Project, Evil Spirit, The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation, among the rest.

Michael’s life motto is not to take yourself seriously and try to laugh at least once a day. “I want you to be lazy because it takes 27 muscles in your face to frown, and it only takes three to smile,” he says.

Besides being an actor, Michael is also a gardener and chef who adores Rachel Ray.

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