Christy Brown: The Novelist and Painter With Cerebral Palsy Depicted in the Movie “My Left Foot”

Updated on May 11, 2018
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Christy Brown with his painting
Christy Brown with his painting

Christy Brown was born on June 5, 1932. Brown was born with severe cerebral palsy, a disorder that impairs the motor functions, and was only able to control his left leg and the toes on his left foot. Brown overcame his physical disabilities to create impressive paintings and write books that became international best-sellers. In 1954, he wrote his autobiography titled My Left Foot. It was made into an Academy Award-winning movie.

Early Life

Christy Brown was born into a family that was working-class Irish. His father was named Patrick and his mother was named Bridget. Brown was one of 22 children. Nine of his siblings died in infancy and 13 survived into adulthood. At the time of his birth, Brown's cerebral palsy was so bad the doctors urged his parents to commit him to a hospital. His parents Bridget and Patrick refused. They were determined to raise their son at home, just like their other children.

Christy Brown with mother on left, sister in the middle and Katroina Delahunt on the right
Christy Brown with mother on left, sister in the middle and Katroina Delahunt on the right

Social Worker

Katriona Delahunt was a social worker who would regularly visit Christy Brown and his family. She noticed that Brown displayed a strong interest in books and painting. Delahunt was impressed with Brown's ability and physical dexterity when it came using his left foot to read books and use other items. His interest in literature continued to grow, as well as his dedication to painting. Brown soon taught himself to write and paint using only his left leg.

Copy of Christy Brown's book My Left Foot
Copy of Christy Brown's book My Left Foot

My Left Foot

In a short period of time, Brown was impressing people with his artwork. He did not receive much formal schooling during the time he was growing up, but he was able to attend a school clinic located at St. Brendan's in Sandymount. During this time, Brown was able to meet Dr. Robert Collis. He was a well-known Irish author. Collis was fascinated at how Brown was a natural storyteller and novelist. Collis was so impressed with Brown's writing, he used his connections in the publishing world to have a book written by Christy Brown, called My Left Foot, published. It was a brutally honest autobiographical account of Brown trying to cope with daily life in the working-class culture of Dublin with his disability.

Beth Moore

The book My Left Foot was well received by the public and became a huge literary success. This resulted in many people writing letters to Christy Brown. One of them was a married woman from the United States, her name was Beth Moore. She and Brown regularly exchanged letters and other correspondence. In 1960, Brown visited Moore at her home in Connecticut. Brown wanted her to help him complete his magnum opus that he had been working on for several years. In 1965, Brown went back to Connecticut for this very purpose. Moore decided Brown needed discipline in his writing. She made him follow a strict daily regimen of specified writing times. She also denied him alcohol, which was a struggle for Brown. This regimen was continued until the book was finished. Down All the Days was published in 1970, and was a huge success. It was another international bestseller. This book earned Brown over $350,000 and was translated into more than 13 languages. He dedicated the book to Moore, thanking her for her gentle ferocity and whipping him into finishing the book.

Christy Brown working in his house
Christy Brown working in his house

Special House

During the 1970s, Christy Brown became an international literary sensation. He was considered around the world to be a prominent celebrity. Brown returned to Ireland and used the money he received from the sales of his books to have a house specially built to accommodate his disabilities. He lived in it with his sister and her family. It was located just outside of Dublin.

Mary Carr and Christy Brown on wedding day
Mary Carr and Christy Brown on wedding day

Marriage

Christy Brown asked Beth Moore to marry him and she agreed. Moore told her husband of this and he was willing to grant her a divorce. The two planned to live together in Brown's newly constructed home after being married. However, shortly after, Brown had an affair with Mary Carr, an Englishwoman who was friends with one of Brown's siblings.

Brown was warned that Carr had worked as a prostitute, but he didn't seem bothered by this. He ended his relationship with Beth Moore, then married Carr in 1972. Their marriage ceremony took place at a Dublin Registry Office. He moved away from his specially built house and continued to paint and write. During this time, Brown wrote more novels, as well as some plays and poetry. One of these was the novel A Shadow On Summer, which was released in 1974. The subject of the novel was the relationship he had had with Beth Moore. The two of them continued to be friends after his marriage to Carr.

Death

Soon after he married Carr, Christy Brown's health began to deteriorate. During the last years of his life, Brown was very unsocial and spent a lot of time alone and away from his family. Many believed Carr was the cause of these problems. On September 7, 1981, Christy Brown died after choking on his dinner. He was 49 years old. His body showed signs of significant bruising. Those around him believed that Carr was responsible, and had been physically abusive. A biography about Brown’s relationship with Carr, titled This Life That Inspired My Left Foot and written by Georgina Louise Hambleton, stated that she was an alcoholic who was constantly unfaithful to Brown, and was physically abusive toward him.

Movie poster for My Left Foot
Movie poster for My Left Foot

Award-Winning Movie

In 1989, the movie My Left Foot was produced and directed by Jim Sheridan. The screenplay was adapted by Shane Connaughton from Christy Brown's novel of the same name. Brenda Fricker played the part of his mother Bridget, and Daniel Day-Lewis played the part of Christy Brown. Each of them was given an Academy Award for their performance in the movie. The movie was also given Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.

Christy Brown and his mother
Christy Brown and his mother

Christy Brown provided the world with an amazing insight into the life of a disabled person. He also inspired many others to pursue their dreams and overcome their disabilities. Brown credited his mother for providing him with the inspiration to never surrender to his disability. She refused to believe Brown was beyond being saved. His mother ignored those who told her Brown was beyond hope, and didn't believe Brown was an imbecile, no matter what the doctors told her. His mother knew that his body may be crippled, but his mind was as strong as that of any other person. Brown said his mother believed this wholly, and felt it without any reservations or doubts.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Readmikenow

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      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        2 months ago

        Paula, thanks. Christy Brown was an amazing person.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Mike......I have to tell you that this wonderful review of Christy Brown, his life and fabulous gift, is the most fascinating, as well as moving review I have read thus far. Until your beautifully written article, I knew nothing of this wholly impressive man. I am grateful for the introduction, which has encouraged me to read "My Left Foot," as well as see the movie and dig further into his biographies.

        Given the history & circumstances of his flawed choice of a spouse, I'm afraid I don't doubt the suspicions surrounding his demise. This, for me, seems sadder than the disability he struggled to rise above. I shudder to imagine what torture he may have endured near the end of his life.

        Mike, sincerely, this piece of work is award-winning. Peace, Paula

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        2 months ago

        Yves, thanks. I agree with you. He had an incredible life. If you have a chance, I suggest you read his book "My Left Foot." It is an amazing piece of work.

      • savvydating profile image

        Yves 

        2 months ago

        Thank goodness Christy had a mother who believed in her son. She was quite a woman, as was Christy. I am amazed that his paintings were so detailed and beautiful. What a shame, though, that he was so easily fooled by Carr. His life with her must have been hellish, but even then Christy kept up his work. Tragic ending, but still an inspirational life.

        Great job you've done here. Your writing flows so easily. It's never tedious. ;)

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        5 months ago

        Nell, thanks for stopping by. Yes, the movie is good but I also enjoyed reading his books. Very powerful.

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        5 months ago from England

        Amazing man and a wonderful film about him. I haven't seen it for many years but I maybe find it online now to watch.

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        6 months ago

        Flourish, thanks. Yes, I agree. He had the love of a woman who brought out the best in him and leaving her turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        6 months ago from USA

        As brilliant and capable as he was at writing he was flawed morally. He made terrible choices in relationships and that seemed to be the crux of his self-destruction.

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        6 months ago

        Thanks Peggy. I agree. It is an amazing story. I recommend reading the book and seeing the movie.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        6 months ago from Houston, Texas

        What an amazing life Christy Brown had at least right up until his marriage to Mary Carr. That was a sad ending if he was being abused by her. Thanks for introducing me to his book and subsequent movie titled "My Left Foot."

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        6 months ago

        Mary, Thanks. I agree. He is inspiring. When I start to write a project and feel it's too much for me, I think of him. I then feel have nothing to complain about.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        What a life. It is amazing to know someone with cerebral palsy ca become a great write and artist. It is such a compelling symbol for us.

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