Donny Osmond's Experience With Social Anxiety Disorder

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Donny Osmond and SAD. David Livingston / Getty Images

Donny Osmond is one of several people in the entertainment business who has come forward about his social anxiety disorder (SAD) and panic attacks. In the spotlight since he was very young, pressure and expectations have always been high.



Experience With SAD

Imagine performing in front of millions of people as a young child. For many, this may seem like a nightmare and unfortunately, for Donny Osmond, this may have been where the nightmare began.

When the musical talents of Donny and his brothers were discovered at an early age by Andy Williams, the family troupe began a merry-go-round of public performances.

During one of his first performances on the Andy Williams Show, Donny recalls running offstage after his song, afraid of the audience applause and flashing lights. Later, at age 6, he recalls being put on the spot and asked to perform an Ella Fitzgerald song and later feeling like a failure because he couldn't do it.

Although his feelings of anxiety began at an early age, it was not until 1994, while playing the lead character in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" that Donny became paralyzed by fear while onstage. He recalls little of the night the show premiered, other than the curtains being opened and closed.

The fear of performing perforated into other areas of his life and Donny soon found himself afraid to go into stores for fear of what people were thinking of him.

Though he had never been a drinker or a smoker, Donny now found himself tempted to try alcohol. Still unaware that he was suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD), it was at this point that Donny realized it was time to seek professional help.


Donny has been open about discussing his treatment program, which consisted of both medication (Paxil) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Donny is the first to admit that he will never be entirely free of anxiety. However, through hard work, he has learned how to recognize and control negative thought patterns to the point that he is now able to manage his SAD without medication.


Born on December 9, 1957, in Utah, Donny was raised and continues to maintain his faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). He married Debra Glenn in 1978 and they have five sons. He has enjoyed a lifetime of success as an entertainer both as a solo artist and with his brothers and his sister, Marie.

Between 1971 and 1973, Donny released 18 singles that went gold, and returned nearly 20 years later with another hit—"Soldier of Love." He went on to set box-office records while performing in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and showed his versatility by co-hosting a talk show (with sister Marie), hosting the game show Pyramid, and trying his hand at race-car driving. Since 2008, Donnie has been performing with Marie at the Flamingo Las Vegas.

Donny has been outspoken about his experiences with SAD in both his autobiography "Life Is Just What You Make It," and through his affiliation as an honorary member of the board of directors for the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA).

Donny's Thoughts About SAD

These quotes are all from Donny's book, "Life is Just What You Make It: The Autobiography":

"Once the fear of embarrassing myself grabbed me, I couldn't get loose. It was as if a bizarre and terrifying unreality had replaced everything that was familiar and safe. I felt powerless to think or reason my way out of the panic."

"I kept trying to remember the words, but they slipped through my fingers like mercury, defying me to try again. The harder I tried, the more elusive they became. The best I could do was to not black out, and I got through the show, barely, by telling myself repeatedly, 'Stay conscious, stay conscious.'"

"Being in show business, it was embarrassing to come out with this disorder, which at the time I didn't even know what it was called. I just thought I was crazy. I can't even tell you how important it is to know that you aren't alone and others have suffered and gotten through it."


Nordenberg T. Social Phobia's Traumas and Treatments. FDA Consumer Magazine. Published November-December 1999. Reviewed February 7, 2014.

Osmond D. Life Is Just What You Make It: The Autobiography. London: Orion; 2006.

People Staff. Restricted: Broken Heartthrob. Published May 17, 1999.