Childhood (Part I: There's a Game For a Deaf Kid!)
Kathy is born in Wickliffe, Ohio. At a very young age, family members notice her inability to communicate. They contribute it to being “slow”, something that she would eventually outgrow. As a child, Kathy remembers attempting to play with children whose hearing was normal, which was sometimes difficult - especially when playing 'hide and seek' or 'musical chairs.' "By the time I’d hear someone say, ‘Hey, Kathy, come and get us,’ the game would be over," she said. "And ‘musical chairs’? There’s a game for a deaf kid."
It wasn’t until the second grade that school administrators, psychologists, and audiologists determine that it is was hearing loss and not a lack of mental acuity that was causing her speech and language development to suffer. Upon discovering that she had a hearing loss, Kathy was given hearing aids, but they were so loud and painful to the point that they would bring her to tears. Her teachers showed little patience or understanding for this and she was eventually transferred to a school for mentally and physically impaired children. It was there that she learned to talk.
As everyone needs acceptance, Kathy learned to mimic those around her and even at a young age learned how laughter opens people up. Asked about her comic influences, she immediately names Red Skelton, and then tells a story about watching TV as a little girl. "I couldn’t hear it, so whenever my family would laugh I’d laugh. And when they would cry, I would cry. I was just goin’ off on their emotions.But when Red Skelton came on as Freddie the Freeloader, he didn't speak. It was all body language. And he was funny. And I was laughin’ all by myself, and I turned around and looked at my grandmother and she starts crying. It was the first time she saw me relate to the TV. But what I learned from Red Skelton is that it's not the value of words so much as it was listening to the heart." So that’s what I try to do with my comedy: "I’ll make you laugh but I’m really goin’ for the heart."
Her hearing loss would just be the start of a series of unfortunate events in her young life. She was sexually abused as a child and contemplated suicide throughout her teens.
Teens (Part II - One hell after another...)
It was never determined if Kathy’s hearing impairment came from being born RH-negative, from a bout with spinal meningitis at the age of three, or both. Experts predicted that the meningitis would keep her short and slow, but her intelligence and height developed early, and she did some teenage modeling.
She studied fashion design, graduated from high school in 1972, and hung out on the shores of Lake Erie trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. After high school, she says, "I went through one hell after another." In a car accident, she suffered internal injuries and needed 32 stitches in her face. Then at age 20, Kathy was run over by a 3,500-pound lifeguard jeep while sunbathing on a beach at Mentor Headlands State Park. The jeep crushed her chest and shoulder and she experienced intermittent paralysis in her legs (not to mention being pronounced dead by attending paramedics).
"I was going through a very difficult time...I was in and out of a wheelchair for two or three years because of the accident," she said. "One day I just packed up my car, and I just drove out West, and I didn’t even know where I was going. I parked my car along the ocean and I lived in my car for two months. I was just looking for who I was the whole time." It took her almost five years to completely recover.
A year after her recovery from the jeep accident, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and went through two more years of hospital visits. And this was all before she turned 30!
Young Adult Years and Comedic Start (Part III - Kathy Takes a Stand!)
Asked how she got into comedy, Buckley cracks, "I musta' been on drugs." Then she turns serious. "When I was a massage exercise therapist I found that laughter was my best medicine and healing. And in doing that I met my friend [actress] Geri Jewell. She has cerebral palsy. There was a contest called 'Stand-up Comics Take a Stand' to raise money for United Cerebral Palsy and I thought, 'That’d be a nice thing to do, just to help out.’" "So I did this contest thinking it was amateur night, And here there were comics who’d been in the business three to 10 years and this was my first time onstage. And I won. I make it to the finals and ended up placing fourth. And I’ve been doing it ever since."
Soon after, she began touring the U.S., playing major comedy venues such as Caroline’s in NYC, Catch a Rising Star in Las Vegas, and The Improv in West Hollywood. Kathy remembers the first time she heard an audience laugh at one of her jokes, when she finally understood the power of her humor. It was the summer of 1988, when Buckley was performing at the Hollywood Comedy Room in West Hollywood. For the first time in her brief career as a comedian, her hearing aids were properly adjusted; she could hear the audience without the painful feedback from on-stage speakers. When she stepped off stage, she cried.
Adult Years (Part IV - Breaking Through)
One comedy routine lead to another, and soon Kathy became famous on the comedy circuit. Kathy's popular appeal, unique persona, and refreshing sense of humor also attracted the attention of high profile comedy television shows, entertainment news programs, and talk shows. She has appeared on such programs as The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Entertainment Tonight, Extra, Inside Edition, Turner Entertainment Report, CNN'S Show Biz Today, Real Life, and Geraldo.
After getting her start in comedy, Kathy eventually also caught the acting bug. She guest starred on “Touched by an Angel” and acted in the TV movie “Breaking Through”. However, the most significant role in all of Kathy’s acting career was the one in which she played herself in her one-woman Off-Broadway show called “Now Hear This!” (originally titled “Don’t Buck With Me”). The autobiographical show, which was put on in both Los Angeles and New York, garnered her a new slew of faithful fans as well as several awards and critical praise from both cities.
Kathy then went on to write and produce the television specials “Hear This!: Turning a Deaf Hear to Negativity” and the award-winning “No Labels, No Limits!”, receiving the CINE Golden Eagle Award for writing and producing and the Media Access Award for Outstanding Television Special for the latter.
Motivational Speaker and Author (Part V - A Powerhouse of Positive Thought)
It turned out that stand-up and acting wasn’t her only calling. Kathy accidentally discovered her gift for motivational speaking when she was hired to do a workshop for people with disabilities. "They gave me this book and wanted me to teach it to people in the audience. The book was complicated, full of pie charts and everything. I can't even read a 12-page comic book," she adds. "I look at the audience and think, 'I know what it's like to not have a job, to be on welfare, to have no self-esteem because society has placed labels on me.' I started talking about me." Since then, Kathy Buckley has traveled around the nation, speaking to teens, adults and seniors, spreading a message of positivism. “When Buckley speaks, whether to a crowd of 1,000 or on a one-on-one basis, her zest for life is evident. She's animated, laughing, but always graceful - a powerhouse of positive thought.” – remarked Rachel L. Miller of Road & Travel Magazine.
Kathy added another title to her list of roles in 2003 when she wrote and published her autobiography, “If You Could Hear What I See”. The book was a NY Times Bestseller and has a five-star rating on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.
Present (Part VI - No Limits)
Today, Kathy’s focus is on motivational speaking. She tours the country, speaking to hundreds and thousands of people from corporations to schools (she is a favorite of the college campus circuit). She has inspired countless people, sharing her story of overcoming some of the most difficult obstacles one can imagine in life, and how she met those challenges with dignity, courage, and laughter. Kathy is a key motivational speaker for Anthony Robbins’ Life Mastery Classes and has been working for the government on behalf of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
While Kathy works to entertain and enlighten people of all ages, her heart belongs to children. She serves as the national spokesperson for No Limits, a non-profit organization which provides an after-school theater group and educational program for deaf and hard of hearing children. She believes that "every child deserves to have a real childhood and they should have healthy role models to show them that people do care about them deeply." She also feels strongly that language and communication are vital skills for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. “If you don’t give kids language, they can’t express what’s in their heart. I don’t care whether you sign, mime, or sing—give kids the ability to communicate. Every child should be able to tell his parents what’s in his heart.”
To help No Limits raise money, Kathy participates in the Paul Mitchell School’s annual FUNraising Gala on their behalf. Each year, students and staff from the nationwide network of 100-plus cosmetology schools spend three months raising money for selected charities. This year, the campaign raised $2.5 million, with $130,000 of it going to No Limits. The non-profit organization has been one of the top beneficiaries of the gala, receiving $280,000 to date. Kathy is also a frequent guest speaker at the Paul Mitchell Schools.
When she gets time from her busy speaking tour, she still produces and acts in TV and film. Kathy recently produced the short film “Ask Not” and is currently in the middle of filming the TV movie “My Next Breath.”