The Rare Medical Condition Danny DeVito Lives With

Despite achieving fame by interpreting some pretty unpleasant characters, Danny DeVito has carved out a place for himself among America's most beloved actors. His talent for playing the nasty little guy in comedies was obvious from the start. The New Jersey native shot to stardom thanks to his portrayal of the abusive (but secretly vulnerable) dispatcher Louie De Palma on "Taxi" in the late '70s and early '80s, a role that earned him his only Golden Globe and Emmy awards.

DeVito continued the trend as he added directing to his repertoire. In "Throw Momma from the Train," he hilariously portrayed a middle-aged man who plots to commit murder alongside Billy Crystal a la "Strangers on a Train." And the success and fame kept rolling in. In the '90s, he played the Penguin in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" and the odious, neglectful father in the much-beloved film adaption of Roald Dahl's "Matilda," which he also produced and directed.

DeVito might be great at playing villains, but he has a heart of gold. In fact, along with his then-wife Rhea Perlman, DeVito took care of Mara Wilson during "Matilda," allowing her to stay with them when the girl's mother underwent intense cancer treatments that often required lengthy hospital stays, People reported in 1996. Clearly, his penchant for creating comedy out of terrible men has nothing to do with his own personality, but a lot to do with DeVito's diminutive stature — which is actually a consequence of a rare disorder.

Danny DeVito suffers from Fairbank's disease

By his own admission, Danny DeVito isn't quite 5-feet tall. "On a really good day, I'm five feet short," he once said, according to Celebs Height. He suffers from Fairbank's disease, NPR pointed out. Also known as multiple epiphyseal dysplasia (MED), the genetic condition affects growing bones in childhood, often stunting growth, MedlinePlus explained. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, those afflicted with the disease normally stand between 4-foot-9 and 5-foot-7, meaning many do reach average adult heights and might not be diagnosed until later, when they begin experiencing joint pain as a consequence of early-onset arthritis. 

But DeVito stayed within the shorter end of that spectrum, resulting in a stature that has shaped many aspects of his life, including his career. He doesn't think it affected it negatively, though — it simply made it what it is (which is pretty great, if you ask us). "I never did not go for an audition because I didn't think I looked like the person," he told CBS' "Sunday Morning" in 2017. There was always room for a little guy like himself. "I think of all the characters that I've ever played, they're always about five feet tall."

Maybe the actor got his confidence from growing up in New Jersey. In his hometown, no one ever mocked DeVito for being short, Rolling Stone noted. "The thing about being in Jersey [is] ... Nobody's gonna bully you, because you got your posse," he told CBS. 

Danny DeVito had a specific problem with the ladies

Danny DeVito had his large family and his posse to count on — but there's only so much our loved us can do when it comes to matters of the heart. While he didn't experience bullying in his youth, DeVito did have a hard time flirting with girls. "I couldn't slow-dance with the girls I wanted to because my face would be in a spot where I might be thought of as moving too fast," DeVito told Far Out in 2020.

But even that came with positive consequences. "I learned how to dance real good. I had to, because I couldn't slow-dance," he told The Guardian in 2012. But the issue was but a small hindrance, as DeVito learned to put his charm to good use at a pretty early age — 8 or 9, to be precise. That's how old he was when he went on his first date. "There was no tongue involved," he told Rolling Stone. "But it was a kiss."

DeVito's love life continued to progress just fine. By the early stages of his career, he became a committed man after meeting Rhea Perlman in New York. In 1971, Perlman went to see a play starring a good friend — and also DeVito, the New York Post reported. "Two weeks later, we were living together, much to my parents' dismay," she said. DeVito and Perlman separated in 2017, but they remain close friends, she told People