Dr Karl Kruszelnicki might be a recognisable face on Australian TV to families right across the country, but for him, it would be struggle to pick his own face out from a crowd.
The 70-year-old author and science commentator suffers from a condition called prosopagnosia, more commonly known as ‘face blindness’, essentially meaning he has trouble recognising people’s faces apart.
Instead, he relies on taking notes about the common traits of those close to him, whether it’s the way they walk or move, and even previously admitted to carrying a map around his office to tell people apart.
Speaking on ABC’s Anh’s Brush With Fame, set to air in two weeks time, Karl has revealed the condition is so advanced he even mistook his long-term neighbour as a complete stranger once.
“I’ve had it all my life I basically see people’s faces like bricks in a wall – there’s not a lot of difference,” he explained. “I look for some obvious characteristic and I go for that.”
He admitted he would now recognise someone’s walk easier than he would their face, and often characterises his own face by his glasses and lack of beard.
“On one occasion, I’m in the airport and someone says ‘hi Karl’,” he recalled. “I think I’ve never seen them before and I say ‘hi, my name’s Karl what’s your name?’ He said ‘I’m your neighbour, I live two doors up from you’.”
As he focused more on the person’s face, it slowly began to materialise and focus more for him, allowing him to finally recognised his friend again.
Prosopagnosia reportedly affects one in 50 Australians, and other famous faces who have previously revealed they have it include Stephen Fry, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden.
Speaking previously on Channel 7’s Sunday Night, Dr Karl recalled another embarrassing faux pas at a three day conference on comedy-writing.
“There was this guy I thought I knew, maybe. On the third day I said to him, ‘look do I know you? I’m Karl’,” he explained. “He said: ‘Hi Karl, I’m Damien. I’ve just finished working with you for six months on our second series of the Sleek Geeks TV show where we saw each other six days a week’.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder that, at its worst, can leave someone unable to distinguish a face as being different from an object. In fact, some people with the disorder are unable to recognise their own face.
Its cause is largely unconfirmed, but if the sufferer hasn’t had it from birth, it may be caused by a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases.
Meanwhile, Dr Karl also opened up about his parents’ traumatic pasts in his tell-all chat with Anh, revealing they both survived brutal conditions in concentration camps during the Holocaust to eventually emigrate to Australia with him.
At one point, his father was forced to pretend he was part of the Russian army and watched them kill each other to eat the bodies as they were so starving at the time. Meanwhile, his mother survived Auschwitz after attempting to remain hidden from Nazi armies by squatting in the city’s sewage system.
Dr Karl appears on the Anh’s Brush with Fame on Wednesday, September 5, at 8pm on ABC.