Actor with Down syndrome celebrates historic Oscars win on his birthday

Belfast actor James Martin has become the first person with Down syndrome to win an Academy Award — and in a special twist, he celebrated the win on his birthday.

Martin starred in the short film “An Irish Goodbye,” which won in the best live action short category. Previously, Martin said he “burst out crying” when he found out the film had been nominated, and that he hoped the nomination would encourage other actors with developmental disabilities. “I would say to people who have autism, Down’s Syndrome or some physical disability, I would say go for it, act your heart out,” he said. “It’s just one of those things, don’t let people say ‘you can’t act’, because you can act. It’s just one of those things in life.”

He also promised to arrive at the Oscars in style. “My dad has a lovely leopard-skin jacket that I might wear at the Oscars and hopefully a nice dicky bow and a nice shirt of mine; it’ll go down a treat, hopefully,” he said.

Sunday, when the film won, Martin took the stage to accept, alongside directors Ross White and Tom Berkeley, and costar Seamus O’Hara — and as promised, Martin wore the leopard-print jacket.

After giving a brief thank-you speech, White then turned his attention to Martin. “There’s something very important we’d like to speak about as well,” he said, with Berkeley adding, “This award is actually the second most important thing about today, because it’s this man’s birthday. He’s out here in Hollywood, wearing a leopard print suit jacket. We’d love to use the rest of our time up here to sing for James.”

So the 3,000 people in the Dolby Theatre for the Oscars sang “Happy Birthday” to Martin.


His father, Ivan Martin, congratulated his son on his incredible achievement, explaining that doctors originally said he would never be able to speak.

“It’s an amazing feat. It’s something that nobody can ever take away from him. When you’re the first to do anything, it’s there for life and that’s how it is with him,” he said. “So here we are – James not only speaks, once he started speaking he hasn’t shut up since. All I ever wanted for James was that he’d be happy and, I tell you what, he’s happy now.”

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