Is Rodney Burford deaf in real life? The actor’s disability

Rodney Burford

Rodney Burford portrays Tony Hughes, one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims, in Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The first third of the sixth episode explores Hughes’ background, detailing how he became deaf. Hughes was born in 1959 and became deaf shortly after due to medication prescribed to him.  

Tony disappeared after meeting Dahmer at the 219 Club in Milwaukee on 24th May 1991. Reports suggest Dahmer and Tony had met before that fateful encounter at the club. 

Burford expertly portrays Hughes, with many viewers suggesting it could be Rodney’s breakout role. Reality television fans might have recognized Rodney from the hit Netflix series Deaf U

Rodney is partly deaf but can speak clearly

Unlike Hughes, who became permanently deaf as a child, Rodney is partly deaf. He uses a cochlear implant to help him hear with greater precision. As demonstrated in Deaf U, Rodney can speak clearly and only signs when he has to. 

“Deaf people are split into different categories,” Burford explains early in the series. “We have deaf people who swear they can talk. You have deaf people who used to talk but they don’t talk anymore, and then you have deaf people who know they can’t talk so they just scream.”

Deaf U explores the lives of students at Gallaudet University, a private institution for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It could have given Rodney his big break, but COVID struck, halting any momentum the show could have given Burford. 

Nevertheless, Rodney appreciated his experience on Deaf U and the conversations it sparked with his family members. Burford told Melissa Elmira:

“They know a lot more about my love life now. Me and my family were always close, but it did open up doors about uncomfortable conversations. But nothing new. We have already been close.”