Armless Guitar Player George Dennehy’s Incredibly Inspiring Story Goes Beyond His Musical Skills [VIDEO]
And it's some place simple where we could live. And something only you can give. And that's faith and trust, and peace while we're alive. And the one poor child that saved this world. And there's 10 million more who probably could. If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them.
"Better Days" by The Goo Goo Dolls
George Dennehy has simply become known as "The Armless Guitar Player." His self-uploaded video of him playing the Goo Goo Dolls hit "Iris" at the Ashland, Va., Strawberry Faire has earned him more than half a million views on YouTube, the coveted front page on link-sharing website Reddit and immediate recognition on some of the biggest news websites in the world.
Gawker.com called him "The One Man Inspiration Band."
That's only the beginning.
Before his dream came true last week when George was invited to play on stage with The Goo Goo Dolls at Musikfest in Pennsylvania (as shown in the video above); before he became a YouTube star; before he learned how to drive a car with his feet; before he first started playing the cello at age 8; before he even came to America -- that is where this miracle story begins.
'That's Our Son'
George's story starts here:
Not long after his birth in Romania, George is placed in this orphanage, if you can call it that.
There's one nurse for about 150 babies. Hunger, disease, desperation -- all prevalent. At 18 months old, George weighs 9 pounds.
Halfway around the world, Michael and Sharon Dennehy are going through a spiritual revolution. Already the proud parents of three children of their own, they still feel like something is missing.
"We were sitting on our butt, going to church and hearing great messages, but we weren't doing anything real," Michael said by phone from Ashland, Va.
It is Sharon's idea to adopt. But not just any child, one who desperately needed it to, well, live. Sharon wants to find a child somewhere in the world no one else wants and give him their love.
"I was thinking about working at a soup kitchen, something like that," Michael admitted. "I was floored by what Sharon wanted to do. But her spiritual side won over, and I thank God for that."
Michael and Sharon decide to use Bethany Christian Services, the largest international adoption agency in the United States. The Dennehys receive countless emails, newsletters and bits of information on children who need a family.
One morning, Michael walks into the kitchen for breakfast. He sees a newsletter on the table with a small, black-and-white picture with a red circle around it.
"That's our son," Sharon says.
So, Michael and Sharon get on a plane and fly to Romania. They meet George's parents, the workers at the orphanage and finally, George himself. Born without both arms, Michael says Romania has a strong cultural bias against the disabled, believing they are cursed by God. Had George's family not given him up for adoption, they could have been shunned by their entire village.
Shocked at George's malnourished condition, Michael gives the nurse extra money to help get him healthy before he flies to his new home.
A short time later, Michael and Sharon go to JFK International Airport in New York City to pick up their new son.
Michael and Sharon have since adopted eight more children from around the world with special needs, including a girl from India who also has no arms, and a girl from Thailand with no limbs at all.
Of his parents and siblings at home, George is the only musical one.
'This is a Gift'
All three of Michael and Sharon's biological children learned how to play classical instruments as kids. They wanted George to do the same.
That was perhaps the only time you could point to George using his disability as an excuse.
"I didn't want to play," George said. "I said I couldn't do it, but they wanted me to learn. My mom just wanted me to take music lessons. I'm glad I did."
The first instrument George learned how to play was the cello when he was "around 7 or 8," as you can see in this picture:
As it turns out, getting used to the instrument was the hardest part for George.
"I actually have kind of small feet," George said. "It was tough at first."
The music? It's just natural. Michael tells the story best:
Not long after he first started playing the cello, I took George to see The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring). We're Lord of the Rings freaks in our house. When we got home, he strutted into the music room, got his cello and played the theme music from The Lord of the Rings, by ear. I thought, 'This is a gift of some kind.'"
George has since learned how to play the piano, bass guitar and the acoustic guitar. And, yes, he plays them all with his feet. He frequently posts his works on his YouTube channel -- where you'll find the words he types, the clicks he made with the mouse, all came from his feet.
When George first posted his video of him playing The Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" at the Strawberry Faire on the link-sharing site Reddit, many of the users were more amazed at his computer skills than his guitar-playing.
George said his favorite artists to play include John Mayer and Jack Johnson. Some of his favorite bands (other than The Goo Goo Dolls) are Switchfoot, Kutless, The Fray and Lifehouse. He said if he could pick just one band to open for, it would be Switchfoot.
'IT'S STILL SURREAL'
So, why "Iris" by The Goo Goo Dolls?
"That song, oh, man. It's just got powerful lyrics to it," George said. "It just tells you to go out and make a name for yourself."
Oh, that he did.
Just days after George's Strawberry Faire video went viral, he received a message from The Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin. He wanted to know if George would be interested in playing with the band.
When George told his father the news, Michael didn't believe it at first, thinking an online bully was messing with his son. He even almost had George delete the message.
Good thing he didn't.
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, at Pennsylvania's 10-day festival Musikfest, George took the stage to open for The Goo Goo Dolls. He played "Perfect" by Pink and "Broken Angel" by Boyce Avenue.
Cool enough, but that wasn't it. To end the show, The Goo Goo Dolls brought George back out on stage to sing "Iris," the song that gave him worldwide fame.
As you watch the video, you see the band spread out to give George the limelight. Then you see thousands of phones come out to video George playing with his favorite band.
"I was nervous (opening) with the first two songs because of the crowd, but I got used to it after that," George said. "It was incredible. It's still surreal. I'm still feeling like it was a dream."
"I cried, and it was because of the people out in the audience screaming for George," Michael said. "It was truly unbelievable."
The gesture left a mark on the Dennehy family. It inspired George to shoot for a career in music. He's decided to forego college for now to "figure out how I can do this for a living."
For Michael, it left his heart heavy -- and with a new appreciation for the former music superstars of the 1990s.
"We got a note from Mike (Malinin) saying he was glad we came and that he was inspired to play with George. We are eternally grateful to The Goo Goo Dolls," Michael said. "I was reading the lyrics to 'Better Days' (lyrics at the top of the page) the other day and I sat in my office and cried. What a powerful song. I feel like I missed them, but now I get to learn about them."
The Next Chapter
It's a whole new world for George Dennehy, whose life is seemingly only just beginning.
He's set to record an EP at Richmond Outreach Center, will soon travel to Nashville to record songs for a cancer website and will appear on CNN with Anderson Cooper later this month.
But it gets even better.
Television reporters from Romania flew to visit George and his family last weekend to film him taking part in everyday life. He'll immediately be a star in his home country.
But it gets even better.
Next month, George and Sharon will fly to Romania to go on TV several times. And, if all goes as planned, George will be reunited with his biological family.
He has not seen his mother or four sisters in 17 years.
Michael said one of the Romanian journalists' goals is to change the way the disable are viewed in their country, and George will hopefully be a part of that revolution.
"It's a little overwhelming. It's a lot to think about where I came from to where I am now," George said. "I just want people to know they can do anything, that there's always hope."