Just as the public was getting over the shock of Charlie Sheen’s announcement that he is HIV positive, another celebrity revealed a life-threatening illness. Jamie-Lynn Sigler, best known for her role as Meadow on “The Sopranos,” recently came forward with her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a disorder of the central nervous system and disrupts the flow of information to the brain. The life expectancy for a person with MS varies greatly, but the average is 25-35 years after a diagnosis is made. This may sound like good news, but the MS population suffers from a variety of debilitating symptoms including the inability to walk, decreased memory and imprecise speech – all of which are essential to the profession of acting. And, the suicide rate of those with MS is over seven times greater than that of the average person. Surprisingly, many other celebrities are living with life-threatening illnesses.
10. Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox made a name for himself by starring in such 1980s hits as “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future.” Today, he is most well-known for his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD). It is a neurological disease that results in tremors, slowed motor movements and stiff muscles. People with PD can live from two to 37 years after symptoms first develop, with men dying before women. Fox was first diagnosed with PD at age 30 and is now 54. Quality of life for people with PD is often quite low as they often suffer difficulty walking, talking and eating, as well as decreased cognition. Fox has sought to alleviate his symptoms by taking medications and even undergoing brain surgery to reduce tremors. The cause of PD is unknown, but some suggest that there is a genetic component. Fox has four children with his wife, and is active in the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
9. Christy Turlington
Supermodel Christy Turlington, best known for her work in Calvin Klein and Maybelline ad campaigns, began smoking at age 13 in order to appear more grown up, and by age 16 was smoking an entire pack of cigarettes each day. She quit smoking by age 26, but by that time the damage was already done. Turlington was diagnosed with early stage emphysema in her 30s. The disease is caused by damage to the lungs, making it difficult for one’s body to get oxygen into the blood stream. Over the years, emphysema can result in collapsed lungs and heart damage, as well as dependence on steroids and supplemental oxygen. Those with emphysema are also at risk for chronic and acute respiratory failure, which can lead to death. Turlington is well-aware of the complications of emphysema as her father died from lung cancer in 1997, leaving her to walk down the aisle alone during her wedding to actor Edward Burns. Turlington now spends a lot of her time behind the camera – which may or may not be due to the fact that smoking causes wrinkles, which are a model’s worst nightmare. She is an anti-smoking advocate, documentary director and fundraiser for women’s issues.
8. Nicole Richie
Rumors of anorexia and bulimia have plagued stick-thin reality star Nicole Richie for years. She has long defended her figure, and has stuck to her guns in saying that she does not have an eating disorder. However, experts allege that something is amiss; her medical team reported in a Vanity Fair article that Nicole’s weight in is the anorexia realm. Richie’s underlying problem may be unknown to the public, but even she has admitted to being too thin and requiring the help of a nutritionist. Being underweight has serious health consequences, including anemia, gastrointestinal issues and osteoporosis, as well as a weakened immune system which can lead to an increase in infection and disease. In fact, the medical community believes that being underweight is just as dangerous as being obese. A study published in 2014 reported that underweight individuals have a higher risk of death than those that are obese. Richie shed some light on her health issues when she told “People” magazine that she loses her appetite when she is feeling stressed. Unfortunately for Richie, more stress may be headed her way. Radar Online reported this month that Richie’s husband, musician Joel Madden, has been involved in a sexting scandal.
7. Robert Downey, Jr.
Actor Robert Downey, Jr., known for his starring role in the Iron Man franchise, is probably more famous for his drug addiction. He was first introduced to drugs at the age of eight by his father. He was in full-blown addiction mode by his twenties, which was a case of life imitating art as at that time he starred in “Less than Zero,” a cult classic about Hollywood drugs and excess. Downey has often made headlines due to his erratic behavior, including driving his Porsche while naked. Also, neighbors were forced to call the police on him after he wandered into their home and feel asleep in their child’s bed. Downey’s struggles with addiction lead to the break-up of his relationship with “Sex & the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker, and also resulted in numerous drug charges as well as a year spent in prison. While Downey reports that he has been clean for over a decade, his life is still in danger due to the long-term effects of cocaine and heroin abuse (his drugs of choice). Addicts can be clean for years, but relapse due to the brain’s memory of drugs resulting in strong cravings. The chance of relapse varies for each person, but can reach as high as 50 to 90 percent. An obvious side effect of drug abuse includes death from overdose, but Downey is also at risk for death from a multitude of insidious diseases. Drug abusers often wind up with heart failure, kidney failure or a variety of brain diseases including psychosis and stroke.
6. Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato has been in the ‘biz since she was a child, appearing on “Barney & Friends” and later on such Disney programming as “Camp Rock” and “Sonny with a Chance.” While Lovato appeared to be happy and healthy, she lived with a secret: she had bipolar disorder. It is a brain disease which is characterized by shifting moods, from severe depression to severe elation. While most people are able to manage the disease through medication and counseling, the fact remains that people who suffer from bipolar disorder are more likely to experience anxiety, struggle with substance abuse, and commit suicide. Lovato herself has admitted to abusing drugs and alcohol, cutting herself to relieve anxiety and even feeling suicidal. Now a successful singer, Lovato uses her personal ups and downs as inspiration for her songwriting. She has been romantically involved with Wilmer Valderrama since 2010 and they are now engaged. Valderrama is no stranger to having relationships with women that admit to mental illness, as his exes include Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton and Mandy Moore.
5. Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez has cashed in big time in Hollywood, first as a squeaky-clean Disney child star and now as a sexy twentysomething singer. But there’s one thing money can’t buy her: a clean bill of health. Gomez recently revealed that she suffers from lupus. Lupus is an inflammatory disease (along with MS) that causes the body to attack itself, which means it destroys tissue and organs. The cause for lupus is unknown in many cases. Symptoms vary, but generally include shortness of breath, joint pain, confusion and memory loss – all of which Gomez needs to be fully functioning as a singer. Lupus also places a person at greater risk for other health-crises including infections and cancer. Gomez has confirmed that she has undergone chemotherapy. Lupus also places women at a higher risk for miscarriage which is bad news for Gomez, should this serial dater ever settle down with a man.
4. Mary Tyler Moore
79-year-old actress Mary Tyler Moore, best known for her work on the 1960s sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the 1970s sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” was diagnosed with type I diabetes when she was 33 years old. Type I diabetes is a medical condition caused by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin, which is a hormone needed for energy. In many cases it results in heart, kidney and vision problems – all of which Moore suffers from. According to friends, the girl who could turn the world on with her smile is nearly blind, and even underwent brain surgery in 2011 to remove a benign growth. Women with type I diabetes are expected to have a lifespan that is 13 years shorter than average. Perhaps because of this, Moore has been plagued by tabloid magazines questioning if she is near death, and there was even a Mary Tyler Moore death hoax in 2014. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the star has been reclusive in recent years, with even her former co-star Dick Van Dyke saying that he doesn’t see her often. While it is unclear how much spunk Mary has left in her, there is no denying that she is debilitated. She is no physical match for her former co-stars Cloris Leachman who appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” while in her late 80s, and Betty White, who is still a thriving actress in her 90s.
3. Bob Barker
Former “The Price is Right” gameshow host Bob Barker suffered a fall while walking down the sidewalk in October. This is the latest health crisis to affect the star, who has suffered from three strokes. A stroke occurs when there is decreased blood supply to the brain. For a man who made his name in show business with numbers games, here are some numbers that he should know: the risk of stroke doubles each decade after age 55 (so at 92 his risk is significant); strokes are the fifth highest cause of death in America; he has a 30 percent chance of experiencing another stroke. While Barker recuperated from his previous strokes, a fourth stroke would still be risky business. Aside from death, effects of a stroke include paralysis, speech/language problems, cognitive deficits and inability to swallow regular foods and liquids. It is unclear why Barker has suffered from repeated strokes. Usual causes of recurrent strokes include atrial fibrillation, diabetes, and stopping medication. Other health scares that Barker has had include a partially blocked artery, prostate cancer and skin cancer. The famous pet lover may want to consider adopting a therapy pet, as anecdotal evidence suggests that some animals have a sixth sense in detecting illness.
2. Rebel Wilson
Rebel Wilson is known for two things: her comedic genius and her size. While obesity is becoming more accepted on- and off-camera, it is still considered dangerous by doctors, who refer to it as “the silent killer” – and for good reason. Obesity results in many life-threatening conditions including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The risk of death is no laughing matter, as evidenced by the untimely deaths of overweight stars such as Mama Cass, John Candy and Patrice O’Neal. It is unclear whether Wilson will seek to drop some weight. She was a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig in Australia from 2011-2012, but reported that her weight loss was stymied in part due to contractual obligations she had while filming “Pitch Perfect.” Part of her schtick is that she plays her size for laughs, with characters such as “Fat Amy” in the “Pitch Perfect” franchise. She is also known for making “fat jokes,” such as tweeting that people should pay her to keep her clothes on and that she will be starring in a sequel to “Les Miserables” as a “fat Cosette.” Thus, fans question if Wilson’s appeal would diminish should she lose weight, and if she values her Hollywood success over her health.
1. Michael Douglas and Catherine-Zeta Jones
Superstar Michael Douglas and his stunning wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, both suffer from life-threatening conditions. Douglas, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Gordon Gekko in the “Wall Street” franchise, revealed in 2010 that he was diagnosed with throat cancer; years later he revealed that he actually had tongue cancer. He underwent both radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate the tumor. Still, Douglas is not out of the woods. He requires monthly cancer screenings to check if the deadly disease has returned. Recurrence of oral cancer can be as high as 30 percent; and Douglas has a good chance of recurrence due to his history of heavy smoking and alcohol use. Oral cancer has devastating consequences. It can lead to a multitude of speech problems, from slurred or hoarse speech to the inability to talk – all of which could end an actor’s career. Another complication is difficulty swallowing, which can lead to chronic inhalation of food particles in the lungs, pneumonia, and eventually death. Douglas is 71 years old, which makes his disease all the more dangerous as the risk of cancer increases with age. His bout with cancer may have slowed down his career, as the last blockbuster movie he starred in was 2010’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” His much-younger wife’s career – and life – are also in jeopardy. Zeta-Jones shocked fans in 2011 when it was revealed that she suffered from bipolar disorder type II disorder and received inpatient therapy. The disorder is characterized by shifting moods with more low periods than high periods. Those with the type II disorder are at a great risk for substance abuse and suicide. There is no cure for the disorder, and Zeta-Jones checked herself into inpatient therapy again in 2013. Since coming forward with her diagnosis, she appears to have shied away from the spotlight. Zeta-Jones reports that this is due to wanting to spend more time with the two children she has with Douglas, Dylan and Carys.