When we mere mortals with thinning hair, b.o. and coffee-stained teeth (yeah, I’m talking to you, Brad from Accounting) think of celebrities, we often think of superhuman examples of male and female beauty that are so far removed from everyday slobs like us, that seeing them in the flesh is often the cause for spontaneous episodes of unforgettable personal humiliations; grown-ass men shrieking like tween girls when spotting ‘That Wolverine dude!’ or tween girls hyperventilating into unconsciousness at the mere mention of ………shhhhhhhhhhhhhh……((((Bieber))). It’s in an almost unimaginably cruel world for such folk to discover that their heroes and heroines are just as weak and susceptible to human frailty as the rest of us, though according to most Drag Queens, not Cher (I have it on good authority that ‘She’s perfect, Goddammit, PERFECT!’).
For the rest of us, it’s rather comforting to know that all those chiseled hunks and curvaceous starlets are just as human as anyone else when it comes to dealing with health issues; it makes them somehow more like a regular person than an iconic figure that’s used to accolades and adoration. At the end of the day, no matter how talented or revered a celebrity may be, they are still just a plain old Homo Sapiens when all is said and done, no more or less mortal than any of us. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 10 celebrities who suffer from severe illnesses.
10) Toni Braxton
Although she has experienced autoimmune disease-related symptoms since she was a teenager, award winning R+B singer Toni Braxton chose to reveal her diagnoses of lupus and a narrowing of her blood vessels to the public and her family on her Braxton Family Values reality show in 2010. She has previously stated that lupus-related complications claimed the life of her uncle and that her brother Michael Jr. also has lupus. Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect numerous organs such as the heart, liver, lungs and brain as well as blood cells, joints and skin, and which causes the body’s autoimmune system to attack its own organs and tissues. The disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary greatly between patients and often appear to be indicative of many other afflictions and diseases. Lupus can often lie dormant before emerging in relatively brief stages known as ‘flares’ in which symptoms appear, reach a peak then just as quickly fade back into dormancy. After her most recent flare in 2012 in which she was briefly hospitalized, Toni Braxton admitted that the disease had recently forced her into bankruptcy. The multi-Grammy award winning singer published her memoirs in the summer of 2014, entitled Unbreak My Heart after one of her biggest hit singles.
Few people know that the diminutive purple dynamo, his exalted freakiness Prince Rogers Nelson, was born with epilepsy. During a 2009 interview with Tavis Smiley on his PBS talk show, the musician revealed that he experienced seizures as a child, though he did not elaborate on his current condition with the disease. Epilepsy is symptomatic of a neurological disorder that disrupts the brain’s electrical signals and which manifests in physical seizures. The length of time and severity of these seizures can vary widely from being virtually undetectable to uncontrollably violent. Far from being debilitated however, Prince claimed his experience with epilepsy actually inspired him to super achieve; “From that point on, I’ve been having to deal with a lot of things, getting teased a lot in school. You know, early in my career I tried to compensate for that by being as flashy as I could and as noisy as I could.” Mission accomplished bro; his Lavenderness also told Smiley, “My mother told me one day I walked in to her and said ‘Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore.’ And she said ‘Why?’ And I said ‘Because an angel told me so.’ Now, I don’t remember saying it, that’s just what she told me.'” Would you believe some people think this dude is weird?
8) Morgan Freeman
In 2008 the car in which the Academy Award winning actor and a friend were traveling in was involved in a serious accident that flipped and rolled the vehicle, forcing their rescue via the Jaws of Life. Freeman experienced extensive injuries, including a badly broken left shoulder and total paralysis of his left hand (he still wears a compression glove to ensure proper blood flow), as well as numerous surgeries to repair significant nerve damage to his left arm. The actor has stated he believes his development of Fibromyalgia is a direct result of his injuries from the accident.
Fibromyalgia is a commonly diagnosed though profoundly difficult condition to identify because of its innumerable symptoms which are often mistaken for other illnesses and the highly individual nature of how it physically manifests, characterized by fatigue, tenderness of soft tissue and joints and chronic muscle and nerve pain. Freeman’s paralyzed hand and constant pain throughout his left arm have greatly impacted his lifestyle and forced the 77-year-old star to give up piloting aircraft, a hobby he took up in his late 60s. However, the actor remains ever stoic about his condition, stating in a 2012 Esquire interview; “There is a point to changes like these. I have to move on to other things, to other conceptions of myself. I play golf. I still work. And I can be pretty happy just walking the land. I play one-handed. I swing with my right arm.”
7) Tom Hanks
The two-time Oscar winning actor famous for films featuring his eye-raising weight gains and losses, found to his dismay that ‘Sugar is as sugar does’ when he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes in 2013. Hanks made the revelation during an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, having according to his doctor, ‘graduated’ from a pre-diabetic condition to the actual disease after experiencing symptoms for many years. Type-2 diabetes interferes with the body’s ability to produce sufficient quantities of insulin or react to insulin on a cellular level. Many factors can influence the development of diabetes, including age, family history, obesity and ethnicity. Fortunately in Hanks’ case, his condition can be safely managed by proper diet and regular exercise. The 57-year-old star accepts his fate with characteristic good humor, stating in a 2014 BBC interview; “I always joke: you’ve got to maintain the temple. I get regular exercise and I eat right, which everybody should do, and I take certain meds. Pizza is the most delightful thing ever invented and it’s for me, diabolically dangerous.”
6) Montel Williams
In 1999, television personality Montel Williams announced on his wildly popular daytime talk show that he had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS can be a highly debilitating physical disease that affects the body’s central nervous system which includes the spinal cord and brain. It is often a frustrating disease to diagnose as its complexity can involve genetic predisposition, environment and diet as posible causes and its symptoms are highly individual in nature. In Williams’ case, his first symptoms may have begun as early as 1980 when he experienced an 80% loss of vision in his left eye, tingling sensations in his feet and balance problms, all of which are often early indicators of MS. He has been a champion of MS research, personally raising millions of dollars through his Montel Williams MS Foundation and has been able to control his symptoms with medication, a rigorous exercise program and diet. He has faced his dilemma in typically optimistic fashion, recently telling a medical website, “For me, like everybody else that has this illness, it is an everyday thing. Sometimes every hour of the day, but you know what? I decided somebody’s got to be in it, and if it’s me, I’m in it to win it.”
5) Halle Berry
In 1989 during the filming of the television show Living Dolls, actress Halle Berry fell into a week-long diabetic coma and was subsequently diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes mellitus at the age of 22. Type-1 diabetes is characterized by the immune system’s attack on pancreatic beta cells, causing an excess of glucose in the blood which can’t be processed by the body, but can be treated with insulin. In 2007 Berry claimed that she was cured of Type-1 diabetes but had developed Type-2 diabetes, however many medical experts have challenged this by suggesting she had been initially misdiagnosed and was likely to have had Type-2 all along. Type-2 can be managed with proper diet rather than insulin injections, that include low-fat dairy products, fresh green vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fruits with low sugar content. Halle Berry has faced her illness with stoic determination, saying “Diabetes turned out to be a gift. It gave me strength and toughness because I had to face reality, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it was.”
4) Kim Kardashian
The embodiment of celebrity adulation and obsessive self-absorption, the reality show star and poster child for human vacuity was diagnosed with psoriasis in 2011. Psoriasis is a skin disorder caused by the immune system’s attack on skin cells, resulting in patchy, dry and scaly red skin characterized by periods of alternating dormancy and outbreaks. Obviously compared to many on this list, Kim K isn’t dealing with a life-and-death issue, but for someone whose entire existence is based solely on how she looks, the realization that her supposedly flawless beauty was now the victim of a chronic, lifelong blemishing condition had to be devastating. Apparently her mother Kris Jenner was also diagnosed with psoriasis at age 30. The Kimaculate perception has faced her ordeal with the stereotypical altruism that defines her, telling the U.K’s Daily Mail in 2011; “My career is doing ad campaigns and swimsuit photo shoots. People don’t understand the pressure on me to look perfect.”
Semper fi, Kimegadon; semper fi.
3) Sarah Hyland
The petite star of ABC’s Modern Family was diagnosed with kidney disease when she was just nine years of age and has battled the illness ever since. Kidney dysplasia or multicystic dysplastic kidney is characterized by early developmental problems in the kidneys which later cause abnormal fluid-filled cysts to grow instead of normal kidney tissue. Generally the disease affects only one kidney and has little health impact, but if it should affect both this could necessitate dialysis treatment or possibly transplant surgery. Unfortunately for Sarah Hyland, she had to undergo a transplant in 2012 after her father actor Edward James Hyland donated one of his kidneys, but fortunately the operation was a complete success. Sarah monitors her condition with medication and is a youth ambassador for comedian George Lopez‘s Lopez Foundation, promoting community understanding and awareness of kidney disease and organ donation, spreading a positive message; “Know that you’re not alone. Even though it may seem like it a lot of the time. And that if you ask, ‘Why me?’ Well, why not you? You know? It makes you the person that you are today.”
2) Michael J. Fox
There is literally no one born on this planet in the last 50 years who wasn’t aware that Michael J. Fox was the biggest star of the 1980s. Starring in a hit television program and with his Back to the Future franchise a license to print money, Fox seemed to be everywhere and his brand of casual, approachable comedy appealed to audiences far and wide. It came as an enormous shock to his legions of fans when he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991.
Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects mobility, often appearing first as trembling in the extremities that can rapidly spread and debilitate throughout the nervous system. Treatments include medication and in severe cases, brain surgery. In Michael’s case, the disease has primarily affected the left side of his body, and he decided to go public with the news in 1998 in order to bring more attention to Parkinson’s research. Fox’s treatment has included brain surgery to remove a portion of his thalamus and the drug Sinemet, all designed to improve his mobility. In 2000, Fox created The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research which has become the world’s largest non-profit foundation for such research. Fox has faced his ordeal with characteristic optimism, telling the UK’s Daily Mail in 2013, “Because of all the things I’ve done, nobody pities me, and that’s great. I couldn’t stand it.”
1) Robin Roberts
The longtime Good Morning America anchor had already survived a bout with breast cancer in 2008, so it was with renewed empathy that she revealed in 2012 on the popular program that she had been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). This is a rare blood and bone marrow disorder that affects the body’s ability to produce healthy blood cells, formerly known as preleukemia. Her treatment included both chemotherapy and a successful bone marrow transplant provided by her sister Sally-Ann in 2012 who is a perfect match. Roberts has faced this major challenge with vigorous determination, saying “I’ve been living with this diagnosis for awhile and will continue to anchor GMA. I love what I do and the people with whom I do it. Along with my faith, family and friends, all of you at ABC News give me the motivation and energy to face this challenge.” Because of her general good health and fitness, Roberts’ doctors have every confidence that she can continue to overcome this latest health scare, and she has steadfastly insisted that she has every intention of doing so; “This journey is as much about the mind as it is about the body, you have to change the way you think to change the way you feel,” she states.
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