Health & Hollywood: Stars Get Sick, Too! A Look at Celebrities with Chronic Illness – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

Sure, their “people” usually try to either: a.) hide the fact that their celebrity client is sick or b.) exploit the fact that their celebrity client is sick….but the truth is, stars are human, and even the most beautiful, rich, and famous people in the world get sick, too.

I was  saddened to hear about Giuliana Rancic‘s recent new diagnosis of breast cancer at age 36, especially after her struggles with infertility. It made me think about what other celebrities are dealing with health issues, who chooses to speak out about it, and who does not.

Now, this blog post may not interest all of you, but I’m very into pop culture and entertainment, so it seemed right up my alley as a topic to pursue. So, let’s take a look at stars and their sicknesses — and, what they do to cope!

* Britney Spears – Bipolar Disorder – Britney’s camp keeps tightlipped about her mental health issues. While I respect her privacy, I think that since her diagnosis was made so public, that it may do some good for her to use her platform to spread awareness. That being said, I’m glad to see how well she’s been doing since a proper diagnosis and disease management. Spears also has a history of osteoarthritis in one of her knees that is bad from years of dancing.

* Lady Gaga – Lupus – While it is uncertain whether or not the “Mother Monster” actually has lupus, she is a Lupus Advocate, which I think is wonderful. Apparently, Gaga’s aunt died from lupus and the singer, after experiencing some symptoms, tested “borderline positive” for lupus, leading to some false reports that she had a confirmed SLE diagnosis. She has worked with various Lupus organizations and raised money for the cause.

* Jennifer Grey – Chronic Pain – The actress, most well-known for her role of Baby in Dirty Dancing and her stint on Dancing with the Stars, is a chronic pain sufferer and advocate who works closely with the American Pain Foundation to speak out about chronic pain and bring about some awareness.

* AJ Langer – Fibromyalgia – AJ Langer is an actress best known for her role on the hit MTV drama, “My So Called Life” in the 90’s.  She speaks openly about her condition and claims that she allows herself, “20 minutes of self-pity every few weeks. Then I enjoy my life.” She has also appeared in a guest spot on “Private Practice.”

* Paula Abdul – Chronic Pain/RSD – Singer, dancer, and reality TV judge Paula Abdul opened up about her debilitating chronic back pain and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in recent years, calling it excruciating and nightmarish. She once opened up to People Magazine about her darkest times in dealing with the whole ordeal. As far as her battle with chronic pain, she said,  “everything that was joyous to me was removed from my life, but today, it’s like I’m brand new again.” The star keeps a gratitude diary to remind her of all those beautiful things left in her life to enjoy, despite the pain. She has been an example of fortitude and strength for many. 

* Michael Jackson – Lupus and Vitiligo – Michael Jackson needs no introduction. While it has come to light that the superstar and icon battled his own demons in the form of drug addictions and anxiety, it is also known that he had the autoimmune conditions Vitiligo and also Lupus. He was diagnosed with these diseases at the height of his career in 1986, and apparently suffered unbearable pain and insomnia, as well as anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, it appears that he became hooked on pain medications and sedatives. While he didn’t “hide” his lupus diagnosis, he didn’t speak very openly about it….and he certainly did hide his vitiligo, as he was racked with fear and despair about his appearance. Somehow, though, Jackson was able to remain a performer and an amazing dancer down to his very last days.

* Carrie Ann Inaba – Arthritis/Spinal Stenosis – Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba suffered what she referred to as “debilitating pain” due to her spinal stenosis. She was featured in Arthritis Today magazine and on People.com discussing her chronic pain conditions. She has spoken very openly about it, and had spinal surgery in 2010, followed by physical therapy and biofeedback. She said, “I always threw myself into dance, it’s my passion and a wonderful way to express your feelings and communicate. Unfortunately for my body, I was a bit too passionate and threw myself a little too much into dance. About 3 or 4 years ago, I started having so much pain in my neck and back that I was losing my range of movement.” Glad to hear that she is now doing better.

* Gloria Gaynor – Osteoarthritis – Singer Gloria Gaynor “will survive” with her osteoarthritis. Many people will develop osteoarthritis as they grow older, but in Hollywood, it isn’t very common for a star to speak out about it, for fear of “giving away their age.”  As she aged, Gloria’s knees started feeling achy, especially when she was active. “I felt stiff when I woke up in the morning and twinges of pain climbing stairs. I started feeling uncomfortable all the time.” Finally, at age 46, she went to a doctor and got the diagnosis she needed, eventually having a knee replacement in 2009. She now discusses her experience openly to educate others about arthritis.

* Sarah Jane Smith, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Craig Pinto – Celiac Disease – What do a pro golfer, a talk show host, and a college quarterback have in common? Celiac Disease. All 3  have been diagnosed with the autoimmune digestive disorder that produces a negative reaction to the protein gluten which causes inflammation and damage to the small intestine. This condition can eventually lead to malnutrition and even cancer if left untreated, and isn’t the same thing as “gluten intolerance.” All 3 celebrities  have spoken out about Celiac and being gluten-free, and Hasselbeck has even wrote a book about it (the G-Free diet), created gluten-free energy bars (NoGii) and run marathons for Celiac Disease awareness.

* Montell Williams and Clay Walker – Multiple Sclerosis – The talk show host and country singer both have Multiple Sclerosis, also known as MS. Both have chosen to go public with it and spread awareness without letting it dictate their lives. Clay Walker has done many interviews about his condition, and Montell Williams has written books about it and become an advocate for medical marijuana for the treatment of MS.

* Marcia Cross – Chronic Migraines – Marcia Cross, an actress best known for her role on Desperate Housewives, suffers chronic migraines. “I was knocked out and writhing in pain, and it was horribly excruciating,” the 45-year-old actress said in an interview with MSNBC.com. She decided to turn a negative into a positive: . In 2006, Cross was the spokeswoman for drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, raising awareness about migraine pain.

* Michael J. Fox – Parkinson’s Disease – Michael J. Fox is truly an inspiration, and is a prime example of how a celebrity should handle chronic illness with grace, all while using their fame for the betterment of all others who suffer from their condition. Fox has written a number of inspirational books, has made many TV apperances since his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, and started a foundation in his own name to raise awareness and to raise funds for research.

* George Clooney – Chiari Malformation/Chronic Pain – Clooney has neither confirmed nor denied rumors that he suffers from Chiari Malformation, but it IS documented that he suffered an on-set head trauma that led to chronic pain and short-term memory loss.  He additionally suffers from chronic back pain. He doesn’t speak out about his health issues, and therefore is in the same boat as Spears when it comes to spreading awareness.

* Charlie Villanueva – Alopecia Areata – NBA player Charlie Villanueva has used his fame to spread awareness about the autoimmune hair loss condition, alopecia areta, mostly focusing on helping young kids with the disease.

* Lucille Ball – Rheumatoid Arthritis – Perhaps the most famous RA patient was, “Lucy” herself. It is unclear how publicly known her condition was at the height of her fame.

* Kim Kardashian – Psoriasis – Reality starlet and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian recently opened up about her new psoriasis diagnosis. She has been open about her disease, but has not “made a big deal” about it since her first discovering it on her family’s reality show. Rumors are that she will be partnering with the psoriasis foundation to help spread awareness. No word, yet, on whether or not she’s developed psoriatic arthritis along with the psoriasis.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, tennis stars Billie Jean King and Venus Williams both have arthritis – osteoarthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome, respectively, while the daughter of actors Jennie Garth and Peter Facinelli has a form of juvenile arthritis.  The stepson of reality star Jill Zarin of Real Housewives fame also has Still’s Disease, a form of arthritis. Quarterback Brett Favre has arthritis, and Elizabeth Taylor had scoliosis.

Many other stars supposedly have ‘chronic pain’ but won’t elaborate on the specifics: is it from a disease, an injury, or is it generalized? How do they handle it? Some examples of celebrities who allegedly live with some form of chronic pain include: actor Tobey Maguire, actress Melanie Griffith, Bo Derek, and Jerry Lewis. 

And, many celebrities have opened up about their battles with breast cancer from Giuliana Rancic to Christina Applegate, Sheryl Crow, and more, not to mention countless other stars who have battled other forms of cancer – from Michael Douglas to Patrick Swayze, Lance Armstrong, and more. Many stars have also discussed their struggles with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

So what can we take from all of this? Pain and sickness do not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how pretty, powerful, or well-known you are, chronic illness can strike anyone at any time. All we can hope is that celebrities use their star power for good, by starting a foundation or simply speaking out. Or, celebs can take a cue from Survivor stars Jenna Morasca and Ethan Zohn (a cancer survivor in addition as a Survivor) who use their status to promote health-related causes. (They did it by starting a TV show, Everyday Health, for example.) Regardless, stars coming clean about their health is one step in the right direction for spreading awareness about all of these chronic conditions.

Have anyone else to add to our list? Leave a comment and let us know!


MAY 2014: UPDATE:  Since posting this, a few others have come forward with different ailments:

It is suspected that Miley Cyrus has Celiac Disease. At the very least, she is gluten-free and dairy free. (And was also recently hospitalized for an allergic reaction to antibiotics!)

Lady Gaga ended up having hip surgery, possibly related to her lupus.

Giuliana Rancic shared that, in addition to her breast cancer and fertility struggles, that she also had scoliosis and chronic back pain.

New Orleans Saints NFL football player Steve Gleason has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is considered a terminal neuro-muscular disease.

Superstar Nick Cannon came forward with a Lupus (SLE) diagnosis, as did Toni Braxton. There have been rumors, too, that Selena Gomez has lupus, too.


Thanks for reading!

Stay Well,

 Ashley Boynes-Shuck

What’s YOUR weapon against arthritis?

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8 thoughts on “Health & Hollywood: Stars Get Sick, Too! A Look at Celebrities with Chronic Illness – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

  1. Very interesting Ashley. It would be so helpful if more of these people used their celebrity status to spread awareness. Always enjoy reading your blogs. Thanks for all your hard work.

  2. I believe Jill Zarin’s college-age daughter has an autoimmune arthritis as well, that is why she is so active in the arthritis community. Catherine Zeta Zones has bipolar.

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