Celebs Who Faked Medical Conditions

Any publicity is good publicity, right? The age-old phrase couldn't be more wrong, and it seems like a few d-listers have missed the memo. Straight up: people get mad when you fake an illness for attention, especially when you take into consideration all of the people suffering in silence who don't have a reality TV show or Instagram account to promote. You'd think that most celebrities — or really anyone who's at the top of their field — would have a PR agent who advises them against pretending to be seriously ill, but nevertheless, they persist. 

For some horrific reason, cancer seems like the most popular choice among the pretenders, perhaps because it's largely invisible until you get really sick. There are also fake pregnancies, which the only way to get rid of is to fake a miscarriage — but not every celeb who fakes it is hiding something or looking to cash in. Actors need to master the art of playing pretend, and sometimes, that's just the price of a really, really great film. From terminal illness to cancer and alcoholism, these celebrities have all reportedly faked their diagnoses.

The wellness guru who made thousands from fake cancer

Belle Gibson's cancer story captivated the Internet. The Australian influencer was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was just 20 years old and given four months to live. According to The Guardian, she ditched radiotherapy and chemotherapy, "cut gluten and dairy," and opted for alternative treatments like oxygen therapy and colonics — and they miraculously worked, or so her thousands of followers thought.

In 2013, Gibson used her story to launch the wellness app, The Whole Pantry. She vowed to donate a third of the proceeds to charity, landed a cookbook contract with Penguin, and Apple preinstalled her iPhone app on Apple Watches like a rogue U2 record. Not long after, she claimed cancer had re-emerged in her "blood, spleen, brain, uterus, and liver" and lamented about the short time she had left with her son. Then, the truth came out.

According to Who, the app's proceeds never found their way to charity, and alleged friends of the blogger voiced their suspicions loudly enough that two journalists from The Sydney Morning Herald took on the case. Gibson was eventually forced to admit that none of it was true. So, what was the aftermath? According to ABC Australia, Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) investigated the blogger and filed a civil suit. A judge reportedly ruled that she may have had psychological or psychiatric delusions but was, in fact, guilty of "misleading and deceptive conduct." BBC reports that Gibson was fined $322,000.

Blowing the lid off this best-selling author's brain tumor

Dan Mallory, who's best known by his pseudonym AJ Finn, has a life story just as intense as his best-selling thriller, The Woman in the Window, probably because he made it up, too. The novelist was forced to come clean after a profile in The New Yorker accused him of a large swath of lies surrounding his career and medical history.

According to the profile, Mallory repeatedly claimed to have brain cancer for many years, including on a university application and to his colleagues at publishing houses both in America and across the pond. The article also claimed that he lost his mother — who did actually suffer from cancer — and his brother, but according to BBC, both of them are still alive. A former colleague told the magazine, "My God. I knew I'd get this call. I didn't know if it would be you or the F.B.I."

Mallory's lies, as he claimed, stemmed from the fact that his mother battled an "aggressive" form of breast cancer throughout his adolescent life. "Throughout those dark times, and like many afflicted with severe bipolar II disorder, I experienced crushing depressions, delusional thoughts, morbid obsessions, and memory problems," he told The New Yorker, adding, "I did or said or believed things I would never ordinarily say, or do, or believe — things of which, in many instances, I have absolutely no recollection."

This Bravo star forged documents to 'prove' he had cancer

Leave it to The Real Housewives of Orange County to craft a fake cancer storyline so dramatic it rivals daytime soaps. Okay, we don't know if Vicki Gunavlson's ex-boyfriend Brooks Ayers actually had cancer or not, but we do know he was caught in a barefaced lie about his alleged cancer's treatment in 2015.

Ayers basically wrote the script for the subsequent Real Housewives of Beverly Hills plot where the bitter souls surrounding Yolanda Hadid accused her of faking her well-documented struggle with chronic Lyme disease. According to People, Ayers claimed to be "diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2013," and though he maintains the fact that this was true, he spent much of the season dodging skepticism from his castmates. Apparently, even Gunavlson doubted him — and she had reason to.

In an attempt to prove himself, Ayers apparently showed E! News some documents allegedly from City of Hope hospital, where he claimed he was a patient. After the publication found a number of inaccuracies in his paperwork, the hospital confirmed to People that the star had never been admitted. Ayers eventually came clean and admitted he forged the documents because he didn't want to show his real medical records. "Words cannot express the deep regret that I have in fabricating documents to 'prove' to the world that I, in fact, have cancer," he told E! News. "What I did was wrong and inexcusable."

Kim Zolciak Biermann's fake out

Kim Zolciak Biermann's cancer scandal rocked The Real Housewives of Atlanta so much that it's still an issue today. Fans may remember Zolciak Biermann's epic fight with NeNe Leakes during the Season 1 finale, where she briefly made it seem like she wore wigs because she had cancer (let's not forget, she's openly admitted to wearing them because it's "easier"). At the time, the star tearfully claimed that she "got very sick" and "[her] hair was falling out." "There was a friend of mine who was a doctor," she sobbed. "He said, 'Kim, I got to be honest with you. I mean you're, — 90% sure you have cancer."

This may have been the truth, but then she showed her true artistry. When Andy Cohen asked the star bluntly if she had cancer, she avoided the question and sobbed, "I wouldn't choose to walk around with a hairpiece ever," alleging that she did, indeed, lose her hair because of chemotherapy. She kept the rouse going long enough for Leakes to make a rare, sort-of apology before Cohen asked her again, and she admitted that she didn't actually have cancer at all, and her symptoms were from something else.

In 2018, a full decade later, Leakes brought up the incident in an episode. According to Pop Culture, Leakes called the mom-slash-singer a "faker," and Zolciak Biermann was forced to remind us that she didn't technically lie — even though the whole thing was totally shady.

What didn't Joe Exotic fake?

Joe "Exotic" Maldonado-Passage has seemingly become one of the world's most famous con men overnight. If we're looking at Variety's interpretation of Rotten Tomatoes scores, Tiger King was the most popular TV show in the United States the week after its release in 2020. As the weeks went on, Joe Exotic's wild rabbit hole of mullets, big cats, polygamy, and murder-for-hire only got deeper. According to In Touch, the documentary star may have faked his own cancer diagnosis just as much as he faked his own music career (allegedly).

In Touch exclusively spoke with journalist Robert Moor, who spent a week following Exotic for an in-depth report. During that time, Exotic allegedly told Moor that he was "dying of bone marrow cancer." "He said, 'If my doctor gives me two months to live, I'm going to Florida and I'm going to kill Carole Baskin,'" Moor told the tabloid

In a March 2020 tweet, Moor clarified that Exotic also claimed to have prostate cancer. He reportedly told this to "everyone" and raised money from his Facebook fans for his treatment. It turned out to be nothing nearly as dramatic. "I later learned he just had an infected prostate, dehydration, and a bad outbreak of herpes," Moor tweeted. At this time, it still unclear if Exotic was his own doctor in the way he was his own EMT, which could explain the incorrect (or straight-up faked) diagnosis.

Leah Messer faked her miscarriage for the cameras

Teen Mom 2's Leah Messer certainly didn't have an easy go of things. It's hard enough to be a pregnant teen, let alone give birth to twins and find out one of them suffers from muscular dystrophy. This was undeniably overwhelming, but things got even more difficult during Season 4 of Teen Mom 2 when the reality star found herself pregnant again. Though we were told the pregnancy she shared with former husband Jeremy Calvert ended in a miscarriage, that's not quite what happened.

In Messer's memoir Hope, Grace & Faith (via The Sun), the star revealed that she had a secret abortion, largely because she was conflicted about her relationship with Corey Simms, her ex-husband, and the father of her two children. At the time, Messer had just begun dating Calvert and was having second thoughts about her divorce. Simms felt the same way, and they discussed giving it another try, but Messer moved in with Calvert and got engaged. Shortly after, she found out she was expecting. "I was devastated," she wrote. "Having a baby with Jeremy would be the end of any chance Corey and I had of making things work for our family."

In an effort to save her "public image," Messer's rep concocted a plan to play off her abortion as a miscarriage. MTV sent over producers to film the emotional aftermath. "It was the worst thing I had ever been through," she wrote.

Was Courtney Stodden ever pregnant?

Courtney Stodden is one of those people who's famous for — what is she famous for? Is it because she married a 50-something actor when she was young enough to be his daughter? Is it her subsequent reality TV spots? Either way, her relationship with Doug Hutchison made it clear why you generally can't consent to marriage at such a young age — especially when The Green Mile actor threw his teen bride under the bus and claimed she faked her miscarriage.

In 2016, Stodden's manager told People that she had suffered a miscarriage and was taking time to grieve, but Hutchison claimed in his memoir Flushing Hollywood: Fake News, Fake Boobs that they faked the entire pregnancy in an attempt to make money while they were in a tight spot — and it was all Stodden's idea. "I couldn't get a job to save my life in Hollywood anymore. I was blacklisted," he told Fox News. "We had burned through all of my savings. I went bankrupt ... We were that desperate."

Stodden's divorce was only finalized in March 2020, and in an Instagram post, the star revealed that she was "scared to even speak up about feeling groomed or being verbally abused" during her nearly decade-long marriage and urged her followers to "stay tuned" for her book. All we have to say is that Stodden certainly looked pregnant in the photos.

Maybe don't cry coronavirus during a global pandemic?

James Potok, an aspiring artist, isn't famous for his work. Rather, he's joined leagues of other publicity-starved influencers who became headline news for a horrible prank — a page out of the shady Logan Paul playbook. According to Business Insider, Potok faked having the coronavirus on a WestJet flight from Toronto to Jamaica in an attempt to achieve viral fame. All he really accomplished was forcing an entire plane with 243 passengers to turn around about two hours in.

In an interview with Toronto's City News, the aspiring viral star admitted he was traveling to Jamaica to shoot a music video and got up to pull the prank about halfway into the flight, hoping to post about it on Instagram. "I looked around, I said 'can I get everybody's attention please' and ... I followed up by saying, word-for-word, I said 'I just came back from Hunan province, the capital of the coronavirus...I'm not feeling too well. Thank you,'" he said.

For the record, Hunan isn't even the so-called "capital of the coronavirus." The virus originated in Wuhan, a city in China's Hubei province, but if we're going strictly by reported infection numbers, the U.S. seems to be the frontrunner. In any event, it's not funny, and according to CBC, Potok was arrested and charged. He told City News he didn't believe his actions were illegal, but dude, couldn't you have just licked an airplane toilet and not bothered anyone else?

This YouTuber faked his own death

Though we've all probably at least thought about pulling a Tom Sawyer, most people don't take too kindly when you rise from the dead after you've faked your own tragic death. You need to commit, even if you're really, really, really bored and itching to get back on social media. This is apparently what happened with Sketchek, a well-known Team Fortress 2 gaming YouTuber who mysteriously returned from the dead three years after passing away from a terminal illness.

According to PCGames, Sketchek was widely regarded as "one of the best Pyro players" of the first-person shooter. He decided to bow out of his YouTube channel in 2015 because video games had "ruined" his life, but he wanted to "go out with a bang" rather than take the well-traveled path of simply doing something — anything – else. Instead, he faked a "non-specific terminal illness," then posted a now-deleted video announcing his disease. Three years later, he returned out of the blue.

"I was never ill, not even a little bit. You might say that I was mentally ill because I thought it would be fun to convince a lot of people that care about me that I would f***ing die, but I've been feeling really bad about it lately," he revealed in a video. " ... I don't really have an excuse. I mean, what can I say? I just love the feeling of taking someone for a ride."

Bradley Cooper faked alcoholism on set

Bradley Cooper, who is sadly still not dating Lady Gaga, did fake an illness — but it was all for the art. The actor went in deep when filming his directorial debut A Star Is Born, where he also played the alcoholic country legend, Jackson Maine. Most of us remember that gripping scene where Cooper pees his pants live at the Grammy Awards. It was a pivotal part of the movie, and to get in that headspace, the star couldn't leave character — even when he had to jump onto the other side of the camera. So, what happened? The actor faked being drunk while directing, and everyone just went with it.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Cooper admitted that he pretended to be drunk throughout the filming of A Star Is Born, adopting a pretend version of the severe alcoholism that sent his character to rehab. "Thank God the actors were willing to allow me to direct them sort of in that state because it was easier to stay in that space," he said. "It just took me a little longer to communicate what I wanted."

The schtick paid off and hopefully came without a fake hangover. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and five Golden Globes, winning one of each for the original song "Shallow."