Celebs Who Are Living With Serious Illnesses

The following article includes references to mental health issues and suicidal ideation.

Though most of what we see of celebrity life is glitz and glamour, there's a human element to show business that can be easy to forget. Actors, musicians, models, and TV personalities are so often portrayed as ideal beings — beautiful, talented, and charismatic — that it's hard to think they could be privately grappling with serious issues. But they're people just like the rest of us, which means they're susceptible to the same inescapable realities of life, including medical problems. According to the CDC, about 60% of adults in the U.S. live with a serious chronic illness, such as heart disease, epilepsy, or lupus.

While some stars understandably never speak out about personally dealing with such issues — Psychology Today has noted that concerns of being considered a burden, facing pity, or dealing with stigma are some common reasons why some choose to keep their health conditions to themselves — many have opened up to their fans about their health struggles in the hopes of using their platforms to raise awareness. "We know that celebrities sharing their experiences is one way to improve knowledge and general education on specific health conditions," Dr. Adiele Hoffman told CBS News in 2022. "Improving awareness can also influence positive health behaviors like seeking help from professionals and accessing reliable sources of information." In addition to decreasing stigma and increasing hope, Hoffman added, "People can also learn by observing a celebrity's actions and outcomes — a celebrity is still popular and respected despite their condition and any concerns about potential negative consequences."

Here are some fan-favorite celebs who are living with serious illnesses.

Selena Gomez

In October 2015, Selena Gomez opened up to Billboard, saying, "I was diagnosed with [autoimmune disease] lupus, and I've been through chemotherapy. That's what my break was really about. I could've had a stroke." Gomez has since become a prominent voice for lupus awareness and research, and she partnered with the Keck School of Medicine to create The Selena Gomez Fund for Lupus Research. However, in August 2016, Gomez took another break from her "Revival World Tour," saying in a statement to People, "I want to be proactive and focus on maintaining my health and happiness and have decided that the best way forward is to take some time off."

In September 2017, Gomez revealed that she was recovering from a kidney transplant, and that the kidney donor was her best friend, actor Francia Raisa. Since then, the "Only Murders in the Building" star has continued to thrive and has been vocal about what her life is like with a chronic illness. In February 2023, fans were delighted when Gomez spoke out during a TikTok live and addressed some of the body image criticism she faces on a regular basis. Revealing that her lupus medications sometimes cause her to retain water, Gomez said on TikTok, "I would much rather be healthy and take care of myself." She continued, "My medications are important, and I believe that they're what helps me."

Charlie Sheen

When Charlie Sheen revealed to "Today," that he was HIV positive, it was a shock to many fans. Unfortunately, Sheen's lifestyle, which allegedly included drugs and sex workers, placed him at high risk for contracting the disease. But after making the revelation, Sheen continued to make headlines in regards to his treatment, even temporarily going off of his meds at the advice of controversial holistic doctor, Sam Chachoua, who claimed to have a cure for the virus. "[I've] been off my meds for about a week now," Sheen said during an appearance on "The Dr. Oz Show" (via People). "Am I risking my life? Sure. So what? I was born dead. That part of it doesn't phase me at all," he continued. After seeing a spike in the amount of detectable HIV in his system, Sheen resumed treatment and subsequently slammed Chachoua on Twitter, who he alleged practiced medicine illegally in the U.S. for months.

Following the holistic cure fiasco, Sheen returned to his conventional treatment. In a follow-up visit to "Today," he claimed that his viral load was back to being undetectable. The actor also revealed that he was participating in a federal trial, telling "Good Morning America," "For eight months now, I've been enrolled in an FDA study ... for a medication for a drug called PRO-140." He explained that the drug was apparently nearing approval for use in the general population. "It's one shot a week, and there's no side effects," Sheen explained.

Yolanda Hadid, Bella Hadid, and Anwar Hadid

After years of searching for an answer for her persistent symptoms that included fatigue, chronic pain, and confusion, Yolanda Hadid was finally diagnosed with severe chronic neurological Lyme disease. In her appearance on "The Dr. Oz Show" (via Reality Tea), Hadid explained, "People started insinuating that I was crazy in the head. So finally getting that diagnosis was just, 'Thank you God.'" Hadid also revealed that she'd taken a desperate trip to Belgium, in which doctors finally found evidence of the elusive disease. According to her Bravo blog, Hadid gave a speech at the Global Lyme Alliance in 2015, in which she shared that two of her children, Bella and Anwar Hadid, also live with the same condition. "This award is for Bella and Anwar," she said. "This is a token of my promise that I will not allow you to live a life of pain and suffering. I will prevail and walk to the end of the earth to find a cure so that you can live the healthy life you deserve."

In August 2023, international model Bella Hadid shared an update about her own journey with Lyme disease. On Instagram, she explained, "I have so much gratitude for and perspective on life, this 100+ days of Lyme, chronic disease, co infection treatment, almost 15 years of invisible suffering, was all worth it if I'm able to, God willing, have a lifetime of spreading love from a full cup."

Nick Cannon

After being hospitalized for fatigue in 2012, actor and musician Nick Cannon was diagnosed with lupus when doctors discovered that his kidneys were failing. In an interview with WebMD, Cannon said, "I don't necessarily look sick, but there are times when I wake up and I can't move." The notoriously busy performer said that drastic lifestyle changes, like eating healthier and getting more sleep, helped him get a handle on the autoimmune disease.

Cannon also became a staunch advocate for lupus awareness, creating the "Ncredible Health Hustle" series on YouTube, to document his daily life with the condition. He's also worked with The Lupus Foundation of America on several charity initiatives, because he said, "If I can be an inspiration for others with the condition or a similar condition, then I wear that with pride and embrace the duty wholeheartedly. Stepping up and being the face of lupus has actually helped me get through it."

Cannon suffered a setback and was hospitalized again in 2016 due to complications from the disease, but he bounced back quickly. "I broke out that joint!!!!" Cannon wrote on a since-deleted Instagram post, letting fans know he was back in the studio and working. In 2022, Cannon commemorated 10 years since his diagnosis in a since-deleted YouTube video (via Today). "Throughout this journey, I had to change everything about the way I live my life and it wasn't easy," he explained in the video.

Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins

In 1996, TLC frontwoman Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins revealed that she had sickle cell anemia, which the Mayo Clinic defines as an incurable disease that causes malformation of the red blood cells, which can stop oxygen and blood from getting to the places it needs to go. "The older I get, the worse it gets," she told MTV News the same year she went public. "When I'm touring I get sick a lot and have to go to the hospital. All I can do is keep praying and stay positive." 

According to People, by 2006, Watkins had been having headaches for years that she attributed to stress and sickle cell. But when her vision became blurry, she had an MRI done, and doctors discovered she had a non-cancerous brain tumor on her vestibular nerve. "I thought, 'God, why now?' I told the doctor my goal was not to die," she told the outlet. After having surgery to remove it, Watkins temporarily lost control of her mouth and face, and had to relearn how to walk and speak again. Fortunately, she made a full recovery, and even got to record an album with TLC through a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $400,000. 

In 2022, Watkins credited CBD with helping her be more active. "I was able to make it through four tours without getting sick," she told Essence. "And everybody who's been on tour with TLC knows that's astronomical for me, honey, because I am known for messing up a tour."

Michael J. Fox

When he revealed his Parkinson's diagnosis to the world in 1998, Michael J. Fox had already been living with the disease for seven years. He'd even had brain surgery, a procedure that helped control his symptoms called a thalamotomy, before going public. Since then, Fox has become a tireless advocate for not only raising awareness, but also funding for research into the debilitating disease. He founded The Michael J. Fox Organization in an attempt to find a cure for Parkinson's disease.

Originally told he had only 10 years to live, Fox went on to defy expectations. Having lived with his diagnosis for decades, the "Back to the Future" star told AARP in 2017, "My visible symptoms are distracting, but none of them hurt." In 2016, he told The Hollywood Reporter he would be happy to keep acting so long as opportunities like his Emmy-nominated role on "The Good Wife" keep coming along. 

In April 2023, Fox got candid about what life with Parkinson's was really like, telling "CBS Sunday Morning," "It's getting harder, it's getting tougher, every day you suffer, but that's the way it is." In an interview with Forbes that May, the actor also gave his advice for other people living with the condition, saying, "Be present for everyday. Be aware of everything that's happening. Be aware of your body. Be aware of how you respond to things. Be aware of how the people around you are responding to things, and realize that this is your life."

Lil' Wayne

Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr., aka Lil' Wayne's struggle with epilepsy first came to light in March 2013, when he was hospitalized after experiencing multiple seizures. About a month later, the "Let it Rock" rapper was hospitalized again for the same reason, after which he decided to start speaking out. "The thing is, man, the bad news is I'm an epileptic, so I'm prone to seizures. This isn't my first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh seizure. I've had a bunch of seizures; y'all just never hear about it," Wayne told LA Power 106 DJ, Felli Fel (via MTV News). And he doesn't have a mild case. He claimed his heart rate went down approximately 30%, and that he nearly died during the second reported incident.

In June 2023, the rapper got real about the impact that epilepsy has had on his life in an interview with Rolling Stone, explaining that the condition had caused him to experience memory loss. "I don't even know if that's when 'Tha Carter III' came out," he said. "That's how much I don't know." Lil' Wayne continued, "I believe that [God] blessed me with this amazing mind, but would not give [me] an amazing memory to remember this amazing s***."

Montel Williams

It was only after a tabloid obtained one of his MRI scans and threatened to out him that Montel Williams came forward with his multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis in 1998. He was diagnosed six months prior to that but had been living with the symptoms of the disease for 19 years, Williams revealed during an interview MedicineNet. "The reason why I hid my diagnosis is because I thought if I came forward, I'd lose my job. I thought I'd lose my family," he said. But after coming to terms with his diagnosis and talking to his family, Williams decided to become proactive.

The talk show host started the Montel Williams MS Foundation, and he also became embroiled in controversy over his endorsement and use of medical marijuana to treat his MS symptoms. He's written a series of inspirational books and wellness guides that are not just intended to help sufferers of MS, but for anyone living with a chronic illness, or their friends and family members.

At the inaugural "My MS: Second Act" event in New York in 2019, Williams revealed (via Multiple Sclerosis News Today), "I don't consider myself a patient. I'm a survivor." He also revealed that one of his earliest MS symptoms was optic neuritis, saying, "In 1980, while at the U.S. Naval Academy, I went blind in my left eye for seven months, which stopped me from graduating. I was one of the only graduates who threw his hat in the air but did not get commissioned."

Avril Lavigne

After becoming bedridden with flu-like symptoms, singer Avril Lavigne finally got diagnosed with Lyme disease. Like Selena Gomez, Lavigne disappeared from the spotlight and endured the typical "rehab speculation" from the media. But she was actually in bed for five months and seeing multiple specialists, desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with her. "There were definitely times I couldn't shower for a full week because I could barely stand. It felt like having all your life sucked out of you," Lavigne told People in 2015 after resurfacing from her hiatus.

After coming forward with her own experience with Lyme disease, Yolanda Hadid revealed that she'd been guiding Lavigne through her struggle with the illness. "I took Avril under my wing when she first got sick and shared all I know," Hadid told The Daily Dish. Lavigne expected to make a full recovery, telling others who are dealing with the often-misdiagnosed disease (via the Daily Mail), "There is hope. Lyme disease does exist. And you can get better. This is my second shot at life. I really just want to go out there and truly do what I love. So I'm so excited for life after this." 

In 2020, Lavigne organized a livestream benefit concert to raise money in support of researching Lyme disease.

​Jack Osbourne

Jack Osbourne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012 after losing vision in his right eye. "The eye doctor sent me to the ER, and the ER was like, 'We need an MRI,' and then spinal taps, and blood work, and talking with neurologists," Osbourne said in a 2018 interview with Everyday Health. "... About 18 months prior my legs [had gone] numb," he continued. Still, Osbourne maintained a positive outlook, telling the outlet, "It's not over just because you get MS." He also revealed that he receives a daily injection to treat the condition, along with maintaining a nutritious diet and exercise routine.

Osbourne's outreach efforts include a partnership with Teva Neuroscience called "You Don't Know Jack About MS," a web series and blog the reality TV star created to increase awareness of the symptoms of MS, preach the benefit of early diagnosis, and share personal stories about his own struggle with the disease. In a blog post titled "What MS Has Taught Me," Osbourne discussed what it was like being diagnosed with the condition, saying, "This diagnosis made me realize that we only get one life to live, and if you're not embracing life and taking all life has to offer, then you're wasting it. Life is amazing, and it's a gift. Just because you have MS, doesn't mean you can't get the most out of it."

Toni Braxton

In 2010, Toni Braxton triumphantly announced, "Take a look, this is what lupus looks like," at the 8th Annual Bag Ladies Luncheon in Los Angeles (via E! News). This was how she revealed to the world that she, too, had been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease that causes one's immune system to attack healthy cells and tissues, according to the NIH. Braxton had previously been candid about living with another condition she has, telling People in 2008 that she has pericarditis, which causes the sac around the heart to become inflamed. 

Braxton has become active in charity work for both conditions, serving as a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, as well as serving on the Board of Directors for Lupus LA, a chapter of the Lupus Research Alliance. Opening up about her daily life with lupus, the "Unbreak My Heart" singer told HuffPost Live, "Pretty much when you have lupus, you feel like you have the flu every day. But some days you get through it." Sometimes though, Braxton has pushed herself too hard, like in 2016 when she was admitted to the hospital for several days. At the time, she released a statement through her reps, saying (via Rolling Stone), "She was not in serious condition, though lupus is a serious disease and must be monitored at all times."

In May 2023, Braxton opened up about her journey with lupus, telling CBS News, "I've had some serious health complications, including now it's starting to affect my kidneys."

Selma Blair

In October 2018, actor Selma Blair revealed on Instagram that she'd been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an auto-immune condition in which the body mistakenly attacks itself, as previously mentioned, causing damage to a person's nerves in their brain and in their spinal cord. "I am disabled," she wrote. "I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken GPS." Multiple sclerosis can cause many symptoms to occur, from intense fatigue and widespread pain to bladder and bowel issues. Mobility issues are also common in MS, as are vision problems and cognitive changes.

Having had troubling symptoms for years, Blair was somewhat relieved to find the cause of her illness. Speaking to "CBS Mornings" in May 2023, the "Hellboy" star explained, "When I got the diagnosis at late 40-something it seems, I was surprised, but then I was like, 'Oh of course,' and when the doctor said the first night, 'You've had this at least 25, 30 years, at least,' I was happy. I needed it." 

Since revealing her diagnosis, Blair has attended events with chic walking sticks and appeared on the cover of British Vogue while holding a cane, calling for more accessibility for disabled people in the fashion world.

Celine Dion

In December 2022, Celine Dion posted an Instagram video in which she revealed that she'd been diagnosed with stiff-person syndrome (SPS), leading her to eventually cancel her "Courage World Tour." Of this "very rare neurological disorder," the singer explained, "We now know this is what's been causing all of the spasms that I've been having. Unfortunately, these spasms affect every aspect of my daily life." 

Per the NIH, Stiff-person syndrome is a progressive disease, which can affect the muscles in a person's arms, legs, and torso, causing painful spasms. The neurological condition can be triggered by emotional distress, noise, and touch, all of which may cause spasms to occur. The stiffness can affect a person's mobility, and they may be more prone to falling down. Reflexes are also impacted by stiff-person syndrome, meaning that it can be more difficult to react to dangerous situations, especially in public places. 

It's also worth noting that twice as many women as men develop stiff-person syndrome, although it's unclear why this is the case. While more research needs to be done into the causes of the condition, it's thought that it may be linked to an incorrect response from the immune system. In her Instagram video, Dion revealed that the condition had even affected vocal cords, meaning that her ability to sing and perform has changed.

Christy Turlington

Model Christy Turlington revealed in December 2000 that she'd received a diagnosis of early-stage emphysema at the age of 31, per The Times of London (via ABC News). After her father died in 1997 as a result of lung cancer, Turlington started campaigning for early detection of the disease. After undergoing a scan, Turlington herself was diagnosed with emphysema. The condition causes damage to the air sacs in a person's lungs, reducing the amount of oxygen that's able to reach the bloodstream. This can eventually cause symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath or coughing. 

Turlington had actually quit smoking at the age of 26. "The really frightening thing is, there was enough of an effect from my smoking that it caused permanent damage," she told The Times of London. Turlington later revealed that she'd been diagnosed with COPD in 2016, a blanket term for irreversible lung conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In an interview with Health (via Nao Medical), she explained of her diagnosis, "It's been a journey. I smoked for many years, and I was also exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke. I didn't really think about the damage I was doing to my lungs until I started having trouble breathing." Turlington continued, "It was scary, and it made me realize how important it is to take care of your lungs."

Venus Williams

In 2011, tennis superstar Venus Williams revealed that she'd been diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, after unexpectedly pulling out of the U.S. Open. In a statement released via ESPN, Williams explained, "I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon." Sjögren's Syndrome is an autoimmune condition that affects the entire body, in which a person's white blood cells mistakenly attack moisture-producing glands. As a result, the condition can potentially cause symptoms such as fatigue, neuropathies, joint pain, severe dryness, and lymphomas. 

Speaking to the Sjögren's Foundation, Williams said, "I was misdiagnosed many times and my symptoms got progressively worse to the point where I couldn't play professional tennis anymore." She continued, "I understand the daily struggles and the strength it takes to open up about your journey, but I also know the support and education that is created by awareness." She has since returned to playing tennis, crediting a raw vegan diet with helping her return to the court.

Sarah Hyland

"Modern Family" star Sarah Hyland was born with kidney dysplasia, meaning that her kidneys didn't develop fully before she was born. The condition causes cysts to develop on a person's kidneys, causing the organs to stop working as they should, which Hyland was forced to deal with throughout her childhood. When she was 21 years old, Hyland had her first kidney transplant, when her father donated a kidney to her, per the National Kidney Foundation. Unfortunately, Hyland's body ended up rejecting the kidney in 2017, causing her to go into kidney failure, and she underwent dialysis as a life-saving measure. In an interview with Self, Hyland explained, "When a family member gives you a second chance at life, and it fails, it almost feels like it's your fault. It's not. But it does."

The same year, Hyland's brother donated a kidney, and this time the transplant was successful. "For a long time, I was contemplating suicide, because I didn't want to fail my little brother like I failed my dad," she told Self. During the same interview, Hyland discussed what it's like to also live with endometriosis. "I was still in severe pain after the transplant, and that was due to the endo and the hernia," she explained. While undergoing treatment for kidney dysplasia and endometriosis, Hyland continued to film "Modern Family," and it's impossible to imagine the show without her.

Christina Applegate

In August 2021, actor Christina Applegate revealed that she'd been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few months prior. "It's been a strange journey," she wrote on Twitter. "But I have been so supported by people that I know who also have this condition. It's been a tough road." Applegate was diagnosed with the incurable neurological condition while she worked on the last season of Netflix's "Dead to Me." After some time away, she returned to shoot the final episodes of the series, for which she was nominated for an Emmy in 2023.

As well as affecting a person's mobility, MS can also cause fatigue and widespread pain, along with cognitive changes and bladder and bowel issues. As an autoimmune disease, periods of relapse occur when the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, leading to irreparable damage and disability. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Applegate opened up about what life was like post-diagnosis. "With the disease of MS, it's never a good day," she told the publication. Applegate continued, "There are just certain things that people take for granted in their lives that I took for granted. Going down the stairs, carrying things — you can't do that anymore. It f***ing sucks." 

Lady Gaga

In 2017, Lady Gaga shared that she lives with fibromyalgia and widespread pain during her Netflix documentary "Gaga: Five Foot Two." Confirming her diagnosis on Twitter, Lady Gaga wrote, "In our documentary the #chronicillness #chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia I wish to help raise awareness & connect people who have it." Fibromyalgia usually causes musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, along with fatigue, and can also affect a person's memory, mood, and sleep.

The "A Star is Born" performer has been vocal about the negativity those with fibromyalgia face on a daily basis. "I get so irritated with people who don't believe fibromyalgia is real," the musician told Vogue in 2018. "For me, and I think for many others, it's really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result." Lady Gaga's decision to speak out about her journey with the condition has undoubtedly helped many people all over the world who are also living with fibromyalgia.

Melanie Griffith

Actor Melanie Griffith revealed her epilepsy diagnosis during a Women's Brain Health Initiative panel at the Gagosian Gallery in October 2017, per The Hollywood Reporter. Discussing her difficult journey to finally getting diagnosed, Griffith revealed that during a trip to Cannes in France, she had several seizures, one of which was a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure, which causes a person to lose consciousness and for their muscles to violently relax and contract. "When I came back [to the United States], I was diagnosed with epilepsy and nobody had said to me over a period of 20 years, no one paid enough attention to even diagnose me," she explained during the panel.

Griffith also revealed that recent tests hadn't found evidence of epilepsy in her brain, suggesting that the seizures that led to her diagnosis may have been caused by stress. "They couldn't find the epilepsy; they couldn't find anything wrong," she said of a visit to Health Nucleus in San Diego. "It's pretty much that it was stress. My brain is f***ed up." It's unclear whether Griffith still deals with symptoms of epilepsy or not, but her decision to discuss her life-changing illness has brought some much-needed awareness to the condition.

Missy Elliott

Rapper Missy Elliott revealed her diagnosis with Grave's disease in June 2011. During an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music," Elliott explained, per the BBC, "My nervous system shut down." She continued, "Your skin is dry, your hair falls out, you wake up, your eyes feel like they've got rocks in them." Graves' disease causes a person's thyroid to go into overdrive, when the immune system starts attacking the thyroid gland. As a result, the thyroid produces more hormones than the body needs, leading to symptoms such as anxiety, tremors, weight loss, and heat sensitivity, amongst others.

In an interview with Essence in 2023, Elliott discussed her diagnosis, which led to a challenging period of time in which she experienced anxiety and depression. "Now I'm fine with being like, 'Hey, I got anxiety' or 'I went through depression,'" she told the publication. "Even the biggest artist, or just the regular everyday working person, we all go through s***. We all do. And it's okay to say, 'Hey, I'm not okay today.'"

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health or is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Please contact the relevant resources below:

The Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.