32 Celebrities Who Kept Their Illnesses Secret From The Public For Years

Celebrities may have money, fame, and influence, but one of the things they don’t lack as a result of all that is privacy. Therefore, it makes sense that they do all they can to keep their deepest, darkest, most personal struggles as secret as they can. Unfortunately, even the most guarded celebrities can’t protect every one of their secrets.

The most sensitive celebrity secrets tend to deal with disease or illness. Those celebrities who did eventually come clean about their chronic illnesses only did so either after the ailment had abated to some degree, or in some sad cases, once they’d passed on…

Gene Wilder

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After the death of his beloved wife Madeline Kahn, comedian Gene Wilder had already retreated away from the world of Hollywood. So, by the time he had succumbed to a three-year battle with Alzheimer’s and then lymphoma, Wilder had already become fairly private. Before he died, he explained that he kept the secret so that if kids saw him and pointed him out as Willy Wonka, he wouldn’t have to trouble them. He wanted to keep the fantasy alive as long as possible.

Selena Gomez

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Pop star Selena Gomez had to cancel her 2013 tour because of an illness. She retreated into private life for a time and it wasn’t until after the media frenzy died down that she told the world the truth, that she had been diagnosed with Lupus. In order to battle the chronic autoimmune disease, she underwent a round of treatment. Lupus is manageable, but not easy to live with.

David Bowie

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David Bowie’s unexpected death sent shockwaves across the world. Music fans everywhere were especially surprised. They hadn’t even known he was sick, he’d just released an album. As it turned out, Bowie had been suffering from liver cancer for the 18 months prior and had refrained from telling the world because he wanted to go, as he put it, “without any fuss.”

Hugh Jackman

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In 2013, Hollywood heartthrob Hugh Jackman posted photos to his social media accounts of him with a rather large bandage affixed to his famous nose. In the posts, he divulged that he had been diagnosed with basal cell carcinomas, a type of skin cancer. Since then, he’s been treated five times and had cancerous cells removed from his nose and his shoulder.

Steve Jobs

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It was 2011 when Apple CEO and revolutionary inventor Steve Jobs suddenly passed from his long battle with pancreatic cancer. As it happened, he had been waging a personal war against the disease for nearly two decades and had staved it off for as long as humanly possible. Sadly, even someone as smart as Steve Jobs couldn’t fight the intentions of nature.

Tom Hanks

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Actor Tom Hanks has played everything from a brilliant idiot to a stranded postal worker. He’s world-renowned for not only his skill as an actor but his graciousness as a person. It wasn’t until he appeared on David Letterman in 2013 that the world learned that he had been dealing with high enough sugar levels to actually be considered to have Type 2 Diabetes, though it’s being treated.

Freddie Mercury

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Freddie Mercury was alive at a time when we as a culture knew very little about AIDS. So even though the lead singer was diagnosed early on, there wasn’t much that could be done. He kept performing for years and only his bandmates knew of his silent struggle. Sadly, he succumbed to pneumonia and the disease in 1991, shocking fans everywhere.

Bret Michaels

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In 2010, Bret Michaels, musician and reality TV star, suffered a mini-stroke. The world was completely flabbergasted. The former Poison lead singer had been a known partier of course, but he seemed to be in pretty great shape just the same. As it turned out though, the stroke was caused by a hole in the heart and a minor blood clot. Thankfully, Michaels is a bit more careful with his ticker these days.

Charlie Sheen

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It was 2015 and Charlie Sheen had only recently escaped a wave of mostly self-imposed negative press. He appeared on the Today show and told the world that he had news, he’d been diagnosed as HIV positive and had been for the previous four years. The rumors of his affliction had already begun spreading and he wanted to clear the air about the severity of his disease.

Angelina Jolie

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When actress Angelina Jolie learned that her family carried the BRCA gene mutation, she knew she had to act fast. Those with the gene tend to develop cancer early in life. As a preventative measure and to ensure that she was there for her kids, Jolie not only had ovarian surgery, she also opted to have a double mastectomy, just in case.

Robin Williams

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When the world learned that comedian and actor Robin Williams had been found dead in his home, they couldn’t believe that it had really been suicide. Williams had been struggling with depression in secret for years and though he’d managed it pretty well, the knowledge that he had also been diagnosed with the onset of Parkinson’s simply pushed him over the edge.

Lena Dunham

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Writer and actress Lena Dunham had kept her decade-long struggle with endometriosis a secret for as long as she could. Unfortunately, as popularity for her HBO show grew, so did the amount of scrutiny she was under. She revealed the truth in her November 2015 newsletter, explaining the struggle, including irregular periods, abdominal pain, and chronic exhaustion in detail for her fans.

Alan Rickman

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Alan Rickman’s shocking death was a blow for Harry Potter fans everywhere. He had been keeping his pancreatic cancer diagnosis a secret for some years because he wanted to endure it without public scrutiny. Eventually, a minor stroke at his home thrust the actor’s secret struggle into sharp relief. He died in January of 2016.

Roseanne Barr

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Roseanne Barr has had her share of negative press in recent years. So much so that the resurgence of her 90’s sitcom ended up happening without her. Besides the obvious career struggles, she recently revealed that she’s been dealing with macular degeneration and glaucoma for years and has been using medical marijuana to treat it. Unfortunately, the disease means she will eventually go blind.

Michael Douglas

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Veteran actor Michael Douglas has, like most celebrities, always done everything he could to keep his life as private as possible. That said, he did reveal he was undergoing surgery to remove cancerous tumors, he just kept the severity of the disease to himself. Apparently, he was at risk of losing his tongue and jaw and is still fighting to bring cancer into remission.

Michael J. Fox

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Way back in 1990, a much younger Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This debilitating condition is one of the few that can be more devastating the longer you have it. It wasn’t until 1998 that he came out publicly as having the disease and as being a staunch advocate for finding a cure.

Larry King

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When talk show host Larry King was first diagnosed with lung cancer, he waited a while to tell the world. It made sense to wait, as the doctors had only noticed something small and peculiar in his lungs after the first X-ray. A few more scans revealed a very small piece of cancerous growth that they successfully removed.

Cobie Smulders

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Years ago, Canadian-born actress Cobie Smulders had a pretty big scare when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She wasn’t about to let that stop her, though. She battled cancer in secret, undergoing multiple surgeries and treatments. It wasn’t until she was five years cancer free that she spoke publicly about the disease.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

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Even when “Veep” and “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she opted not to share the information with her fans. Instead, she began the treatment in secret, eventually posting about it over Instagram and Twitter when her chemotherapy forced HBO to put “Veep” filming on hold. When her treatment was finished, she celebrated with her sons over Instagram with a rendition of the Michael Jackson song, “Beat It.”

Kathy Bates

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Many people don’t know this but Oscar winner and “American Horror Story” actress battled cancer not once, but twice. Not only did she have to overcome ovarian cancer, she also willingly had a double mastectomy to rid herself of any trace of breast cancer. It wasn’t until many years after both surgeries that the 69-year-old opened up about the struggle.

Jennifer Saunders

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British comedian and actress Jennifer Saunders is known for her distinctive voice and style, both of which are, forgive the pun, absolutely fabulous. In 2009, she was diagnosed with breast cancer but hid her treatments, including the hair loss she suffered from chemo, completely from her fans. It wasn’t until she was free and clear of danger that she came forward to talk about the disease.

Sheryl Crow

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It seems somewhat ironic that Sheryl Crow, the Grammy-winning songstress who was once involved with cancer-survivor Lance Armstrong, would herself be a cancer survivor in secret. Though no one found out about it for a few years, Crow had undergone surgery to treat her breast cancer and had also been diagnosed with meningioma, a brain tumor for which she is still regularly treated.

Rock Hudson

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Rock Hudson’s homosexuality was a closely-guarded Hollywood secret for most of his career. In those days, leading men like Hudson couldn’t be homosexual and still work in the industry. So it stands to reason that he wanted to keep his AIDS diagnosis a secret as well. He did this successfully, until after he died from the disease.

Natalie Cole

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Natalie Cole was a world-class singer, just like her father Nat King Cole before her. When she passed away in December of 2015, no one had known that she’d been battling hepatitis C and liver disease for most of her adult life. She had kept the sickness private in order to protect her family from unwanted attention or scandal.

Montel Williams

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Talk show host Montel Williams was well-known in the ’90s for helping people get through their problems. In 1999 though, as his show’s popularity waned, Montel had to get out in front of a marijuana scandal and he did so by revealing that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The marijuana was helping him cope with the debilitating, sometimes painful disease.

Edie Falco

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New York City born Edie Falco had been living the life in the late 1990s and early 2000s and though she struggled with alcoholism, she never let it get the better of her or stifle her career. However, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, she had a bit of a wake-up call. She quit the booze, had the treatments, and only revealed both to the world in 2008 when she was free and clear of both.

Jackie Collins

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Jackie Collins was a famous novelist and an accomplished writer, but she had a secret: she had breast cancer. She had been suffering from it for more than six years before it eventually took her life at the age of 80. Apparently, she suffered mostly in silence as only she and her two daughters actually knew anything about the diagnosis or the treatments.

Avril Lavigne

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The potential fatality of Lyme disease is often forgotten by most people, but not Avril Lavigne. The pop-singer was diagnosed with the disease back in 2014, just after her 30th birthday. The disease kept her bedridden for months and it wasn’t until she was back on her feet that she told People magazine about the scare and her ongoing treatment.

Brad Grey

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Brad Grey was the chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, which made him a true Hollywood giant. He was a powerful man and it was because of that power that he kept his cancer diagnosis a secret from not only his underlings but his peers. Everyone was shocked when they found out after he died in May of 2017.

Candice Bergen

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71-year-old former Murphy Brown star Candice Bergen has always been a rather private person. As a television producer, photojournalist, an accomplished actor, she didn’t want anything to be a liability to her the success of career; not even the minor stroke she suffered in 2006. She kept the incident and her ongoing treatment a secret for years.

Nora Ephron

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Nora Ephron was once a famed screenwriter and filmmaker. She was known for years for her hit romantic comedies “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally.” When she passed away in 2012, no one knew that she had secretly been battling acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer, not even her closest friends.

Jane Fonda

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Coming off a resurgence of popularity thanks to her Netflix show “Grace and Frankie,” veteran actress Jane Fonda recently came forward to reveal that she’d had cancerous growths removed from her lower lip. She had intended to keep the struggle secret but was betrayed by the bandage on her lip. She assured everyone that everything is fine.

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