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Celebrities Who Kept Their Fatal Illnesses Secret for Years

Updated June 21, 2021 1.1m views23 items

Celebrities live lives with which most people are unfamiliar. Even their deepest, darkest, most personal secrets sometimes make their way into newspapers, online, or into the tabloids. On one hand the celebrity lifestyle is wonderful, but on the other side it can be highly invasive and upsetting for the celebrity in question. Which is why it shouldn't be surprising that there are many celebrities who kept diseases secret.

Once they're diagnosed with sometimes fatal diseases, the outpouring of false sentiment can be enough to turn even the most upbeat person cynical. There have been a great number of famous people with secret illnesses who only spoke about their disease once they were free and clear. Other celebrities who were secretly sick never spoke about their issues. Only after their passing do their friends and family tell the public about their affliction.

Which celebrities kept their diagnoses secret? Famous people including David Bowie, Cobie Smulders, and Freddie Mercury are below.
  • Photo: Friends: The Reunion / HBO Max

    James Michael Tyler, best known for playing Gunther on Friends, revealed on the Today show that he is battling prostate cancer, and has been since September 2018: 

    I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones. I've been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years... It's stage 4 (now). Late stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it's gonna probably get me.

    Tyler said he was diagosed after an annual checkup, where, because he was 56, they screened for PSA, or prostate-specific antigen. Initially, for about a year, he was able to take pills that allowed him to live fairly normally. But the cancer spread to his bones and spine, leading to paraplegia, or paralysis of the lower body. He explained that was the reason he did not appear in person for HBO's Friends reunion special. 

    Tyler wanted to use his appearance on Today to warn men to get the appropriate tests so they can catch the cancer early:

    There are other options available to men if they catch it before me. Next time you go in for just a basic exam or your yearly checkup, please ask your doctor for a PSA test. It's easily detectable... If it spreads beyond the prostate to the bones, which is most prevalent in my form, it can be a lot more difficult to deal with.

    • Age: 59
    • Birthplace: Winona, Mississippi, United States of America
    • Credits: Friends
  • Chadwick Boseman

    Chadwick Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, though he never spoke publicly about it. By 2020, it had progressed to stage IV. He completed the films Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, among others, while receiving chemotherapy, as well as multiple surgeries. 

    He passed away on August 28, 2020, due to complications from his battle with colon cancer.

    • Age: Dec. at 43 (1976-2020)
    • Birthplace: Anderson, South Carolina
    • Credits: 42, The Express, Persons Unknown, Get on Up, Draft Day


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  • Photo: Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

    Brad Grey was considered a giant in Hollywood. Grey, fomerly the chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, had an eye for up-and-coming talent and greenlit some of the studio's biggest blockbuster successes - including Transformers. But he harbored a secret from most of his Hollywood pals - Grey was dying of cancer.

    Grey died on May 14 from an undisclosed case of cancer, which shocked many of his friends. Friends and colleagues told the Los Angeles Times they had no idea he was sick, and the last time they saw him he was greeting guests at the Chateau Marmont. 

    • Age: 63
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
    • Credits: The Departed, The Sopranos, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Larry Sanders Show, NewsRadio
  • In the wake of Gene Wilder's death, at the age of 83, on August 29, 2016, the comedian's family announced he had been privately suffering from Alzheimer's for three years before passing. According to a statement released by Jordan Walker-Pearlman, a nephew Wilder raised like a son: 

    The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him 'there’s Willy Wonka,' would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.

    • Age: Dec. at 83 (1933-2016)
    • Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
    • Credits: Young Frankenstein,Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, The Producers

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