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Celebrities Who Kept Their Fatal Illnesses Secret for Years

Updated October 20, 2020 1.1m views22 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.
  • 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
    • Profession: Film Producer, Screenwriter, Actor
    • Credits: 42, The Express, Persons Unknown, Get on Up, Draft Day


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  • Brad Grey
    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: 62
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
    • Profession: Television producer, Entrepreneur, Film Producer
    • 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: 87
    • Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States of America
    • Profession: Comedian, Screenwriter, Author, Actor, Writer
    • Credits: Young Frankenstein,Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, The Producers

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  • David Bowie
    Photo: Alberto Botella / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
    David Bowie's death sent shockwaves across music and film communities worldwide. Hardly anyone realized the singer and actor had been suffering from liver cancer for the 18 months before he died. According to reports, the performer wanted to go "without any fuss."
    • Age: Dec. at 69 (1947-2016)
    • Birthplace: London, England
    • Profession: Film Score Composer, Arranger, Record producer, Songwriter, Musician
    • Credits: Labyrinth, Basquiat, The Hunger, The Man Who Fell to Earth

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