This summer, Val Kilmer made a triumphant return to the big screen in Top Gun: Maverick. Longtime fans saw the actor play his favourite bad guy role alongside Tom Cruise, and the movie also touched on Kilmer’s real-life battle with cancer.
Kilmer, who is now 62 years old, thought quietly about his throat cancer diagnosis for two years, from 2015 to 2017, before he went public to answer questions about his health. CNN says that at the height of his career, the actor had helped the movie business earn more than $2 billion. His filmography includes roles in the original Top Gun and Batman Forever, as well as Tombstone and Heat. Fans and critics didn’t know what would happen to his career after Kilmer talked about how his throat cancer affected his health and how he eventually lost the ability to speak because of it.
In an honest interview with the New York Times, Kilmer said that at first, he didn’t want to go to the hospital. Kilmer’s children eventually persuaded him to get formal treatment for his throat cancer, which the Times says led to multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Several sources, including his documentary Val, coming out in 2020, and his memoir, I’m Your Huckleberry, say that the surgeries helped Kilmer fully recover from his throat cancer and go into remission.
Kilmer’s procedures, however, ended up leaving him with a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube. This means that he can’t speak the way he used to.
“Now that it’s harder for me to talk, I want to tell my story more than ever,” Kilmer says in his 2020 documentary, Val, which looks at the actor’s career and life up until his cancer diagnosis and recovery.
Since then, Kilmer has tried to keep working despite problems with his health, such as his long-awaited return to Top Gun: Maverick in May of this year. Screenwriters purposely wove Kilmer’s real-life cancer recovery story into the plot. “Iceman” communicates with Tom Cruise’s character by typing, except for one line of audio that was recreated from Kilmer’s real voice using AI technology, according to a release from Northeastern University.
— People (@people) August 25, 2021
Read on to hear more of Kilmer’s story about how he got better from cancer, how his health is now, and how he got back to acting and other creative things.
On Confirming his Cancer Diagnosis
Kilmer didn’t tell anyone about his problem at first, and he’s only told some people about the timeline of his recovery since then. Kilmer’s friend and fellow Hollywood actor Michael Douglas was the first person to tell anyone that Kilmer’s health was getting worse. Kilmer didn’t tell anyone about his previous diagnosis until 2017 when he did so through a Reddit session.
Kilmer wrote at the time, “[Michael Douglas] was probably trying to help me because the press probably asked where I was and I had gotten better from cancer.” “But my tongue is still swollen, even though it is getting better every day. People think that I may still be sick because I don’t sound like myself yet.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter later that same year, Kilmer said that his recovery from throat cancer had “taken a toll” on his health. According to information from Harvard Health, throat cancer often starts on the vocal cords and then moves to the back of the throat, where it can affect the tongue and tonsils.
Kilmer also said that he recently had surgery on his trachea, which changed his voice and made him constantly out of breath. Later, it was found that the procedure was a tracheotomy, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, opens up an airway in your throat called a tracheostomy “to help you breathe when your normal way of breathing is blocked or slowed down.” It is not clear if Kilmer’s doctors will ever be able to close his tracheostomy.
On his first health Scare Alongside Then partner, Cher
In his autobiography, Kilmer wrote about an interesting part of how he found out he had throat cancer and how Cher was involved.
“One night, I woke up all of a sudden throwing up blood. It looked like a scene from The Godfather. He writes in I’m Your Huckleberry, “I prayed right away and then called 911.” So I told my hostess. Cher stepped in and took care of things.”
Kilmer claims that the two were able to joke even as he was being hurried to the hospital to find out the severity of his sickness.
“As she did so, I caught a glimpse of her examining the paramedic, who was as strikingly attractive as Gregory Peck. Just like in the movies, right? Although I was covered in blood, I managed to get her attention by bobbing my brows like Groucho Marx. In a nutshell: Hubba Hubba, “Currently, he is in the writing phase. “Cher felt bashful to be busted but then couldn’t stop laughing out loud at the arrogance. Even though I looked like a stuntman out of Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino and, yes, my life seemed to be in terrible peril, here we were, making jokes about attractiveness and lust. Before they took my vitals and slapped an oxygen mask over my mouth, my coworkers and I had a hearty chuckle.”
On how his Recovery Left him Unable to Speak
In the upcoming biographical documentary Val, Kilmer discusses in greater detail how the procedure altered his communication and his future acting opportunities.
In the clip, he remarks, “I am sounding lot worse than I feel,” while pointing to the incision on his throat, which is usually covered up with a kerchief or scarf. “I don’t need to cover up this gap to speak. Whether you choose to eat or breathe is a personal decision. That’s a challenge that everybody who meets me will immediately encounter.”
Kilmer stated the operation was done as part of his recuperation and to alleviate the pain he was feeling at the time of an interview that aired on Good Morning America in April 2020.
Saying, “I feel a lot better than I sound, but I feel amazing,” he elaborated. “Cancer in my throat was treated fast and successfully. The glands in my throat enlarged, so I had to have a tracheotomy to assist me to breathe.”
In a later GMA interview that aired in August of the same year, while talking about a new film project with his daughter, Kilmer elaborated on his belief that the loss of his capacity to speak is a personal struggle.
In his defence, he said that the language was no different from any other dialect or spoken language. It’s simply a different set of circumstances, but you still have to figure out a method to communicate, so it’s no different than any other acting difficulty.
On faith playing a Role in his Recovery
According to a feature of Kilmer published in the New York Times in 2020, the actor first refused medical help after learning he had cancer. Kilmer had planned to rely on his Christian Science religion to get through his illness, but his two children, Mercedes, 30, and Jack, 27, did all in their power to convince their dad to seek professional medical help.
Kilmer told the Times that he had considered going to a practitioner, or a religious counsellor, far away from his family to pray and, in the best case scenario, no longer “display visibly what can be classified as a malady.” He was eventually convinced otherwise because doing so would have meant leaving his family.
It was “simply that I didn’t want to experience their terror,” he claimed. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have had to face the world without them.
After his surgeries and subsequent tracheostomy tube, Kilmer told the Times that he feels his cancer recovery was effective due to spiritual pursuits and that he believed his speaking loss was related to the nature of the medical procedures. “[The tracheostomy tube] is from radiation and chemotherapy, it’s not from cancer,” he explained.
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