1 / 10 Celebrities With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Stars usually like to bask in the spotlight whenever they get the chance, but when it comes to health issues, they’re often a bit more shy. These 13 famous folks (or their close family members) have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis — or another closely related disease — and they’ve spoken up about their experiences. Some of them have even become champions for the cause, helping to raise awareness and research dollars to help prevent, control, and hopefully one day find a cure for this painful and potentially debilitating disease.
2 / 10 Megan Park
Megan Park, a Canadian actress and singer, is best known for her role as conservative Christian cheerleader Grace Bowman on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. But the private information she was keeping under wraps back then was that she’d been living with rheumatoid arthritis since she was a teenager. As she told People magazine, “I had all the classic symptoms: extreme joint swelling, different pain, the inability to do certain things that everyone else could. That’s when I knew that something wasn’t right.” Park went public in 2015 about her diagnosis in partnership with Joint Decisions, an educational initiative that supports and empowers people living with RA.
3 / 10 Kristy McPherson
Pro-golfer Kristy McPherson has been playing the links since she was just 7, but she was diagnosed with Still’s disease — a rare form of arthritis — just four years later. Doctors first told her that she’d need to stay away from sports, but a rheumatologist who treated her at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston told her that even as a person with RA, she could still do whatever she wanted. “All I needed was that one doctor tell me that,” McPherson says. “That’s when I went back to playing sports.” Now, she often speaks with young people about living with the disease.
4 / 10 Glenn Frey
While the topic of Glenn Frey’s rheumatoid arthritis was largely kept under wraps prior to this rock legend’s death in January 2016, it became a source of controversy when it was reported that the medications he was taking to treat his RA may have caused other health problems and contributed to his demise. According to the Arthritis Foundation, experts not directly involved in his care say, “It is unlikely that RA directly caused his death, or that the medications he took for RA somehow caused ulcerative colitis, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes ulcers and inflammation in the inner lining of the colon and rectum.” Frey, who was a founding member of the superstar group the Eagles, had rheumatoid arthritis for 15 years before passing away at age 67.
5 / 10 Rosalind Russell
Famous for her roles in the classic films Gypsy and His Girl Friday, actress Rosalind Russell was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis in 1969. Although her cortisone treatment caused what she called “chipmunk cheeks,” Russell refused to hide away, instead devoting herself to raising RA awareness until her death in 1976. Two years later, the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis was founded at the University of California San Francisco to honor Russell’s commitment and courage. Since 2014, it has been known as the Russell/Engleman Rheumatology Research Center to also honor the pioneering doctor and clinic founder who treated her.
6 / 10 James Coburn
At the height of his career, James Coburn, star of The Magnificent Seven and Our Man Flint, was sidelined by rheumatoid arthritis. But two decades later, he bounced back in a big way, winning Best Supporting Actor at the 71st Annual Academy Awards for his role in Affliction. Coburn credited his pain relief to an alternative approach to treating RA, including fasting and taking methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). According to ABC News, his RA had deformed his body and left his hand twisted. “You start to turn to stone,” he said. “There was so much pain that … every time I stood up, I would break into a sweat.” Coburn died in 2002 at age 74.
7 / 10 Grace Bannon
Diagnosed with Still’s disease when she was just 15, Grace Bannon, who appears on ABC’S The Middle, spoke at two Arthritis Foundation conferences in the summer of 2016 to help raise awareness about juvenile arthritis. As she wrote, “It’s really easy to go down the rabbit hole of, ‘Poor me, the victim.’ It’s fine to allow yourself to have feelings of ‘Why me?’, but you can’t stay there. You have to push yourself to turn this situation into a positive.” She’s currently dealing with a flare-up after more than a decade of being pain-free, but she believes “that there is another side of the coin of this disease, and that strengthens me to not feel sad for myself, and I know I can overcome it.”
8 / 10 Kathleen Turner
Sultry stage and screen actress Kathleen Turner, best known for her energetic and seductive roles, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1992. Ever since, the two-time Golden Globe winner and Academy Award-nominee has been outspoken about RA in the hopes of helping others. Turner wrote about her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in her 2008 memoir, Send Yourself Roses. She said that it torpedoed her sex life and led to her reliance on alcohol. But exercise has worked wonders for her current health turnaround, according to the UK’s Daily Mail. “‘Pilates, baby! Twice a week. Pilates saved my life,” she says.
9 / 10 Lucille Ball
Who doesn’t love Lucy? But many may not know that this comedy queen lived with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis from the time she was a teenager. She was 17 when she was diagnosed, as she was trying to start a career as a model. Known for her blazing red hair and slapstick performances, the star of I Love Lucy, the landmark TV show of the 1950s, was one of the original celebrity supporters of the National Arthritis Foundation. Lucille Ball died of heart failure at age 78 in 1989.
10 / 10 Jennie Garth’s Daughter
In 2008, Jennie Garth learned that one of her three daughters, Lola Ray, had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Garth, who starred in the original Beverly Hills, 90210 series and the follow-up, 90210, says it was a difficult time for the family when her then 5-year-old daughter was sick for months. But following treatment, Lola has done much better. In 2016, Garth partnered with the American College of Rheumatology to create a public service announcement to raise awareness during Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month.