Just a century ago, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. As treatment has improved, though, people with T1D are living long and full lives, and thriving. Over the last few decades, the number of celebrities and luminaries with this illness has grown, and many are using their fame to draw attention to the condition and raise funds for diabetes research and support.
Actress Mary Tyler Moore, considered the first celebrity with type 1 diabetes, set the tone with her advocacy work on behalf of what was then called the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (now JDRF). Other celebrities, like rock star Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers and pageant queen Sierra Sanderson who served as Miss Idaho, have raised awareness, as well, by displaying their insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) in the spotlight.
Here are 20 celebrities and luminaries with type 1 diabetes you might not know about, and what they are doing for the cause.
NOTE: Some celebrities like Tom Hanks, Paula Deen, and Larry King are not on this list because they have type 2 diabetes, which is different.
Type 1 diabetes is a life-threatening autoimmune condition in which patients’ bodies no longer produce insulin so they must take insulin via shots or an infusion pump in order to survice.
Type 2 diabetes is a resistance to the insulin produced in patients’ bodies, and can often be treated with pills and/or lifestyle changes.
Wasim, a world-renowned cricket bowler from Pakistan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the height of his career. He is considered to have been one of the fastest bowlers in cricket’s history. While the diagnosis was a shock, he recovered to take more than 250 wickets before his retirement – an impressive feat.
Watch this video on Akram.
Jay Cutler is best known as a starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the NFL. Cutler, who was diagnosed when he was in the NFL, amassed 35,000 passing yards and has worked to help the diabetes community with JDRF. He now appears on wife Kristen Cavallari’s reality show, “Very Cavallari.”
Watch this video on Cutler.
Max Domi is considered a rising star on the ice for the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL. The center recently released a book about balancing blood sugar management and hockey, and is establishing The Max Domi Fund for Type 1 Diabetes on behalf of Canadians with diabetes.
Watch this video on Domi.
Pamela Fernandes’ athletic career began after she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, began to lose her sight, and had a kidney transplant. Competing as a tandem cyclist, Fernandes has medaled in the 1996 and 200 Paralympics. She also has served as a board member with Joslin Diabetes Center.
Sara is an elite softball pitcher who has helped Team Canada medal in multiple international competitions. An insulin pump user who was diagnosed at the age of 9, Sara holds the University of Minnesota record for most strikeouts. She regularly participates in JDRF One Walks.
Watch this video on Groenewegen.
In 2014, Kris joined a small club of athletes who have competed in four Olympics. A cross-country skier and multisport athlete, he has recently won several triathlons. Kris regularly attends and competes in JDRF and American Diabetes Association events.
Watch this video on Freeman.
For those who think athletes with type 1 diabetes are timid, Sam Fuld is the counterargument. The outfielder made a Major League Baseball career out of diving for hard hit balls for several teams, as well as Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. Sam has been active with JDRF and SlamT1D, among other organizations.
Watch this video on Fuld.
Kelly Kuehne began playing golf at the age of 10, the same year she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She balanced blood sugar management and a successful amateur and pro golf career for over a decade, and was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Few Major League Baseball pitchers enter three games in a row. But Brandon Morrow, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in high school, once pitched in seven games straight during the World Series. The veteran right-hander often meets with aspiring young athletes with type 1 diabetes, and is active with JDRF.
Read our featured interview with Brandon Morrow.
Watch this video on Morrow.
Like Jay Cutler (above), Kendall Simmons was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes while already in the NFL. While learning blood sugar management, he went on to become starting tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the year they last won the Super Bowl.
Singer Crystal Bowersox is perhaps one of the most visible type 1 diabetes advocates, as she is a regular performer at diabetes conferences. Since finding success on American Idol in 2010, Crystal has released two albums while continuing to perform, and to advocate on behalf of JDRF Advocacy, Beyond Type 1, and other diabetes-focused organizations.
Read our 2010 interview with Crystal Bowersox (her first time talking publicly about diabetes).
Watch this video on Bowersox.
George Canyon is a Canadian country singer who rocketed to fame as a runner-up in the 2004 Nashville Star 2 reality TV competition. Since then, he’s had several blockbuster albums and won the Juno Award for Country Recording of the Year. He’s become a huge public proponent for JDRF, traveling the U.S., Canada, and the world spreading the “gospel” of “you can do anything with diabetes!”
Read our featured interview with Canyon here.
In 2006, Kevin Covias competed in American Idol while in high school. His time on the show came just a few years after his type 1 diabetes diagnosis. He has since pivoted to acting, and can be seen most recently on This is Us. Initially reluctant to speak much about his diabetes during his time on Idol, Kevin is now active in advocacy with Children with Diabetes and the Diabetes Research Institute.
Read our featured interview with Kevin Covias.
Watch this video on Covias.
Valerie June is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Memphis, TN, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 27 in 2009. Rolling Stone named her 2013 album one of its 50 best albums of the year, and she’s been hailed by the New York Times as one of America’s “most intriguing, fully formed new talents.” She’s been very open talking about diabetes in media interviews.
Read our featured interview with June here.
Brett Michaels shot to fame with the hair-rock band Poison in the late 1980’s, and will tour with the band again in 2019. A steady solo performer as well, Brett was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child. In 2010, he won Celebrity Apprentice and earned a quarter of a million dollars for the American Diabetes Association.
Watch this video on Michaels.
Eric Paslay is a GRAMMY-nominated country star and songwriter, and his 2011 album “Never Really Wanted” cracked the Billboard Country Top 10. His best-known songs include “Friday Night,” “Song About a Girl,” and “She Don’t Love You.” He is a Dexcom ambassador at Friends for Life conferences and serves on the board of directors for JDRF Middle Tennessee.
Read our featured interview with Eric Paslay.
Watch this video on Paslay.
Country singer Ben Rue has been topping the Billboard Country Charts for the past few years. He grew up on a family farm in Oregon, where he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14. Since makinghis way to Nashville to pursue his country music dream, he’s become an advocate. In 2018, he partnered with Roche Diabetes Care to launch a campaign promoting a medication cost-savings program that also supports donations to diabetes nonprofits.
Read our featured interview with Rue here.
On the fifth season of American Idol, viewers got to know Elliot Yamin’s voice, and his visible insulin pump. The vocalist has since enjoyed continued success with several gold-certified records. He also has been open about his early struggles with type 1 diabetes as a teenager, and has been active with JDRF and the International Diabetes Federation’s Life For A Child Program.
Watch this video on Yamin.
Vanessa trail-blazed as the first African-American to serve as Miss America, and has enjoyed a long singing and acting career since she first wore the crown. She is one of the few celebrities who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult, and has been active with many health-related charities, including the American Heart Association.
Watch this video on Williams.
Brec Bassinger is a Texas teenager who was hailed as one of the next big stars when she began appearing on Nickelodeon TV. She’s had roles in The Goldbergs, Bella and the Bulldogs and Liar Liar Vampire — and has even been featured on billboards on Sunset Boulevard and in Times Square! Diagnosed at age 8, she’s recently become a JDRF Ambassador and dedicated advocate.
Read our featured interview with Bassinger here.
This prolific Broadway and film actor, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12, has had memorable roles in Titanic, Legally Blonde, and recently in Dark Waters. The Canadian actor also has been an integral advocate for Beyond Type 1 and JDRF Canada, and his portrait hangs in Banting House.
Watch this video clip on Garber.
Fans of the cult TV show Charmed may know Gregory best for his role as Darryl Morris, a San Francisco police officer who was a close ally to the show’s main magical heroines. Gregory, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 9, has also acted in numerous other hit TV shows, including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Baywatch. He has been involved in several social causes, including devoting time to the L.A-based Jeopardy Program, which provides gang diversion programs. He also has served as a spokesman for JDRF.
This veteran actress is best known for her role opposite Tom Hanks in Big, but has been a steady presence in many films and series, including Weeds and How to Live With Your Parents. Perkins was diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA) in her forties, and has been open about her early struggles with type 1 diabetes.
Watch this video clip on Perkins.
Jim Turner is an actor, comedian, and “one fun diabetes advocate.” He played fictional character Randee of the Redwoods on MTV in the 1980s, and had vignettes in movies like The Lost Boys and St. Elmo’s Fire. His TV appearances over the years include Grey’s Anatomy, Castle, and Criminal Minds. He co-hosted the CNBC D-Life diabetes TV show for many years before that series eventually ended, and has remained a passionate advocate working with diabetes industry partners on various campaigns.
Read our featured interview with Turner here.
In 2016, Theresa May became only the second woman to serve as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes late in life, and may indeed be the first world leader to serve after a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. She has been very open about her diabetes, and has even been seen in public with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) on her arm.
Justice Sotomayor is the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, she has been open to talking about the condition and recently released a children’s book that encourages children to embrace their differences.
Watch this video on Sotomayor.