As with any disease, celebrities are susceptible to hepatitis C, too. Chronic hepatitis C affects 3.2 million people in the United States alone and over 150 million worldwide. An infection of the liver causes this potentially life-threatening virus. The virus is transmitted in the blood and can be passed from one person to another. Some common ways people get the virus are through blood transfusions, sex, tattooing, and piercing. Nearly 40% of those infected with hepatitis C don’t know how they got it.
A major concern for people with hepatitis C is liver damage. A damaged liver can cause inflammation and swelling, and that may lead to cirrhosis. Sometimes, the immune system can ward off the hepatitis C virus on its own. There are also various antiviral medications. If you have hepatitis C, leading a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a comfortable weight through diet and exercise can greatly help your body heal. Read on to see how these celebs have managed their hepatitis C diagnosis.
Anthony Kiedis is the lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. This reformed hard-partying rocker is the poster child for healthy living, according to Men’s Fitness magazine and other fitness publications. Now in his mid-fifties, he’s a vegetarian and defies age-related stereotypes by constantly challenging himself physically. For instance in 2012 for his 50th birthday, he took up surfing. Kiedis has come a long way since his diagnosis of hepatitis C in the 1990s. He attributes the source of his infection to intravenous drug use.
“It’s weird, I was such a survivor and so wanted to be a part of life while I was trying to snuff out the life that was inside of me. I had this duality of trying to kill myself with drugs, then eating really good food and exercising and going swimming and trying to be a part of life. I was always going back and forth on some level.”
―Anthony Kiedis, from his book Scar Tissue
The former Baywatch star and animal activist declared herself cured of the disease in the fall of 2015. Anderson was infected with the virus in the 1990’s by rocker ex-husband Tommy Lee. Both are now cured of the virus. Up until 2013, hepatitis C was considered incurable. Anderson’s declaration of a cure highlights the controversy over the availability and high cost of the only two drugs that can lead to a cure. The prescription medicines Sovaldi and Harvoni offer a 12-week treatment to eradicate the virus and prevent the need for a future liver transplant. So far, no generic options of the drugs are available. So at $95,000 for a three-month dose, the medication’s value is questionable.
“I think anyone struggling with a disease that they say you can live with is still – it still plays into a lot of your decisions in your life,” she says. “Twenty years ago they told me I would die in 10 years. And 10 years into that, they told me I would be able to live with it and probably die of something else, but it all was very scary stuff.”
—Pamela Anderson, from an interview in People
The Orange is the New Black star’s real-life struggle with addiction led to her hepatitis C diagnosis and has informed her character on the show. Lyonne went through a period where she used intravenous drugs heavily. In fact, much of what her character Nicky Nochols experiences on the show is informed by Lyonne’s own past battles with heroin. Now clean and sober for five years, she says her illnesses have helped put her acting career in perspective. She maintains an active lifestyle and says her career helps her keep a positive outlook.
“Listen, I did not think I was coming back,” she says of acting. “So I didn’t really care. When you go as deep into the belly of the beast as I went, there’s a whole other world going on and something like show business becomes the dumbest thing on planet Earth.”
—Natasha Lyonne, from an interview in Entertainment Weekly
Lead singer of the band Aerosmith, Steven Tyler, had been unknowingly living with hepatitis C for years before being diagnosed in 2003. Tyler is well known for battling drug addiction, having gone to drug rehab eight times throughout the years. Now living a clean and sober life, Tyler received 11 months of chemotherapy to treat his hep C. While he notes that treatment was difficult, Tyler wants people to know that it’s treatable.
In an interview with Access Hollywood, he says, “I mean you know it’s just one of those things... it’s one of those things people don’t speak about it, but it is treatable. It’s non-detectable in my bloodstream and so that’s that.”
Ken Watanabe is a Japanese actor who has appeared in such films as Inception, The Sea of Trees, and The Last Samurai. Watanabe revealed his hepatitis C diagnosis in his 2006 memoir Dare – Who am I? He contracted the disease from a blood transfusion in 1989 at a time when his career was beginning to skyrocket. In 2006 he began receiving weekly injections of Interferon and that treatment was considered successful. He continues acting to this day in good health.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford
Christopher Kennedy Lawford is a nephew of President John F. Kennedy’s. He’s an accomplished author, actor, lawyer, and activist. Kennedy Lawford has struggled with drug and alcohol dependency and has spent more than 24 years in recovery. Diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2000, he was successfully treated and is currently virus free. Kennedy Lawford campaigns worldwide to raise awareness about addiction and hepatitis C.
“Saying you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict, claiming your disease in public, is one thing. Telling any part of your story to the public is another. There’s something very powerful about the telling and sharing of stories from one addict to another. It’s powerful enough to change lives.”
—Christopher Kennedy Lawford, from his book Moments of Clarity
Like many others with the virus, former San Diego Charger’s place kicker Rolf Benirschke was infected with hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Now clear of the virus, Benirschke started a national awareness and patient support program called Kick Hep C. The campaign helps people stop and assess their own risk factors for the disease, as well as get tested and speak with a doctor before the disease progresses.
“My company has 25 employees, and we get to work with new technology to help change lives. I’m doing a lot of motivational speaking about my personal journey. I golf, I’m still happily married and we love to travel.”
—Rolf Benirschke, in an interview with Hep
Businesswoman and founder of The Body Shop chain of cosmetic stores, Anita Roddick was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2004 after a routine blood test. She was infected during a blood transfusion in 1971 and died in 2007. She was very outspoken about the need for the government to allocate more resources to finding a cure. Roddick kept a blog until her death. On it she wrote candidly about how her experience of living with the disease made her life more vivid and immediate.
“I’ve always been a bit of a ‘whistle blower’ and I’m not going to stop now. I want to blow the whistle on the fact that hep C must be taken seriously as a public health challenge and must get the attention and resources that it needs.”
—Anita Roddick, from her famous blog, In the Land of the Free…
U.S. Representative Henry Johnson
Henry (Hank) Johnson is a Democratic Congressman who represents the 4th District in Georgia. Johnson was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1998. But, as is often the case with the virus, symptoms were slow to present. After months of speculation about his ailing health in Washington, he revealed his diagnosis in 2009. Johnson attributed his rapid weight loss, loss of mental ability, and mood swings to the virus. Having shed 30 pounds in a year and finding it hard to concentrate at work, the Congressman sought treatment. In February of 2010 after a year of experimental treatment, Johnson reported improved cognitive ability and acuity, weight gain, and more energy. He continues to represent Georgia’s fourth congressional district.
“As we make progress in health care and reaching the 3.2 million people in the
U.S. who have hepatitis C, patients seeking treatment will need practical tools
and genuine hope.”
—Henry Johnson, quoted in Hepatitis C Treatment One Step at a Time