Chronic hepatitis C affects over 3 million people in the United States alone. Celebrities are no exception.
This potentially life threatening virus infects the liver. 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, injecting drugs, tattooing, and piercing. Many of those infected with hepatitis C don’t know how they got it.
A major concern for people with hepatitis C is liver damage. Over time hepatitis C can can cause liver 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 that can cure hepatitis C.
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 ofThe 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 late 50s, he’s a vegetarian and defies age-related stereotypes by constantly challenging himself physically. For instance, 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 1990s by rocker ex-husband Tommy Lee. Both are now cured of the virus.
Up until 2013, hepatitis C was considered incurable. At the time of Anderson’s declaration of a cure, there was some controversy over the availability and high cost of the drugs that can lead to a cure.
While more drugs for treating HCV are now available,they remain expensive. However, the cost of these potentially life saving medications can be covered by insurance or patient assistance programs.
“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 said. “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 Nichols experiences on the show is informed by Lyonne’s own past battles with heroin.
Now clean and sober, 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 “Entertainment Weekly” interview
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 antiviral therapy to treat his hep C.
While he notes that treatment was difficult, Tyler wants people to know that it’s treatable.
“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 nondetectable in my bloodstream, and so that’s that.”
— Steven Tyler, in an interview with “Access Hollywood”
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.
The late Christopher Kennedy Lawford was a nephew of President John F. Kennedy’s and an accomplished author, actor, lawyer, and activist. Kennedy Lawford struggled with drug and alcohol dependency and had spent more than 24 years in recovery.
Diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2000, he was successfully treated and became virus-free. Kennedy Lawford campaigned 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 placekicker Rolf Benirschke was infected with hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Cleared of the virus, Benirschke started a national awareness and patient support program called Hep C STAT!
The campaign helped 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 blog, In the Land of the Free…
U.S. Rep. Henry (Hank) Johnson is a Democratic congressman who represents the 4th District in Georgia. Johnson was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1998. As is often the case with the virus, symptoms were slow to appear.
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 changes to the virus.
Having shed 30 pounds in a year and finding it hard to concentrate at work, the congressman sought treatment. In February 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 4th 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”
In 1990, The Judds singer Naomi Judd learned that she had contracted hepatitis C from a needlestick injury during her time as a nurse. While her doctor’s initial diagnosis was that she had about 3 years to live, Judd sought treatment. In 1998, she announced that her condition was in remission.
Judd has continued to raise awareness and money for hepatitis C research. She also encourages others through speaking about the importance of hope in the face of serious health conditions.
“Never ever, ever give up hope. Cling to hope, because it’s going to help you cope. Use my story as an example. Let me give you hope.”
— Naomi Judd, in an interview on the “Oprah Winfrey Show”
David Crosby, of the popular folk-rock group Crosby, Stills, and Nash, learned that he had hepatitis C in 1994. While Crosby had been sober at the time of his diagnosis, it was possible that his early years of IV drug use led to his contracting the disease.
At the time of Crosby’s diagnosis, his liver had been so damaged that it was functioning at 20 percent, and he was urged by his doctor to undergo a liver transplant.
Over 20 years later, Crosby is in good health, and still creating music.
“I am an incredibly lucky human being. I’ve got a great family, I’ve got a fantastic job, and I was supposed to dead 20 years ago.”
— David Crosby, in an interview with The Washington Post
Retired WWE pro wrestler Billy Graham discovered he had hepatitis C while undergoing preparation for hip surgery in the 1980s.
Graham spent 20 years treating the disease before having a liver transplant in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2017 that his condition was declared in remission.
According to statements Graham reportedly made in the independent film “Card Subject to Change,” he believes wrestling to be the cause of his contracting the diseases. Pro wrestling is a contact sport with a high risk of injury, and Graham believes it was through wrestling that he came into direct contact with another person’s infected blood.
Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist and Washington Post “Below the Beltway” columnist Gene Weingarten also contracted hepatitis C. Weingarten recalled a weekend of casual heroin use as a teen, which could have led to his being infected with the disease.
He had no idea that he was infected until his diagnosis 25 years later.
“It was a very bad way to live, and it almost killed me. I wound up getting hepatitis C, which I didn’t discover until 25 years later.”
— Gene Weingarten, in an interview on WAMU
The Velvet Underground lead singer Lou Reed died in October 2013 at the age of 71 from complications due to hepatitis C and liver disease.
Reed was an intravenous drug user earlier in his life. Sober since the 1980s, his death came a few months after receiving a liver transplant due to end stage liver disease.
The late Grammy-winning singer Natalie Cole only learned she had hepatitis C after decades of unknowingly living with the disease in her system. She had likely contracted hepatitis C during her years of heroin use in her youth.
In her memoir “Love Brought Me Back,” Cole described how she learned that she had the disease after routine blood tests led her to see kidney and liver specialists.
In 2009, Cole’s doctors informed her that her kidney functions were at less than 8 percent and she needed dialysis to survive, a fact she shared in a televised interview on “Larry King Live.”
By coincidence, a woman watching that program who wished she could help Cole ended up becoming a 100 percent matching kidney donor for Cole after the woman died in childbirth. The kidney transplant saved Cole’s life, and she later died of heart failure in 2015.
“I couldn’t believe it myself when all of these things happened to me over the past 2 years. The way that it ended up was just kind of extraordinary. The life of a stranger basically saved my life. At the same time, that stranger lost their life. Then it all happened at the time when my sister had lost her life as well. You have to question it to some degree. You know, everything happens for a reason.”
— Natalie Cole, in an interview with Essence
When rock and roll legend Gregg Allman discovered he had hepatitis C in 1999, rather than seek treatment, he waited. It wasn’t until 2010 that Allman received a liver transplant.
Until Allman’s death from liver cancer in 2017, he worked with the American Liver Foundation, raising awareness of hepatitis C screening, testing, and treatment.
Celebrity daredevil Evil Knievel was well-known for his death-defying stunts that entertained millions of people, but as a result he was also often injured.
Knievel was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1993, which he reportedly attributed to one of the many blood transfusions he received after one of his falls.
The damage to his liver was extensive enough to require a liver transplant in 1999.
Knievel had subsequent health problems, including diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, and strokes, but continued doing advertising endorsements. He died of natural causes at the age of 69 in 2007, almost 20 years after his liver transplant.
The late actor Larry Hagman was most well known for his roles as J.R. Ewing on “Dallas” and Major Tony Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie.”
Hagman also had hepatitis C, which eventually led to cirrhosis of his liver in 1992. He had a successful liver transplant in 1995, after which he served as an advocate for organ donation and transplantation.
Hagman lived long enough to reprise his iconic role as J.R. Ewing in the 2011 “Dallas” reboot before succumbing to complications of acute myeloid leukemia.