From actors like Kathleen Turner to sports legends like Terry Bradshaw, celebrities have spoken out about living with rheumatoid arthritis.
Your immune system is designed to protect your body. It helps you stay healthy and fight off bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, however, your immune system’s wires get crossed, and it starts attacking your body.
That’s what happens with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA attacks and damages joints. This leads to swelling, pain, inflammation, and possibly joint deformity.
Nearly 1.5 million people in the United States live with RA. According to the Arthritis Foundation, women are three times more likely to have RA than men, and the average diagnosis comes between the ages of 30 and 60.
These nine celebrities and famous faces have all spoken publicly about how their health journeys with RA.
“It is important to me that people know they have options so they can get some relief from this debilitating disease,” Kathleen Turner, a two-time Golden Globe winner for Best Actress and the star of such hits as “Body Heat” and “Crimes of Passion,” told USA Today.
Her road to an RA diagnosis has made the actor passionate about helping others understand what they may experience. Despite being younger and in good shape, Kathleen Turner’s life was impacted by RA just a few years shy of her 40th birthday.
She was diagnosed in 1992 and underwent 12 surgeries in 12 years. Her doctors told her that she’d eventually be in a wheelchair.
But the actor, whose on-screen and onstage characters are often just as determined as Turner herself is in real life, looked for an another solution.
She found something that helped keep her active and moving: “Pilates, baby! Twice a week. Pilates saved my life,” the actor told The Times.
Eight months came and went before actor Camryn Manheim knew what was causing her to experience sharp, stabbing pains in her hands.
Her first pain came while she used sign language to sing a song in her child’s classroom.
“I was feeling aches and pains in my hands, which was upsetting to me because I’m a sign-language interpreter — I use my hands all the time,” Manheim told People magazine.
“I could hold a pen or a cup of coffee, but it was difficult. I was starting to feel fatigued too.”
Multiple tests later, and Manheim, who’s perhaps best known for her roles on “Ghost Whisperer” and “The Practice” had her answer: RA.
“When [my doctor] told me it was rheumatoid arthritis, I said that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m too young. Well, I learned I was mistaken,” she said.
The diagnosis didn’t stop her, though. Once she knew what was causing the pain, she and her doctor worked out a treatment plan. Today, she’s living her typical life.
“You know, the thing is you have to get the proper diagnosis and then you can get the proper treatment,” she said. “Then you can put it behind you and live a full and eventful life.”
A golfer’s swing is a work of pure art. Every joint, ligament, and bone in the body works to support the rise and fall of the golf club. If even one thing goes wrong, the swing could be a miss.
Perhaps that’s what sets Kristy McPherson’s story apart. The South Carolina native LPGA golfer was diagnosed with RA at age 11, when she was in the sixth grade.
“It seemed like the end of the world,” she told Golf Digest. “I spent months in bed, unable to walk, with a rash and a swelling in my throat that made it difficult to breathe.”
From the pain of the diagnosis came a newfound love: golf.
“Getting sick was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said. “I found a sport I loved. I don’t think I was going to make it in the WNBA. The LPGA has been wonderful.”
Her character on ABC’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” had little to hide — she was a cheerleader who didn’t shy away from the uniform’s standard short skirts and sleeveless tops.
But in real life, Megan Park was hiding a secret about her body: She had been living with RA for 10 years.
“I had all the classic symptoms: extreme joint swelling, different pain, the inability to do certain things that everyone else could,” Park told People magazine in 2015. “That’s when I knew that something wasn’t right.”
When the actor made her diagnosis public, she did so to let other people living with RA know that they weren’t alone.
“I actually think in a lot of ways, it’s helped me understand that everybody has plights, and it’s made me more empathetic, which I think has helped me as an artist, when I’m acting,” she said.
“I think it’s opened my eyes to, everybody has a story, essentially. You may not know about it, but everybody has something.”
James Coburn, who played in popular western films like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Hell Is for Heroes,” was sidelined just as his career was getting hot because his joints were too painful to work.
“There was so much pain that … every time I stood up, I would break into a sweat,” he told ABC News.
At the time that Coburn was diagnosed, treatments weren’t as advanced as they are today. He found a alternative treatment that helped manage his symptoms and reduce his pain.
He was able to get back on the silver screen and maintained his acting career until he died in 2002.
Many people think of arthritis as a disease for the elderly. The truth is, RA can develop at any age. For Aida Turturro, who starred in the HBO series “The Sopranos,” her diagnosis came when she was just 12.
“We were at the beach, and my father literally had to carry me to the water because my feet hurt so much,” she told USA Today in 2000.
Today, the actor stays busy with television show appearances and her recent TV series “The Blacklist.”
“It is so important to go see a rheumatologist so you can get the right treatment,” Turturro says. “It can be frustrating to not know why you’re feeling so bad.”
In 1974 at the age of 10, Tatum O’Neal became the youngest actor to win an Oscar. She won for the movie “Paper Moon,” in which she played one half of a con artist team alongside her real father, Ryan O’Neal.
O’Neal went on to act in several other big movies, including“The Bad News Bears.” Her adult years were more tabloid fodder than television success, as the child star dealt with addiction and fought publicly with her father and her ex-husband, John McEnroe.
Later in life, she was diagnosed with RA and began speaking out about her symptoms and her treatments. In 2015, she recorded and shared a video of her undergoing a pulmonary function test after doctors realized her RA treatment was possibly damaging her lungs.
“I’ve got to get ahead of it,” she told the Arthritis Foundation. “I’ve got to! I have a young spirit and want to be able to do anything in the world that I want to do. I want a long, healthy life.”
O’Neal emphasizes the importance of having people around you who you can trust and lean on when things are hard. “I had to restructure my friends and support system,” she said. “You have to find a core group of family and friends to love you and stand by you.”
The former quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Terry Bradshaw, was diagnosed with RA later in life. After his diagnosis, Bradshaw received treatment. This allowed him to continue working as a Fox NFL Saturday sports commentator.
Along with being active in the professional sports community, he also advocates for RA awareness. He often works with the American College of Rheumatology to help people diagnose and get the right treatment for RA.
In 2017 and 2018, he served as the spokesperson for their Simple Tasks Awareness campaign.
“These diseases are serious, lifelong, and can really put a hitch in your giddy-up if you don’t get help from a specialist,” Bradshaw said in a video produced by the American College of Rheumatology.
Today, he still works to raise awareness about RA and to break down stereotypes about who can get RA. He highlights how RA can affect anyone at any age and that treatment is possible and effective.
Around the time she was auditioning to become an actor and model, 17-year-old Lucille Ball was diagnosed with a type of arthritis that was possibly RA, according to her autobiography “Love, Lucy.”
She received injections from a doctor until she recovered. Despite this possible flare-up in her teenage years, she successfully navigated a career in Hollywood, including being the lead on the hit TV show “I Love Lucy.”
However, as far as the public knows, Ball was never diagnosed with RA through a blood test. The actor did not appear to experience flare-ups in her later years.
While she never spoke publicly about her experience, many people believe that she may have had RA.
These nine celebrities were able to achieve great things while living with RA.
Proper treatment can help people with RA manage their symptoms and relapses. This may include medication, diet, and exercise.
Symptom management can help those with RA to adopt daily routines that let them return to the things they enjoy.