Val Kilmer is opening up about battling throat cancer — sort of. In a profile for the New York Times, the Top Gun: Maverick star talked to journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner about his medical journey that resulted in him losing his voice and getting a tracheostomy tube. But according to the actor, he never had cancer.
Kilmer is a lifelong Christian Scientist and those who practice the religion typically avoid seeking traditional medical care. When the actor finally went to the doctor in 2014 for a big lump in his throat — he was also having a hard time swallowing and woke up in a pool of his own blood a few times — he was told it was cancer. However, Christian Science calls it the “suggestion of throat cancer,” meaning “the idea is rather than say I have it or possess it, there is a claim, there’s a suggestion that this is a fact.”
Kilmer said the Christian Science cure would be to work with a practitioner, similar to a spiritual adviser, and pray his fear away so that his body would no longer “manifest outwardly what can be diagnosed as a malady.” That meant it’s not really cancer, but that he just had to go away for awhile and pray to relocate his faith within himself. Well, his kids were having none of that.
The 61-year-old actor shares two adult children with ex-wife Joanne Whalley: Jack, 24, and Mercedes, 28. Kilmer’s kids are not Christian Scientists and his family did not want him to go try and heal by himself. The Doors star listened to them and agreed to get medical treatment.
“I just didn’t want to experience their fear, which was profound,” Kilmer said of his decision. “I would’ve had to go away, and I just didn’t want to be without them.”
In 2014, Kilmer had surgery. After surgery, his treatment plan included chemotherapy and radiation “that zapped my whole throat, and it’s still dry as a bone.” It left him with a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube.
Several years ago, Kilmer was photographed wearing scarves and tabloids speculated about his health. His co-star in The Ghost and the Darkness, Michael Douglas, let slip to reporters he had cancer. But Kilmer denied it, saying he had “no cancer whatsoever.”
When asked why he denied having cancer, Kilmer replied, “Because I didn’t have cancer.”
“They said I was denying that I had cancer, and when they asked me, I didn’t have cancer. It was a bit like do you have a broken bone? And if you broke it in high school, you would say no,” Kilmer explained. “Suddenly suspect. I have had a bone broken, but why are you being so aggressive? I had a bone broken. It was broken in my leg. ‘Oh, so you have a broken leg.’ ‘No, no, I don’t,’ I say. I did have a broken leg.”
Kilmer is no longer suffering from cancer, but attributes his healing to prayer, not medical intervention.
“I prayed, and that was my form of treatment,” he said.
Kilmer noted that he is suffering and pointed to his tracheostomy tube.
“That’s from radiation and chemotherapy. It’s not from cancer,” he declared. “That ‘treatment’ caused my suffering.”
Kilmer isn’t letting that get in the way of living the life he wants, which includes coming back to Hollywood.
“I feel like I could not possibly be in a better place for attracting better and better roles,” he stated. “If an actor is fortunate enough to do so, to steer their own course and own their own material, they control their own destiny, creating their own products.”
Kilmer has filmed five roles this year, including the Top Gun sequel with Tom Cruise where he reprises his role of Iceman. While he said he couldn’t divulge details, the actor did tease one thing, revealing Iceman and Cruise’s character Maverick have a different relationship.
“We’re friends,” he revealed. “This time we’re friends.”
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