Celebrities Who Secretly Battled Fatal Illnesses

Celebrities live their entire professional lives in the public eye, and while some are not-so-great at controlling what the public sees, some are masters of it. Keeping your public persona separate from your private one is valued by many celebrities, so when details about one’s personal life don’t line-up with their public persona, the public is usually shocked.

One aspect that most celebrities keep hush about is their health and/or illnesses, because in the end, the public doesn’t have any right to know because it is a personal matter. Sometimes celebrities are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, and the public won’t even know anything is wrong until they’re gone. On the other hand, sometimes celebrities will be battling with a disease or sickness behind the scenes and won’t divulge their hardships until they are overcome.

While most people probably mean well with their sentiments, the sheer mass of love and sentiment a celebrity can receive is overwhelming in and of itself. That is why most celebrities keep to themselves. But what celebrities who have passed KNEW they were dying? Let’s take a look.

David Bowie

This prolific musician’s death sent shockwaves around the world because his illness was kept to himself because he wanted to pass “without any fuss.” For the last 18 months of his life David Bowie was fighting a terminal case of liver cancer, but David Bowie wasn’t going to just fizzle out. David’s final album “Blackstar” is a sort of goodbye letter to his fans and listeners that was released just 2 days before his death. Recorded entirely in secret, production on “Blackstar” started days after he found out about his terminal illness.

Freddie Mercury

During the initial AIDS outbreak, the Queen lead singer was diagnosed, but no one outside of the band knew. Endlessly denying claims of his sexuality and his diagnosis, Freddie kept it a secret until the disease overcame him in 1991.


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Gene Wilder

One of the most influential actors in Hollywood, Gene Wilder’s passing was a surprise to everyone, even though he was getting up there in age. Although Gene battled a case of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he was fighting a separate battle. For the last 3 years of his life, Gene was suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s.

Steve Jobs

When the Apple CEO died suddenly in 2011, the world was shocked. Secretly fighting pancreatic cancer for nearly two decades, Steve’s disease finally overcame him. Very few people knew that he was even sick, with those in the know sworn to secrecy through non-disclosure agreements.

Avril Lavigne

The infamous pop-rock singer-songwriter was bedridden for over 5 months after a near-fatal case of lyme disease that she contracted from a tick bite while on a trip. After being off-the-grid for an extended period of time, it wasn’t until she was cured that she spoke out about the disease. She is now an advocate for the education of lyme disease prevention.

Charlie Sheen

While Charlie Sheen is very much alive still, he was diagnosed with HIV in 2011. The actor/producer/writer with a notoriously public life tried to keep his diagnosis underwraps, but his lifestyle wouldn’t let it. He eventually had to make a public statement on the Today Show in 2015 after many rumors started circulating.


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Brad Grey

Considered a giant in Hollywood, Brad was the chairman and CEO of Paramount. Known for un-and-coming talent, Brad was notorious for taking risks on new IPs that didn’t play it safe. So when Brad unexpected died of an undisclosed cancer on May 14th, it shocked even his closest friends. Everyone that worked with him said that they were under the impression that Brad was healthy, and the last time most people saw him he was happily greeting guests at the notorious hotel “Chateau Marmont.”

Kathy Bates

Not battling cancer once, but twice, this Oscar winning actress did so in secret. First overcoming ovarian cancer, Kathy later had to have a double mastectomy to cure herself of breast cancer. It wasn’t until recently that opened up to the public about her battles.

Robin Williams

Funny man beloved by all, Robin Williams death was as tragic as it was sudden. Depression overcame Robin in his later years, most likely not aided by a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Robin took his own life in late 2014, and the world will never be the same.

Alan Rickman

A beloved icon to many, Alan Rickman’s death came out of left field to the public. Battling cancer for many years, Alan apparently wanted to pass without much fanfare.


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Cobie Smulders

While the ‘How I Met Your Mother’ actress is cancer-free now, Cobie battled ovarian cancer for multiple years in secrecy. The cancer required multiple surgeries, and it wasn’t until 5 years after being completely cancer free that she decided to talk about her past disease.

Michael J. Fox

Another figure in this article that is still alive, Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1990, but withheld it from public knowledge until 1998. In 2001, Michael founded the “Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research” and has since been an advocate and figurehead for public awareness of the disease.

Rock Hudson

Obviously the public acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community was less than stellar in the 20th century (there was no acceptance), so when Rock Hudson decided to keep his AIDS diagnosis (and his homosexuality) a secret, people understood. Rock Hudson’ death in 1980’s put a face onto to the disease and brought it to the forefront of the public consciousness.

Nora Ephron

The famed screenwriter and filmmaker passed away in 2012 after battling cancer for years. News of her passing surprised even her closest friends.


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Jennifer Saunders

A renown British comedian and actress, Saunders battle breast cancer in secret after she was diagnosed in 2009. She did a very good job at hiding her disease, wearing a very realistic wig when she experienced hair loss from the chemotherapy. It was until she was cancer free that she came out publicly about her battle.

Michael Douglas

While Douglas did public reveal that he was undergoing surgery to remove cancerous tumors, it wasn’t until later that he divulged how serious his prognosis was. He was at a high risk of losing his tongue and jaw, but thankfully he is fully recovered now.

Natalie Cole

The world-renowned singer and daughter of legend Nat King Cole passed away in 2015 after a long battle with hepatitis C and liver disease. Her and her family made the choice to keep her ailments a secret.

Montel Williams

In 1999, talk show host Montel Williams was found in the middle of a Marijuana possession scandal, which forced his hand to reveal that he has MS (multiple sclerosis). THC, a component of marijuana, has been shown to treat MS, and Montel had actually been acquiring the drug legally through state-approved dispensaries.


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Edie Falco

The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie star was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, and while she is completely cancer free now, it wasn’t until 2008 that she decide to talk about it.

Jackie Collins

The famed novelist had battle breast cancer for 6 long years before she passed away. Only her two daughters knew of her sickness.