5 talented performers with RA

Blog by Victoria Butler

This awards season, we wanted to give praise to 5 of the many amazing performers who have chosen to be open about their RA diagnosis, and we also give praise to the many others who are likely out there, who have RA but feel they cannot disclose it for fear of it impacting their careers.

Acting can be very physically and mentally demanding, and when you’re contracted to perform, on stage or set, many people are relying on you to be there, and there’s no shortage of those waiting to take your place if you can’t. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that many performers hide their RA diagnosis, for fear that it will impact on their work, and that those who have spoken openly about it have often done so with trepidation, or after their disease became so aggressive that hiding their battle simply wasn’t an option.

Their voices though, are important not just for other performers living with invisible illness, but for anyone living with RA, as they use their platforms to put the spotlight on a condition often poorly understood by the general public.

Sheila Hancock

“I’ve hidden the fact because of work, because I wouldn’t get employed, because I’m on the vulnerable list and all that. But because it’s a hidden illness and a lot of people have got it I’ve made a conscious decision to come clean about it.”

Sheila Hancock was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2017. It came on after a period of immense stress in the actress’s life, following on from the loss of her sister and her daughter’s cancer diagnosis and she believes stress triggered it and continues to trigger flare ups of the disease.

“There’s no doubt that with me, stress is number one cause [of flare ups] and certainly I think it’s what triggered it.”

The decision to be public about her diagnosis wasn’t an easy one and Sheila worried that a combination of age and disability might affect her getting offered acting roles, but she pushed herself to be open about it for the sake of others out there who might be suffering in silence and has since been very open and helped to inform others of the condition through interviews and TV appearances. She also sat down with NRAS CEO Clare Jacklin to discuss this and more in an interview you can see here on YouTube.

Bob Mortimer

“People think it’s just old people who get it and they laugh at you… When I went to the hospital ward it was full of young people. It’s a sad illness.”

Comedian, actor and presenter Bob Mortimer has spoken openly about both his rheumatoid arthritis and his heart bypass surgery. Heart disease is more common in people with RA, and, particularly through his TV series, Gone Fishing, Bob has helped to promote healthy heart advice.

Bob was diagnosed with RA at the height of his comedy career, in his mid-20s. On tour with his comedy partner Vic Reeves, Bob often had to perform quite physical, repetitive routines on-stage.

“Because I had to dive about a lot on stage, my joints were becoming painful and, for the last three nights, I was hobbling to the theatre.”

Claire King

“People don’t see your pain so it’s harder for them to sympathise.”

Actress Claire King has lived with RA since she was diagnosed in her 20s. When she performed on the grueling TV show Strictly Come Dancing she revealed that she was having to ice her feet after each performance to get through the show, but many accused her of trying to get the ‘sympathy’ vote.

Sadly, this experience of living with invisible illness is something many can relate to. With professional hair, make-up and wardrobe and a lifetime of smiling through her pain, Claire simply didn’t look ill enough for people to understand what an achievement those performances were for her, but anyone with RA would understand that you cannot tell pain, especially in those used to living with it, just by looking at someone.

Kathleen Turner

“In 1992, after “Serial Mom,” I got very ill with rheumatoid arthritis. For several years, that was my primary concern—to battle that disease, to be able to keep moving.”

Like many women, Kathleen’s RA started in the prime of her life, shortly after giving birth. Her RA was severe, requiring several operations over the years, but she was determined that her doctor’s suggestion that she would be wheelchair bound for life would not be her future.

Kathleen took time out from her acting career to get her RA under better control, but couldn’t contemplate a life without performing and continues to work, starring in movies and TV series.

Tatum O’Neal

“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.”

Tatum’s promising career began at a young age. In fact, she remains the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award, winning at age 10 for her performance as Addie Loggins in Paper Moon (1973).

After a history of joint pain, a massive flare brought a diagnosis of RA and unfortunately an MRI revealed that joint damage had already occurred. A long battle to get onto the right medication, which Tatum combines with supplements and lifestyle changes, has brought the actress to a much better place with her RA.

Do you know of any other celebrities who are living with RA? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and be sure to follow us for everything RA.