In today’s society, a person can easily become inundated with the media. On every phone, every tablet, every computer, and every television, there is a constant stream of so-called news that focuses on television, movies, music, and the popular celebrities of the moment. For many, that media stream eventually becomes a bit like static; consistent sound that the mind figures out how to tune out. Sometimes though, the media experience can shape the beliefs and knowledge bases of the general public.
For many years, no one discussed medical illnesses, including hepatitis C. It was not something most people knew about, it was not something people had heard of, and medical concerns were considered to be private, even for celebrities whose every move was memorialized in tabloids. However, in the early 2000s, model and actress Pamela Anderson spoke out about her diagnosis of hepatitis C. In interviews, she discussed how she had become infected with the virus due to the use of a shared tattoo needle with her new husband, famous rock-star Tommy Lee. At the time of the interview, Anderson talked of how sad she was to find out that she would likely die within 10 years, due to the hepatitis C virus, whereas Lee denied having the virus at all. It was a shock to the Hollywood and music communities, as well as to fans, who did not understand how the young blonde bombshell could be diagnosed with a terminal illness they’d never heard of before.
In the years since, Anderson has regularly spoken about her health and the exercising and dietary plans she follows to remain as healthy as possible. Eventually, Lee admitted to having the virus. This helped to allow the general public to begin to better understand the viral experience and Lee’s admission helped to remove some of the stigma related to being open about a hepatitis C diagnosis. In addition, other celebrities began to come forward about their HCV diagnosis and how they became infected with the virus. Singer Natalie Cole discussed her infection, due to drug use in the 1970s, and she required a liver and kidney transplant to survive. Gregg Ulman of the Ulman Brothers has become an outspoken advocate for getting tested for hepatitis C, after he required an organ transplant due to having had hepatitis C for decades before being tested, which led to his need for a new liver. “Orange is the New Black” star Natasha Lyonne’s drug addiction led to her infection, which was the same for singer David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, and Nash), for singer Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and for singer Steven Tyler (Aerosmith). Country music superstar Naomi Judd temporarily retired from the music industry after her diagnosis, which she believes came from exposure during her time working as a nurse before she signed her record deal. Even daredevil Evel Knievel has talked about his hepatitis C diagnosis, which likely occurred due to receiving tainted blood during a necessary transfusion (received prior to 1992) after one of his many accidents.
From 2006-2012, Pamela Anderson, Tommy Lee, and Steven Tyler each went public about their hepatitis C treatments. They spoke with the media numerous times, discussing the prescriptions they were given and the cure that they received. Anderson also spoke at length about her hope that everyone in need has access to the medications she did, in order to also be cured of the hepatitis C virus. This not only brought attention to the virus itself, it also brought focus to the cost of access to the medications necessary to cure hepatitis C.
Although the media can be filled with vapid narcissists looking for their moments of fame or celebrities who are famous for being famous, the media platform for celebrities with hepatitis C can be quite beneficial. It can provide a face with an illness, which can help to remove some of the stigma associated with a diagnosis. It can help to disseminate accurate medical information to those who may be ignorant or misinformed about an illness. It can also help to shine a light on the realities of an illness, whether it be the previously given belief that hepatitis C was a death sentence or the new information that a cure is available. When celebrities use the media in this way, they can truly make a difference.
If you or someone you love is concerned about hepatitis C or how to talk about it with loved ones, using the media’s interviews with celebrities may be a way to begin this conversation.1-7
Andriakos, J. (2015). Pamela Anderson Cured of Hepatitis C: What You Should Know About the Virus. Health News / Tips & Trends / Celebrity Health. Retrieved 30 October 2016, from http://news.health.com/2015/11/12/pamela-anderson-hepatitis-c-cure/
Celebrities with hepatitis C. (2003). Natap.org. Retrieved 30 October 2016, from http://www.natap.org/2004/HCV/111804_01.htm
Larkin, M. (2015). Pamela Anderson reveals ex husband Tommy Lee is cured of Hepatitis C. Mail Online. Retrieved 30 October 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3331277/Pamela-Anderson-reveals-Motley-Crue-drummer-ex-husband-Tommy-Lee-cured-Hep-C-pushed-treatment.html
Park, A. (2015). Pam Anderson Cured of Hep C: They Told Me I Would Die in 10 Years. PEOPLE.com. Retrieved 30 October 2016, from http://people.com/bodies/pam-anderson-cured-of-hep-c-they-told-me-i-would-die-in-10-years/
Reiter, A. (2002). How Pam got hep C. Salon. Retrieved 30 October 2016, from http://www.salon.com/2002/05/03/npfri_91/
Roland, J. & Krucik, MD, MBA, G. (2014). The Famous Faces of Hepatitis C. Healthline. Retrieved 30 October 2016, from http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/hepatitis-c-famous-faces#1
Steven Tyler reveals battle with hepatitis C. (2006). TODAY.com. Retrieved 30 October 2016, from http://www.today.com/id/15020874/ns/today-today_entertainment/t/steven-tyler-reveals-battle-hepatitis-c/#.WBZlJvlvEUM