Celebrities With Rheumatoid Arthritis – Everyday Health

These famous faces have opened up about their rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, their struggles and successes in finding the right treatment, and the lifestyle choices that ease their pain.
Stars may like to bask in the spotlight whenever they get the chance, but when it comes to medical issues, they can be surprisingly shy. These famous folks have gone public about being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some of them have even become champions of the cause, helping to raise awareness and research dollars to help prevent, control, and one day find a cure for this painful and potentially debilitating disease.
These celebrated faces show us how strength and skill can coexist with chronic illness in the modern world — and, perhaps most importantly — that these stories may inspire people who are experiencing early signs and symptoms of inflammatory arthritis to seek treatment for the condition.
After her meteoric rise in women's professional tennis, Danielle Collins stunned fans when she announced in 2019 that she'd been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Despite seeming to be at the top of her game, Collins was struggling and revealed that she had not been feeling well for some time. “But it has been somewhat of a relief and completely validating to understand the cause behind my pain,” she said in an article published by Reuters. “I am certainly not the first person to be diagnosed with a chronic illness, and I really feel for all the people who are out there struggling.”
In an interview with the American Heart Association (RA increases your risk of heart disease), Collins spoke about adjusting her diet and her approach to training in order to manage her RA and continue performing as a high-level athlete.
RELATED: 10 Foods to Help Beat Rheumatoid Arthritis Inflammation
Paula Abdul knows that she demanded a lot from her body throughout her career. The singer, dancer, and American Idol icon became famous through her well-choreographed, high-energy performances. It was in 2005 that Abdul’s schedule was slowed with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. After treatment, she returned to performing. But then again in 2015, feeling unusual pains in her joints during her rehearsals, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
“I kept thinking, at least it wasn’t something in my head,” she told People. “There was a reason attached to what I was feeling. I just wish I had known [about the condition] earlier.”
In 2020, Abdul appeared in a commercial for the arthritis gel Voltaron, which showed her dancing alongside a version of herself from 1989. Abdul continues to work out regularly through low-impact strength exercises and Zumba classes. As someone who has been a graceful dancer her entire life, she still believes in movement as the key to maintaining a happy and healthy life. “Walking is very underrated,” she told People. “I’ll put on my AirPods and listen to Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake — and just sing at the top of my lungs and swing to the beat."
In late April 2021, the RA warrior and Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba announced she was taking a leave of absence from cohosting The Talk to focus on her health, and she exited that show later that year. In addition to rheumatoid arthritis, she also lives with several other autoimmune diseases, including Sjögren's syndrome, lupus, and fibromyalgia.
Inaba posted on her website, Carrie Ann Conversations: “Coping with autoimmune conditions can sometimes feel quite lonely. When I first got diagnosed, some encouraged me to keep my struggles to myself, but I’ve found that it’s always been better to be honest about my needs and realities than to stay silent. I believe strongly in sharing my journey, my solutions, and the things that have helped me with anyone who could use it — this is how communities are formed.”
After winning the Australian Open in 2018, her first Grand Slam title, and becoming the No. 1 player in women’s professional tennis, Caroline Wozniacki began to suspect she was experiencing more than the usual strains and bruises of being a tennis player. In October of that year, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. “I remember sitting at the doctor's office and thinking: Wait, isn't arthritis for old people? This can't be happening to me. I was the No. 1 or 2 ranked tennis player in the world. I was at the top of my game. I didn't understand,” she said in an interview with NIH MedLine Plus Magazine.
Wozniacki won 30 WTA titles before retiring in 2020. Now married to the former NBA All-Star David Lee, Wozniacki gave birth to a daughter in 2021, People reported, and a son in 2022. And in 2023, she announced, in Vogue, her return to tennis.
RELATED: 8 Things About Rheumatoid Arthritis That Are Difficult to Explain or Understand
This Canadian actor, writer, and director, known for her role as the cheerleader Grace Bowman on The Secret Life of the American Teenager and for writing and directing the acclaimed 2022 film The Fallout, went public about her health condition in 2015. She partnered with an educational initiative to explain that she’d been living with rheumatoid arthritis since she was a teenager. The same year, she married the actor Tyler Hilton and in 2019 she and Hilton had a daughter.
The sultry stage and screen actor Kathleen Turner, best known for her energetic and seductive roles, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1992. Ever since, the two-time Golden Globe winner and Academy Award–nominee has been outspoken about RA in the hopes of helping others. Turner wrote about her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in her memoir, Send Yourself Roses. She said that it torpedoed her sex life and led to her reliance on alcohol. But exercise worked wonders for her health turnaround, according to the UK’s Daily Mail. “‘Pilates, baby! Twice a week. Pilates saved my life,” she said.
Aida Turturro, one of the stars of the HBO classic series The Sopranos, has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for years: She was first diagnosed at age 12. Turturro, who earned Emmy nominations for her role as Tony Soprano's sister Janice, was an early spokesperson for RA and is passionate about helping others with rheumatoid arthritis. As she told USA Today, "I have good days and bad days. Mornings tend to be the hardest times to get going."
Terry Bradshaw knows a little bit about leadership. As the quarterback of four Super Bowl–winning Pittsburgh Steelers teams, Bradshaw’s ability to deliver deep passes while receiving crushing hits makes him an icon to football fans today, even though he hasn’t played the game in decades. After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis several years ago, Bradshaw took on a new leadership role, helping lead the American College of Rheumatology’s Simple Tasks campaign for Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month (RDAM) in 2017.
“You don’t have to be an old athlete like me to wake up with sore joints,” Bradshaw said. “[Millions of] Americans live with rheumatic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and most of [those conditions] don’t have anything to do with age — or getting sacked three million times."
Exercise, including weight lifting and walking, has been vital to helping him manage the condition. “You have to be active,” he told the Arthritis Foundation.
RELATED: Rheumatoid Arthritis: Top Tips for Effective Strength Training
In 1974, Tatum O’Neal won an Academy Award at age 10 for her performance in Paper Moon opposite her father, the actor Ryan O’Neal. She went on to star in films such as The Bad News Bears and International Velvet. Much later in life, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and went public about the condition. In January 2020, she shared a photo on Instagram of her back, scarred from life with RA. “I’ve got to get ahead of it,” she once told Arthritis Today magazine, describing her goal to lead a healthy lifestyle that includes eating wild salmon and doing regular Pilates and core work.
The pro golfer Kristy McPherson has been playing the links since she was just 7, but she was diagnosed with Still’s disease — a rare form of typically juvenile idiopathic arthritis — just four years later. Doctors first told her that she’d need to stay away from sports, but a rheumatologist who treated her at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston told her that even as a person with inflammatory arthritis, she could still do whatever she wanted. “All I needed was that one doctor [to] tell me that,” McPherson says. “That’s when I went back to playing sports.” As she got older, her condition developed into rheumatoid arthritis, as noted by the Arthritis National Research Foundation. Now she often speaks with young people about living with the disease.
When she was about 27, Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi, who appeared on Bravo’s Shahs of Sunset, started to notice that her hands were going numb in her sleep. When they started to swell and turn blue a month later, she sought medical advice that resulted in an RA diagnosis two years later, in 2010. The reality star has said that managing her RA has been “nothing shy of a crazy roller-coaster ride.”
In June 2023 she posted a video on Instagram about treatment she received to alleviate her knee pain. In the past, she’s also talked with BravoTV about using nonpsychoactive strains of cannabis that, she says, have eased her pain significantly. “I’ve even been able to sleep through the night,” she says.
Life in the public eye when you have a debilitating health problem isn’t always easy, but she’s grateful she has a platform to talk about the disease. “In the autoimmune disease world, I have a lot of social media followers. A lot of people who have it feel ashamed or embarrassed because RA has the word 'arthritis' in it,” she says, “and that word is also the reason so many people don’t understand what’s wrong with us. It’s a very individual disease, and it’s easy for people to judge.”
Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 31, the American Ninja Warrior host competed for the Arthritis Foundation on The New Celebrity Apprentice.
Since learning he had RA, Iseman has pursued opportunities to help others with the condition. Active in patient communities, he encourages newly diagnosed people to tap the social network and connect with real people about life with RA.
“Newly diagnosed people have questions, especially about lifestyle,” he explains. “It’s reassuring to talk to someone who knows what you are going through, and can say, here’s what to expect,” he says.
Iseman is upfront about RA in his work life and love life. “I have no problem disclosing my condition in business or romantic relationships,” he states, adding that young people, especially, should get the facts and talk openly about rheumatoid arthritis. “Don’t limit yourself from romantic relationships. … You can lead a full life,” he says. “You might not feel your best all the time, you might not perform your best if your back hurts, but RA doesn’t affect the ability to have sex.”
“I have RA but it is not who I am," he stresses.
The professional figure skater turned fashion designer Michael Kuluva announced he'd been diagnosed with RA in 2016. Six years later, in 2021, he partnered with CreakyJoints to raise RA awareness with a runway show for his Tumbler & Tipsy activewear line. The graphic prints and color bursts on the clothing illustrate the joint pain he experienced.
“Fashion can create a conversation," Kuluva says. “Together, the colors and graphics communicate the hurt to those who don’t know it personally. Invisible pain doesn’t ease when it becomes visible, but it does change something.”
Before working as a designer, Kuluva competed in figure skating and then turned professional to star in ice shows such as Holiday on Ice.
“Celebrities and other high-profile people who have a following can really raise awareness within a demographic,” he says. “When more celebrities bring attention to arthritis, we get closer to finding a cure.”
The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Danielle Staub revealed at the end of November 2018 that she had been dealing with rheumatoid arthritis. Staub had hidden the diagnosis, but decided to reveal it when she realized that her appearance was changing because of treatments for the disease. "I was blown up and bloated,” Staub told Bravo’s The Daily Dish. “People just assume whatever they want to assume for the reasons [like], Oh I had filler. I had this. I had that. No, I gained 20 pounds last season 'cause they had put me on a regime of [a steroid called] prednisone and chemotherapy."
In April 2021, Staub gave a shout-out to her doctor on Instagram for successfully helping manage her pain. “As you may already know I live with chronic debilitating pain due to #rheumatoidarthritis. I know I’m not alone! If you or anyone you know lives with #pain, this is your chance to get the relief you deserve. And become a #warrior. My full gratitude goes to Dr. Jonathan Simhaee. He’s one of the best humans!”
The singer, songwriter, and producer Claire Cottrill, often known by her stage name, Clairo, went viral in 2017 with her lo-fi electro-pop hit “Pretty Girl.” The video features Cottrill singing at her bedroom computer about a young girl who is willing to change who she is to attract the attention of her love interest.
After releasing her EP Diary 001 in 2018, Cottrill revealed to Dazed magazine that she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at 17. “Even just going downstairs would hurt so much,” Cottrill said. “The internet gave me freedom.”
At first, she told the British magazine, she tried to hide her disability from her fans. But she believes opening up about her condition has helped her take her songwriting to the next level. “I didn’t want it to be real, and a part of me thought the more I suppressed it, the more it would just go away. … It feels really good now that I’ve finally allowed myself to let it be a part of me. Ever since I let myself identify with it — I actually do have a disability that I’ve been hiding — I’ve been writing the best music I've ever made.”
While the topic of Glenn Frey’s rheumatoid arthritis was largely kept under wraps prior to this rock legend’s death in January 2016, it became a source of controversy when it was reported that the medication he was taking to treat his RA may have caused other health problems and contributed to his demise. According to the Arthritis Foundation, experts not directly involved in his care say, “It is unlikely that RA directly caused his death, or that the medication he took for RA somehow caused ulcerative colitis, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes ulcers and inflammation in the inner lining of the colon and rectum.” Frey, who was a founding member of the superstar group the Eagles, had rheumatoid arthritis for 15 years before he died, at age 67.
Famous for her roles in classic films like His Girl Friday, Rosalind Russell was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis in 1969. Although her cortisone treatment caused what she called “chipmunk cheeks,” Russell refused to hide away, instead devoting herself to raising RA awareness until her death, in 1976. Two years later, the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis was founded at the University of California in San Francisco to honor Russell’s commitment and courage. Since 2014, it has been known as the Russell/Engleman Rheumatology Research Center, to honor the pioneering doctor and clinic founder who treated her, Ephraim P. Engleman, MD.
At the height of his career, James Coburn, star of The Magnificent Seven and Our Man Flint, was sidelined by rheumatoid arthritis. But two decades later, he bounced back in a big way, winning Best Supporting Actor at the 71st Annual Academy Awards for his role in Affliction. Coburn credited his pain relief to an alternative approach to treating RA, including fasting and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). According to ABC News, RA had left his hand twisted. “You start to turn to stone,” he said. “There was so much pain that … every time I stood up, I would break into a sweat.” Coburn died in 2002 at age 74.
Who doesn’t love Lucy? But many may not know that when this comedy queen was 17 and in pain, she was diagnosed with what might have been rheumatoid arthritis. At the time, she was trying to start a career as a model. Known for her blazing red hair and slapstick performances, the star of I Love Lucy, the landmark TV show of the 1950s, was one of the original celebrity supporters of the Arthritis Foundation. Lucille Ball died of heart failure at age 78 in 1989.
Additional reporting by Beth W. Orenstein and Michael Dolan.
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