Val Kilmer, 62, is a Hollywood icon who has starred in memorable films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Real Genius, Willow, The Doors, The Ghost and the Darkness, Red Planet, and of course Top Gun. His character, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky returns with the current release of Top Gun: Maverick, and with the movie comes renewed interest in the actor. But Val hasn’t had an easy road back to the franchise — the actor was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015, and the grueling battle nearly cost him his acting career. Here’s what to know about the 7 Below actor’s throat cancer battle and how he’s doing now.
Val Kilmer initially denied his throat cancer diagnosis.
Val got the diagnosis of throat cancer in 2015, but the Alexander actor denied the tumor was cancerous. After being rushed to UCLA in Santa Monica, California, for bleeding from the throat (per TMZ,) he took to social media to address his health, denying that he had a tumor. “Thank you for all your sweet support,” he said via Facebook in January 2015. “But I have not had a tumor, or a tumor operations, or any operation. I had a complication where the best way to receive care was to stay under the watchful eye of the ucla ICU. Friends have assisted who know my spiritual convictions and have been most sensitive and kind for the extra effort in making sure there’s minimum gossip and silly talk. I am praying for a speedy return to the boards as they say. God bless you all and please don’t worry. Love and deep affection , Val.”
Comments by Michael Douglas seemingly confirming the diagnosis kept rumors about the actor’s health persistent. In 2017, Val finally confirmed his battle with throat cancer during an AMA on Reddit. When a fan asked directly about Michael’s comments, Val responded, “He was probably trying to help me cause press probably asked where I was these days, and I did have a healing of cancer. But my tongue is still swollen altho [sic] healing all the time. Because I don’t sound my normal self yet people think I may still be under the weather.”
Val’s voice changed permanently after treatment.
The actor unfortunately endured painful rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but it was a tracheotomy that permanently damaged his voice. In April of 2020, he revealed a drastically altered voice during a Good Morning America interview, saying that he was “diagnosed with throat cancer, which healed very quickly.” The actor was asked what he missed most about the voice that made him famous, and he responded with humor. “That I had one!” he laughed. “And that I didn’t laugh like a pirate.”
Val’s courageous 2021 documentary Val (produced by his children Mercedes and Jack Kilmer) told the story of his journey through throat cancer That same year, a U.K. voice-cloning company called Sonantic miraculously brought back his old voice through the use of AI technology. The results are astonishing. “My voice as I knew it was taken away from me,” Kilmer said in a Sonantic video clip using the AI voice. “People around me struggle to understand when I’m talking. But despite all that I still feel I’m the exact same person. Still the same creative soul. A soul that dreams ideas and stories confidently, but now I can express myself again, bring these ideas to you, and show you this part of myself once more. A part that was never truly gone. Just hiding away.”
How is his health now?
Val Kilmer is currently in remission from throat cancer, though the Alexander star says the experience did change him. “I was too serious,” he says of his attitude before he had cancer, he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “I’d get upset when things like Oscars and recognition failed to come my way.”
Val co-director Ting Poo agrees that he’s evolved. “He doesn’t have the vanity that you would expect from someone of his fame and celebrity,” she said. “There was never any of that kind of artifice or protection that people who are really famous have to put up around themselves. It’s humbling to be around that.”