What Happened to Val Kilmer: He Lost His Voice to Throat Cancer, but Not His Will to Live Life to the Fullest
Val Kilmer has spent nearly a decade fighting to recover from a daunting diagnosis of throat cancer. The disease took away his ability to speak properly, and left him with life-changing sequelae. Still, the Hollywood veteran took an inspiring stand against all the challenges and became more creative than ever.
His fight against cancer started out silently.
Wondering what happened to Val Kilmer is only natural. Known for iconic roles in films like Top Gun (1986) and Batman Forever (1995), he stepped away from the spotlight as, between 2015 and 2017, he privately grappled with a serious throat cancer diagnosis before publicly disclosing details about his health. In fact, early news of Kilmer’s condition came from fellow actor Michael Douglas, unbeknownst to Kilmer himself. The revelation then prompted Kilmer to confirm his battle with cancer in a Reddit session in 2017.
However, his first symptoms date back to 2014, when he noticed a big lump in his throat. In his own memoir, I’m Your Huckleberry, Kilmer candidly shared one of the dramatic events that led him to discover his cancer. One night he woke up bleeding in his bed and immediately called emergency services. His hostess at the time was none other than Cher, a long-time friend of Kilmer, who gave him unconditional support during this critical moment in Kilmer’s health crisis.
Due to spiritual reasons, he was initially hesitant to seek medical help. With time, his children, Jack and Mercedes Kilmer, finally convinced him to undergo treatment, leading to chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery for his diagnosed throat cancer, which thankfully healed quickly.
He sacrificed his voice to treat his cancer.
In the 2021 biographical documentary Val, Kilmer shared further insights into how having done a tracheostomy deeply altered his ability to communicate and impacted his potential involvement in future screen roles. The procedure, an incision into the windpipe helps air and oxygen reach the lungs, went ahead after he was left to choose between breathing and eating.
The 64-year-old ended up voiceless after the surgery, only able to make minor sounds, like squeaks, and it left him with a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube. To hide the scars, Kilmer is often seen wearing kerchiefs or scarves. But even though it was a difficult choice and with ever-present consequences, the actor guarantees he sounds much worse than he actually feels.
In an interview on Good Morning America, he compared coping with the loss of his voice to learning a new language or dialect, emphasizing how he needs to figure out a unique way to communicate. Neverthless, Kilmer expressed a positive and determined attitude, and framed the situation as just another acting challenge that he is committed to overcoming.
So, what happened to Val Kilmer since his cancer entered the remission stage? Keep reading to find out.
He found solace in art and began using it as therapy.
Throughout his difficult journey of recovery, Kilmer turned to art as a form of communication and emotional healing. On his website, he described how losing his voice heightened his creativity, and he took up painting and writing again. In 2017, at the height of his battle with cancer, he featured his paintings in a New York exhibit, titled Valholla.
He went even further than just making art himself, though. He put together a virtual project, Kamp Kilmer, in which he aims to bring together artists from various artistic mediums and foster collaboration. Then, in 2019, he stepped back into the spotlight to celebrate an art exhibition at his Los Angeles studio.
But worry not, because this doesn’t mean returning to the big screens isn’t in his plans.
He wants to keep acting with the help of AI technology.
In 2022, Kilmer made a spectacular return to cinema by reprising one of his Top Gun role, as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, in the sequel Top Gun: Maverick. For the film, Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski found a poignant way to incorporate Kilmer into the storyline, aligning his character’s narrative with the actor’s real-life challenges.
Utilizing AI technology, Kilmer’s voice was recreated from archival audio, allowing him to let his voice be heard again and deliver a heartfelt speech to his on-screen friend, Maverick, portrayed by Cruise. The AI process involved developing over forty models of Kilmer’s speech, and the selected recording, chosen for its quality and expressiveness, became an integral part of the film. Aditionally, Kilmer’s character, like the actor himself, also used a computer to communicate, adding a personal touch to the moment.
So, despite the challenges posed by his cancer treatment, Kilmer has emphasized that he remains the same creative soul and that the AI reproduction of his own voice opens new doors for him in various aspects of his life, both personally and professionally. So much so, he said he’s open to reprising his role as Batman.
And we hope it works out because we’d love to see him again on-screen!
Unfortunately, what happened to Val Kilmer isn’t the first in Hollywood. Cancer has impacted the lives of other actors, including that of Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill. However, much like Kilmer, Neill hasn’t stopped the rare form of cancer he’s been battling since 2022 stop him from being positive about life.