Now that greasy-handed, giggle-prone celebrity chef Paula Deen has finally emerged from her butter-lined closet and announced to the world that, yes, she does indeed have Type 2 diabetes, all eyes are on other famous folks who also have high blood sugar levels. Among celebrities, diabetes, particularly Type 2 or adult onset diabetes, isn’t exactly a rarity. In fact, a 2007 ABC News article dubbed the sometimes-deadly chronic disorder as the “affliction of the stars.” Celebs aside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2010, around 26 million Americans have a form of the disease, primarily Type 2, while a whopping 79 million adults in the U.S. are living with pre-diabetes.
Most of us know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but here’s a quick refresher: Type 1, often referred to as juvenile diabetes, occurs when the pancreas is unable to naturally produce a hormone known as insulin that keeps blood glucose levels in check. When a person is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, usually at a young age, they are required to inject insulin to survive. Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for upwards of 85 percent of diabetes cases, occurs when the pancreas is capable of producing insulin but something goes haywire and the cells resist it. Type 2 diabetes is often brought on by lack of exercise, obesity, heart disease and eating all those delicious, not-very-nutritious goodies that Paula Deen cooks. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, someone with adult onset diabetes may not need to inject insulin and can treat the disorder through exercise, diet change and medications along with careful blood glucose monitoring.
Now that we’ve got diabetes 101 out of the way, here’s a look at 15 bold face names, aside from the obvious, who are living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. As you’ll see, these celebs, instead of being stigmatized by the disease, are using their star power to advocate and educate, often by teaming up with organizations like the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
And since there aren’t only 15 famous folks out there with diabetes, we’ve also included a list of notable diabetics, both living and dead (you can find even more here).
Sure, he has a knack for making preteen girls scream like banshees, but Nick Jonas — tousle-haired baby brother to Joe and Kevin — has used his fame to do more than make your sixth-grade cousin Madison faint while watching the Kids' Choice Awards. Nineteen-year-old Nick, a seasoned Broadway performer, former love interest of Miley Cyrus and solo artist outside of his regular duties with the Jonas Brothers, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13. Since 2007, he has tirelessly campaigned for juvenile diabetes awareness by partnering with numerous charities, testifying before the U.S. Senate in an effort to increase funding for the condition and acting as an ambassador for Bayer Diabetes Care. Says Nick on the website for the Jonas Brothers’ charitable foundation called Change for the Children: “The fact that I’m able to have somewhat of a spotlight to share my story, I just feel blessed. I carry a supply of guitar picks in my pocket, and whenever I meet another ‘diabetic buddy’ as I call them, I give them a pick, a cool little thing.”
Patti LaBelle, Philadelphia’s one and only “Lady Marmalade,” is one of the greatest divas in existence. Scratch that … “divabetics” in existence. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after passing out onstage at a performance in the early '90s, the famous food-loving singer and actress (she’s perhaps the only Grammy Hall of Fame inductee with her own hot sauce line) told People magazine in 2008 that she traded in “twelve-egg potato salad and seven-cheese macaroni” for turkey bacon and egg whites and kicked off an exercise regimen to help manage her condition. And because this is the High Priestess of Good Vibrations that we’re dealing with, part of LaBelle’s exercise regimen involves shaking her 67-year-old groove thang onstage. LaBelle, who lost her own mother to the disease, has also banked on her improved diet with a series of best-selling cookbooks which aren’t all completely diabetic-friendly, but you’ve got to please the masses, right?
Tommy Lee and Bret Michaels
Tommy Lee, the hard-edged yet likeable drummer for the Energizer Bunny of L.A. pop metal bands, Mötley Crüe, is famous both for his numerous romances (Heather Locklear, Pamela Anderson, and the list goes on and on) and his numerous afflictions that not even Dr. Feelgood can remedy: They include hepatitis C (Lee passed the disease on to Anderson when the two lovebirds shared a contaminated tattoo needle) and Type 2 diabetes. Although Lee, 49, isn’t known as a big supporter of diabetes awareness — he throws his energy behind environmental and animal rights causes — he does have a kindred spirit in Poison’s Bret Michaels, an also afflicted headbanger and fellow Pam Anderson sex-taper who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 6. With his winnings from “Celebrity Apprentice 3,” Michaels donated $250,000 to the American Diabetes Association.
Despite a lack of tattoos and a three-decade age difference, semi-retired CNN chatterbox Larry King has more in common with rockers Lee and Michaels than you’d think (and no, mercifully he hasn’t made a sex tape with Pam Anderson): All have lived and played hard (booze, cigs and lots and lots of ladies, or marriages, in King’s case), all are fathers and all are living with diabetes. King, who underwent quintuple bypass heart surgery in 1987 and has lived a more healthy lifestyle ever since, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1995. It wasn’t until 2009, however, that King opened up about living with the condition to Diabetes Forecast. He says of his diagnosis: “I was already exercising. I was pretty much watching my diet. Fat free. So I kind of took it as, now? Now I get diabetes? But I might have had it before my heart attack. I don’t know when the diabetes really started. I was certainly worried. I was scared a little bit the first time I had a sexual experience, scared what that might do to me. But I’m generally optimistic. And I consider myself lucky — a lot of my life has been luck.”
Just as she’s unashamed to be one of those rare [skipwords]birds[/skipwords] that have won both an Oscar (“Monster’s Ball”) and a Razzie (“Catwoman”), actress Halle Berry has long been an outspoken supporter of diabetes awareness, although there’s been some confusion in the past as to what type of diabetes she has. Reportedly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1989 at the age of 22, in 2007 Berry was the source of controversy when she publicly announced that she had cured herself of Type 1 diabetes by weaning herself off of insulin to become a Type 2 diabetic. The only thing is, Type 1 diabetes is an incurable disease and stopping insulin is a very bad idea … suicide, essentially. Medical experts believe that the only rational explanation is that Berry was initially misdiagnosed and had Type 2 diabetes, not Type 1, all along. “She was diagnosed in her early 20s, and at that age it's sometimes difficult to know at the beginning if it's Type 1 or 2," Dr. Ronald Kahn, director of the Joslin Diabetes Center, told ABC News in 2007.
Famous for her gothic tales of immortal bloodsuckers, best-selling novelist and noted creepy doll collector Anne Rice, 70, has a bit of a blood (sugar) issue herself: The Queen of Darkness is a Type 1 diabetic and nearly died from the disease in December 1998 when she fell into a sudden diabetic coma after months of experiencing digestive problems, unexplained weight loss and trouble concentrating. She told “Good Morning America” in 2004: “They ran the tests and they got a blood-sugar [level] of 800, which is pretty much I think fatal. What they told me later was that I was in a coma, and of course death would have followed in about five to 10, maybe 15 minutes.” The same year that she was diagnosed with diabetes, Rice stunned her devoted fan base and the media when she (re)joined the Catholic Church and began working on Christian-themed works after decades spent as a devout atheist who penned erotica and vampire novels. In 2010, Rice, who also nearly died in 2004 from complications from gastric bypass surgery, renounced Christianity.
Mary Tyler Moore
Like fellow television funnywoman of a certain age and former cast mate, Betty White, Mary Tyler Moore has long been a passionate crusader for animal rights. In addition to co-founding Broadway Barks with Bernadette Peters, the actress/activist/advocate has worked with various organizations in an effort to help stop animal cruelty and to place homeless pets in safe, loving environments. MTM is our kind of lady. Moore also serves as the international chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, an organization that named an entire research initiative, Forever Moore, in her honor. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 33, in 2009 Moore penned a book about her experiences living with the disease titled: “Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes.”
Crystal Bowersox, Elliot Yamin, Randy Jackson
Two popular past contenders on some teeny-tiny, obscure show called “American Idol” are both living proof that you can sing your heart out in front of millions upon millions of people on national television while wearing an insulin pump: Crystal Bowersox (second place, season nine) and Elliot Yamin (third place, season five) both have Type 1 diabetes and have both used their post-“Idol” fame to raise awareness. In 2011, Bowersox visited the White House as part of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Children’s Congress campaign that seeks to increase federal funding for diabetes research. Yamin, who experienced a diabetes-related scare while stranded in Chile without adequate supplies in the wake of that country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, was named a national spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association in 2007 and frequently talks to the media on the topic. And during their stints on “Idol” Bowersox and Yamin both belted their hearts out to a fellow diabetic: Judge Randy Jackson was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2002.
Unafraid to rock a (faux) unibrow or breastfeed someone else’s newborn child in public, Mexico-born beauty Salma Hayek has taken a similarly fearless stance when it comes to speaking out about gestational diabetes, a not-entirely-rare condition that occurs during pregnancy and disappears afterward although the mother becomes at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or getting gestational diabetes again during future pregnancies. Hayek, who developed gestational diabetes while pregnant with her daughter Valentina in 2007, told Parents: “It occurs in women who have high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. I didn't know whether I was feeling bad because I was pregnant or whether something was seriously wrong. I was nauseated for nine months, which can be one of the symptoms.”
Jean Smart, Delta Burke
Suzanne Sugarbaker and Charlene Frazier — whoops, we mean Delta Burke and Jean Smart — two of the original “Designing Women” (and coincidentally the first two cast members to leave the popular late '80s/early '90s sitcom after the fifth season) are also diabetic women. Smart, who more recently appeared in “24” and “Hawaii Five-O,” was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13 and has appeared in PSAs for the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Diabetes Aware program. And then there’s Delta. Oh, Delta. Like the gold-digging, pig-owning former pageant queen she portrayed on TV, this real life former pageant queen (Miss Florida 1974!) famously struggled with weight issues (how can we forget the episode of “DW” when she started smoking as a weight loss tactic only to catch her wig on fire?). Unlike Suzanne, Burke was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the age of 41. This prompted the actress to shed around 60 pounds and head up the national Let’s Talk Campaign in an effort to help others better manage diabetes through healthier food options and regular exercise.
If you didn’t think that those suffering from diabetes were capable of leading long, productive lives, legendary (and still performing!) rhythm and blues guitarist B.B. King is here to prove you wrong. At 86 years old, King shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to the occasional outing with his trusty partner in crime “Lucile,” in the spring of 2011, the King of the Blues appeared in a commercial with “American Idol” runner-up and fellow diabetic Crystal Bowersox for the OneTouch blood glucose monitoring systems. King, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in his early 60s, told Diabetes Health magazine in 2005: “I hope my voice and the things I say will encourage someone out there and help them learn the truth about diabetes and act on it. A lot of people would like to have the actual truth. Some people don’t believe that diabetes is life threatening. But it is. I lost a sister and a niece who had diabetes. I tried to beg them to do what they should, but they’re not with me anymore.”
More famous diabetics
Meat Loaf, Neil Young, David “Boomer” Wells, Damon Dash, Dominique Wilkins, Mike Huckabee, Billie Jean King, Gary Hall, David Crosby, Aretha Franklin, Della Reese, Mikhail Gorbachev, Chris Dudley, Dick Clark, Jerry Lewis, Adam Morrison, Aida Turturro, Sonia Sotomayor, Jay Cutler, Sean Busby, Elaine Stritch, Wilford Brimley
Dearly departed famous diabetics
Spencer Tracey, Elvis Presley, Thomas Edison, Ella Fitzgerald, Luther Vandross, Mae West, James Cagney, Ernest Hemingway, Johnny Cash, Syd Barrett, Jerry Garcia, James Brown, Miles Davis, Jack Benny, Ray Kroc, Dale Evans, Jackie Gleason, Linda Goodman, Joe Frazier, Nell Carter, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, “Mama” Cass Elliot
Photos: Jonas, Smart: Getty Images. All others: ZUMA Press; MNN homepage photos: ZUMA Press and Wikipedia