It’s somewhat surprising that Val Kilmer, one of the biggest and most recognizable film stars of the 80s and 90s, has never received an Oscar nomination. Kilmer told The Hollywood Reporter that the failure to get the recognition that he felt his acting deserved made him angry. Val’s perspective changed when he got sick.
Kilmer’s back in the limelight following his cameo appearance in Top Gun: Maverick, playing Admiral Tom’ Iceman’ Kazansky. The admiral doesn’t speak much, with the film informing audiences of his cancer diagnosis.
It’s a case of art imitating life, as Val battled cancer several years ago, changing his life forever.
- Kilmer underwent treatment for cancer in secret in 2015 and now lives cancer-free.
- Val believes that faith rather than medicine healed him, and he wouldn’t have sought medical treatment for cancer without his children’s lobbying.
- Kilmer’s Christian Science faith prevents him from believing in death: he views death as a move to another dimension rather than the end of life.
Val was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and underwent treatment in secret
Val suspected that he had a health problem after waking up in a pool of his blood a couple of times. Then a big lump formed in his throat, and he struggled to swallow. A doctor confirmed that he had throat cancer.
Kilmer believed that prayer alone could heal him, but his son and daughter pushed him to pursue treatment. “I just didn’t want to experience their fear, which was profound,” Kilmer told The New York Times.
Val had surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy, leaving him with a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube. He hid his frail neck with scarves, and despite rumors that his health was failing, few people outside his circle knew he’d battled cancer.
Kilmer took to Facebook to deny reports that he’d been hospitalized due to a tumor. He referred to his illness as a ‘complication’ that needed specialized monitoring. Val wrote:
“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.”
In 2016, actor Michael Douglas let the cat out of the bag while speaking about his cancer diagnosis; Douglas said that Val suffered from the same ailment he had. Val denied the news, writing on Facebook that he had no cancer.
Val came clean about the throat cancer diagnosis during an AMA on Reddit. Kilmer said he understood why Michael talked to the press about his illness. The Batman Forever actor wrote:
“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 is cancer-free, but he struggles to speak and eat
Val Kilmer was cancer-free by 2016, but the side effects of his treatment left indelible marks on his body: his voice was reduced to ‘something between a squeak and a voiceless roar,’ and he needed a tube to help him breathe and eat.
Kilmer told The New York Times that he hated the voice exercises at Juilliard, but they came in handy when re-learning to speak following aggressive cancer treatment.
In his 2021 documentary Val, Kilmer opened up about his lost voice and struggles after cancer treatment:
“I obviously am sounding much worse than I feel. I can’t speak without plugging this hole [in his throat]. You have to make the choice to breathe or to eat. It’s an obstacle that is very present with whoever sees me.”
Kilmer’s voice formed part of his charm, so losing it affected him deeply. In his 2020 memoir, I’m your Huckleberry, he wrote: “Speaking, once my joy and lifeblood, has become an hourly struggle.”
The actor described his voice as ‘Marlon Brando after a couple of bottles of tequila. It isn’t a frog in my throat. More like a buffalo.’
Val’s cancer is gone, but he has to live with the effects of the treatment. He told The New York Times that he blames treatment rather than cancer for his predicaments.
Pointing to his trach tube, Val said: “That’s from radiation and chemotherapy. It’s not from cancer. That ‘treatment’ caused my suffering.”
Kilmer spoke using a computer-generated voice in Top Gun: Maverick
Thanks to the wonders of artificial intelligence, Val Kilmer spoke in Top Gun: Maverick. Sonantic, an AI company that creates artificial voices, used archival audio of Val’s voice to create 40 different voice models for Kilmer.
According to a blog post by Sonantic co-founder and CEO John Flynn, the company ‘selected the best, highest-quality, most expressive voice’ for the actor.
“We were eager to give him his voice back, providing a new tool for whatever creative projects are ahead,” Flynn said. Val’s son Jack approved Sonantic’s work, telling People:
“They have just created something really incredible and it really moved me to see their proof of concept. It has so much potential. Knowing my dad, he’ll probably use it for something creative and, at the very least, just to communicate with us when he’s feeling tired.”
Via an audio clip made by Sonantic, Kilmer admitted that though people struggle to understand when he is talking, he’s still the same creative soul inside – and the AI-generated voice will offer him the opportunity to express himself clearly again. Val said:
“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.”
Tom Cruise fought for Val Kilmer to reprise his role in Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer are the only two actors who reprised their roles in Top Gun. Val might not have appeared in the film without Tom’s lobbying.
Val said that he wasn’t too proud to beg the filmmakers for the role of Iceman, but he didn’t need to: Tom Cruise refused to appear in the film without Kilmer. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer told The Hollywood Reporter:
“[He] said, ‘I’m not making this movie without Val.’ When we filmed it, it was a very emotional day, having Val there and seeing him work with Tom after 35 years.”
Kilmer worked with the filmmakers to incorporate Iceman’s illness into the script. Val’s son, Jack, said that Kilmer was thrilled when he linked up with the cast. Jack’s sister, Mercedes, said:
“I was on set, I saw it live and it was extraordinary. It means a lot to my dad, as he’s very proud of that film. This is what he loves to do. It was trippy, and very special, for my dad to be on set with all of his friends who made this movie when they were my age.”
Cruise talked to Metro about the special moments he had with Val on set. “There were so many moments in making it that were very special, incredibly unique,” Cruise said. “He’s an actor that I greatly admire, so it was wonderful.”
Val told People that he has home movies featuring Tom that show how much fun the pair have had together. “I’ve always admired [Val’s] work, his talent,” Cruise told People. “We get together… we just start laughing. It was special to have him back. It meant a lot to me.”
Kilmer doesn’t believe in the finality of death due to his Christian Science faith
Val Kilmer has experienced the miracles of prayer throughout his life, he told The New York Times.
Kilmer said that Mercedes survived being hit by a car and launched into a storefront window due to his prayers. He said that he once avoided an accident, not by swerving to avoid the car but by going clean through it without causing harm to bodies or vehicles.
If Val had his way, he would have relied on faith for healing. He planned to work with a Christian Science spiritual adviser to dispel the fear that had manifested outwardly through cancer. Were it not for his children, Val would have taken the spiritual route to healing.
Despite treatment working and curing him of cancer, Val believes that prayer healed him, not medicine. “I prayed and that was my form of treatment,” Kilmer said.
Christian Science practitioners don’t believe in the finality of death – they believe that death marks a transition into a consciousness that humans can’t perceive. Therefore, Val doesn’t fear death as it doesn’t exist. He said:
“Someone comes up to you and says you have only four months to live, and the concept of time is a human one. So, if you describe the divine concept of time, there is no time.”
Val has no regrets about the life he’s lived. With a new voice and an old creative soul, Kilmer looks to the future with optimism. Kilmer said in Val:
“I have behaved bizarrely to some. I deny none of this and have no regrets because I have lost and found parts of myself that I never knew existed. I am blessed.”
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