James Harrison Coburn, Jr. (August 31, 1928 – November 18, 2002) was an American film and television actor who appeared in nearly 70 films and made over 100 television appearances in his 45-year career. Perhaps best remembered for his natural charisma and charm, he played a wide range of roles and won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance in Affliction (1998). […]
Due to severe rheumatoid arthritis, he was featured in very few films during the 1980s. Though Coburn’s hands were clearly visibly gnarled in film appearances in the last years of his career, the sturdy actor continued working nonetheless. He spent much of his time writing songs with British singer-songwriter Lynsey De Paul and doing television such as his work on Darkroom. He claimed to have healed himself with pills containing a sulfur-based compound and returned to the screen in the 1990s, appearing in films such as Young Guns II, Sister Act 2, Maverick, The Nutty Professor, Affliction (for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his vivid portrayal of the abusive father of Nick Nolte) and Payback, mostly in minor but memorable roles. Affliction also saw Coburn receive Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
“All of the sudden I couldn’t walk,” Coburn said. “I mean I could walk, but it was so painful. And then standing up got to be such a dreadful thing, I said, ‘My God, something’s wrong here.’ So I went to see a Beverly Hills doctor, and he says, ‘You’ve got rheumatoid arthritis.'”
That diagnosis came 30 years ago, when the actor was in the prime of his life, reported CBS 2 News’ Michael Tuck. Coburn’s most popular work had been as top-secret spy Derek Flint in the comedy adventure series “Our Man Flint” and “In Like Flint.” For an action star, the news was devastating. […]
“At it’s worst, how bad was the arthritis?” Tuck asked.
“I couldn’t stand without breaking into a sweat. Fast movement was very painful. It didn’t matter what I was doing, if I was standing or sitting or moving my arms or anything,” Coburn replied.
“This must have devastated your career,” Tuck said.
“Oh, it did. I absolutely couldn’t work,” said Coburn. “I’d do things like little cameo things where I didn’t have to move very much. I could just talk.”
Who amongst those of us currently living with rheumatoid arthritis will be added in the future to the list of well-known people who had RA?
Christiaan Neethling Barnard (November 8, 1922 – September 2, 2001) was a South African cardiac surgeon, famous for performing the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant. […]
He performed the world’s first human heart transplant operation on 3 December 1967, in an operation assisted by his brother, Marius Barnard; the operation lasted nine hours and used a team of thirty people. The patient, Louis Washkansky, was a 54-year-old grocer, suffering from diabetes and incurable heart disease. Barnard later wrote, “For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water, convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side.” The donor heart came from a young woman, Denise Darvall, who had been killed in a December 2, 1967, road accident while crossing a street in Cape Town. After securing permission from Darvall’s father to use her heart, Barnard performed the transplant. Twenty years later, Dr. Marius Barnard recounted, “Chris stood there for a few moments, watching, then stood back and said, ‘It works.'” Washkansky survived the operation and lived for eighteen (18) days. However, he succumbed to pneumonia induced by the Immunosuppressive drugs he was taking. Though the first patient with the heart of another human being survived for only a little more than two weeks, Barnard had passed a milestone in a new field of life-extending surgery.
Barnard became an international superstar overnight and was celebrated around the world for his daring accomplishment. He was quite photogenic, and enjoyed the media attention following the operation. Barnard continued to perform heart transplants. A transplant operation was conducted on 2 January 1968, and the patient, Philip Blaiberg, survived for 19 months. Dorothy Fisher was given a new heart in 1969 and became the first black recipient. She lived for 12 years 6 months after the transplant. […]
Barnard retired as Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Cape Town in 1983 after developing rheumatoid arthritis in his hands, which prevented him from operating. He then spent two years as the Scientist-In-Residence at the Oklahoma Transplantation Institute in the USA, and acted as consultant for other institutions.
Lucille Désirée Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) was an American comedienne, film, television, stage and radio actress, model, film and television executive, and star of the sitcoms I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. One of the most popular and influential stars in America during her lifetime, with one of Hollywood’s longest careers, especially on television, Ball was a movie star from the 1930s who could still be seen making films in the 1960s and 1970s; she was a radio regular in the 1940s.
One of the less-commonly know facts about Lucille Ball is that she lived with rheumatoid arthritis when she was young.
As a teenager, Ball left her Jamestown, New York home to pursue a career in show business, adopting the stage name Diane Belmont. After being fired from several chorus jobs, she retreated to her hometown. Returning to NYC in the early 1930s, Ball was hired as a Hattie Carnegie model but that career was cut short by a bout with what was diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. Following two years of intense pain and experimental treatments, she had recovered sufficiently and embarked on a Hollywood career, which at first consisted mostly of walk-ons and bit roles before she was turned into a glamorous Goldwyn showgirl in Eddie Cantor musicals like “Roman Scandals” (1933).
Okay, so rheumatoid arthritis actually never made its way into the story line of The Sopranos (at least not that I know of). That would have been interesting if it had though. I can see it now…
Tony Soprano: “Christopher, I need you to ‘take care’ of Johnny…”
Christopher: “But I can’t Uncle Tony…my hands hurt WAY TOO much…I can’t even pick up a gun right now, much less strangle the guy!”
All joking aside though, Aida Turturro (b. September 25, 1962), who played Janice Soprano – the sister of mob boss Tony Soprano – lives with rheumatoid arthritis in real life. (I’ve watched every episode of The Sopranos, and I can honestly say that Janice Soprano was one of my favorite characters.)
Aida Turturro was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 12 years old. Turturro’s earliest memories of the pain associated with the disease are connected to a family vacation at the beach at Martha’s Vineyard. Unable to walk from excruciating pain, she had to be carried to the water by her father. Following a visit to the doctor, Turturro was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis but little was offered in terms of treatment options.
Turturro lived with the pain, continued in school, and later began working. Admittedly, she did not understand the consequences of her diagnosis initially and was even unaware that a rheumatologist is a specialist and expert in treating rheumatoid arthritis and related diseases. All that has changed now for Turturro. She has become educated about her condition and realizes how vitally important that education is to fighting the disease.
In an interview with the Arthritis Foundation, Aida stated, “I’m lucky because my disease hasn’t progressed too far. Sometimes I have good days, sometimes I am in a lot of pain – but I never really let my RA stop me from doing the things I want to do. I know that there are alot of people out there for whom the disease has progressed to a debilitating stage”.*
In the early 2000’s Aida Turturro served as a national spokesperson in an rheumatoid arthritis awarenes campaign that was co-sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation and Centocor.
Actress Kathleen Turner (b. June 19, 1954) came to fame in the 1980’s after appearing in movies such as “Body Heat”, “Serial Mom”, “Romancing the Stone” (for which she won a Golden Globe Award), and “Prizzi’s Honor”.
Her rising career was halted in the 1990’s, however, when Turner was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
There’s no question that something went terribly wrong for Ms. Turner, but she has over time expanded her explanation of exactly what it was. It’s clear that while shooting “Serial Mom” in 1993 (doing a John Waters film is almost a sure sign of career trauma) she began to suffer what she called “unbearable” pain. By the time she was finally diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she could hardly turn her head or walk, and was told she would end up in a wheelchair. Treated with heavy steroids and chemotherapy, she started looking puffy and unsteady. Rumors began circulating that she was drinking too much. She later said in interviews that she didn’t bother correcting the rumors because people in show business hire drunks all the time, but not people who are sick. Keeping her condition a secret wasn’t easy; during the Broadway run of “Indiscretions” in 1995, she managed to walk up a spectacular three-story stairway in high heels at every performance, but needed five minutes alone at the top to cry. “Working, I could ignore the pain,” she said. “Offstage I couldn’t.” *
Kathleen Turner’s rheumatoid arthritis finally went into remission almost a decade later. The actress returned to making cameo appearances on television shows, and was most recently seen playing a small role in the movie “Marley & Me”.
Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles
For the first time, Turner shares her childhood challenges-a life lived in countries around the world until her father, a State Department official whom she so admired, died suddenly when she was a teenager. She talks about her twenty year marriage, and why she and her husband recently separated, her close relationship with her daughter, her commitment to service, and how activism in controversial causes has bolstered her beliefs. And Turner reveals the pain and heartbreak of her struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, and how, in spite of it, she made a daring decision: to take a break from the movies and relaunch her stage career. *