Dangerous Diabetes: Affliction of the Stars

Even some of our biggest stars aren't immune to America's diabetes epidemic.

ByABC News
December 20, 2007, 4:19 PM

Dec. 21, 2007 — -- This has been quite a year for Halle Berry.

Not only did the 41-year-old actress achieve a long desired pregnancy, but she stirred up a storm of controversy when she claimed that she had cured herself of type 1 diabetes -- a claim refuted by many doctors and the diabetes community. Berry is the latest example of the many stars, alive and dead, who have waged a battle with diabetes.

Halle Berry struggled with managing her type 1 diabetes throughout her childhood, and then reported a surprise. "I've managed to wean myself off insulin, so now I'd like to put myself in the type 2 category," the Web site contactmusic.com quotes the actress as saying in early November.

Diabetics quickly admonished Berry for her comments and doctors confirmed: It is not possible to "cure" anyone of diabetes. If Berry were truly a type 1 diabetic, it would be suicide to stop taking insulin. She claims that a healthy diet and exercise has changed the course of her illness.

"When someone really has type 1, it means their immune system has destroyed the insulin producing part of the pancreas. In that case, there is no way to wean yourself off insulin," Dr. Francine Kaufman, a diabetes expert at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, told ABC News.

Some 20.8 million people -- 7 percent of the population -- have diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health. African-Americans, however, are particularly at risk. According to institute statistics, 3.2 million black Americans, or 13.3 percent of all non-Hispanic blacks, have the disease.

Type 2 tends to affect the unfit and obese; 90 percent of all type 2 patients are overweight. Berry, however, was a healthy 22-year-old working on the TV show "Living Dolls" in 1989 when she was first diagnosed, she told the Daily Mail in 2005.

Before she was diagnosed and after becoming ill on the set, she told the paper, she slipped into a diabetic coma for a week.

Berry is currently pregnant with her first child with her boyfriend of two years, Gabriel Aubry.

Tweenie pop star Nick Jonas announced he had type 1 diabetes earlier this year. The 14-year-old sensation of the Jonas Brothers Band was diagnosed in 2005, after he had many of the common symptoms: sudden weight loss, extreme thirst and irritability.

"For someone who had no bad medical history ever," Jonas told the Web site diabeteshealth.com, "to suddenly have the shock of diabetes was a bit overwhelming in itself, and then I had to learn all about it, learn all these things in such a short period of time. All of it was crazy. I also wondered if I could continue making music ... but I had the support of my friends and the band to be there with me. My dad was back at home with my three other brothers, but my mom stayed at the hospital with me every night."

Now the teen star uses an insulin pump and says that his diabetes is managed well. He advises other teens who have been recently diagnosed on diabeteshealth.com: "Don't let it slow you down at all. I made a promise to myself on the way to the hospital that I wouldn't let this thing slow me down, and I'd just keep moving forward, and that's what I did. Just keep a positive attitude and keep moving forward with it. Don't be discouraged."

Nick Jonas sings, plays guitar and drums in the Jonas Brothers Band with his two older siblings, Kevin and Joe. They grew up in New Jersey -- the children of musicians.

Delta Burke is best known for her role as the outspoken Suzanne Sugarbaker on the TV show "Designing Women," but she has also become a personality for diabetes information. The stage, screen and film actress -- and the wife of actor Gerald McRaney -- leads the Let's Talk campaign, which sheds light on the importance of managing diabetes through diet and exercise. The campaign moved through a dozen U.S. cities during the summer of 2007.

Burke has lost about 60 pounds, due to her nearly 10-year battle with type 2 diabetes. She began to lose weight so she could play the role of "Truvy" in the Broadway production of Steel Magnolias in 2005, a role that required her to be more slender.

Dick Clark, legendary host of "American Bandstand," is sometimes called America's oldest teenager. He revealed in early 2004 that he was dealing with a very grown-up illness: type 2 diabetes. He was first diagnosed in 1994, at age 64.

Clark became a spokesman to raise awareness about the risks of heart attack and stroke that accompany diabetes. He manages his type 2 diabetes with medication, diet and exercise, and plans to continue hosting and performing despite suffering a stroke in December 2004.

Jerry Mathers played "Beaver" Cleaver on "Leave It to Beaver" from 1957 to 1963. After a run on the return of the show in the 1980s, Mathers packed on some pounds when he retired, and he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1989.

Mathers told the Web site diabeteshealth.com that at first he wasn't concerned about having type 2 diabetes. He figured he would just starve himself by not eating breakfast and lunch, and then have a little more for dinner.

He soon learned that starving himself only made his blood sugar roller coaster worse, and he changed his ways, losing about 50 pounds -- going from 230 to 180 pounds. He manages his diabetes through diet and exercise, and says he no longer requires medication. Mathers has partnered with many organizations to bring diabetes awareness to the public and is currently the national spokesman for a blood glucose monitoring system.

"American Idol" judge and performer Randy Jackson was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2001, when he weighed 360 pounds. "I was in the worse shape of my life," Jackson, now 51, told Newsweek magazine. Even though his father had been diabetic, he thought he just had a cold -- until he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with diabetes.

In addition to treatment with medication, Jackson underwent a gastric bypass operation that reduced his weight to 230 pounds. He has given up the pies and cakes he grew up with as a child in the South. Jackson's diet today includes plenty of vegetables and very few sweets. "Food is for nutrition now," he told Newsweek. He is also helping the American Heart Association get the word out about the heart risks associated with the disease.

Victor Garber, 57, has been acting most of his life. He has been nominated six times for Emmy Awards and has mastered television, film and stage performances. One of his most important roles, however, came early in his life -- when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12.

Garber learned to manage his diabetes while growing up and starting a busy career. Back when he was in the early years of dealing with diabetes, he had to test his urine four times a day in addition to taking insulin shots. But throughout his illness, Garber always stayed focused on his career. The actor now works with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to help raise awareness and money for diabetes causes.

Thirteen years ago, R&B legend Patti LaBelle passed out onstage during a concert. Soon after, the double Grammy Award winner was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and it was a wake-up call for changing her life.

LaBelle lost her own mother to diabetes amputation complications. She recently became a spokeswoman to advocate diabetes awareness and better monitoring of glucose. LaBelle says she controls her diabetes with medication and exercise, including swimming and walking -- in addition to eating lots of vegetables.

Tommy Lee, best known for playing drums for Motley Crue and marrying Pamela Anderson and Heather Locklear, also reportedly suffers from type 2 diabetes. Lee, 45, is also a supporter of animal rights.

In 2006, Tommy launched his own clothing line, with apparel manufacturer People's Liberation, to produce jeans, T-shirts and other products featuring graphics inspired by his tattoos. People's Liberation brand clothing is marketed and manufactured by Versatile Entertainment, which also produces the William Rast brand, inspired by Justin Timberlake.

Mary Tyler Moore, now 70-years-old, has successfully managed her type 1 diabetes for 30 years -- and chose to become an advocate for diabetes research, taking her story all the way from Hollywood to Washington, D.C.

Moore testified before Congress (along with actors Kevin Kline and Jonathan Lipnicki and former astronaut Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13) to call for an increase in funding for diabetes research and support for embryonic stem cell research, which she called "truly life affirming." Also present in the hearing room were about 200 children with diabetes and their families, who were in town for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International Children's Congress.

Aida Turturro, 45, best known for her role as Tony Soprano's sister Janice on the award-winning TV series "The Sopranos," is putting her foot down about diabetes. She was diagnosed in 2001 with type 2 diabetes, but the actor did not take her condition seriously until her diabetes worsened significantly in 2003.

Since then, Turturro has learned to take care of her health and now works closely with her endocrinologist to properly manage her diabetes. In her case, this means making adjustments to her lifestyle and taking daily insulin. She now encourages other diabetics to take control.

The 82-year-old "King of the Blues" has lived with type 2 diabetes for years and applies the same strong work ethic toward managing the illness as he does toward performing music.

King is now a spokesman for a blood glucose monitoring system. He told the Web site diabeteshealth.com: "My father died at 87, and the only thing I know is that he had high blood glucose and gout. My mother died when I was 9. I think she went blind before she died. It must have been related to diabetes. Nobody knew what to do at that time. We were people living out in the country."

The Grammy Award winner received the Congressional Legends Medal in 2005.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Wells' life changed in early March 2007 when he found out that he had type 2 diabetes. The 43-year-old left-hander, who has battled his weight in the past, probably had high blood sugar for a long time. He was scratched from a start in 2006 due to gout in his right foot, but with the diagnosis he pledged to make healthier lifestyle choices.

As Wells told the San Diego Union-Tribune after his diagnosis: "Obviously, this is a concern, but it's beatable. And I'm going to beat it. It's going to take some lifestyle changes, and I'm already making them."

Oscar-nominated Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni appeared in 142 films during his long career. His credits include Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" and "8 ½." Mastroianni, known for his leading man roles and his Latin-lover persona, had a long romantic affair with the French actress Catherine Deneuve, with whom he had a daughter, Chiara, born in 1972. They separated a few years later but remained friends.

His father, who was also diabetic, went blind due to the illness and never was able to see his son's films. Mastroianni died in Paris in December 1996 at age 72.

Mae West, the famous actress, writer and sex symbol, suffered from diabetes in the final 15 years of her life. The 5-foot-1-inch-tall blonde battled against the censorship of her time and against the illness. She was nearly 90 when she died in 1980, and is remembered for her 40 films and outspoken attitude.

Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR, served from 1985 until its collapse in 1991. For his efforts to reform the Communist state, Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. He is currently the leader of the Union of Social-Democrats, a political party founded after the dissolution of the Social Democratic Party of Russia in 2007. He also manages his type 2 diabetes with medication.

Best known for his roles in popular films from the 1930s to the 1960s, Tracy was also a diabetic. He was secretly diagnosed with diabetes in the late 1940s and it is likely complications of this disease that led to his death only nine weeks after "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" finished filming in 1967. At the time, Tracy believed public knowledge of his illness could have an adverse impact on his acting career.

Tracy, often maligned for his less-than-perfect looks, won back-to-back Oscars for his work on "Captains Courageous" (1937) and "Boys Town" (1938). He also painted in oils and worked for a number of causes, including animal welfare and children's charities.

The "Hamburger King" of McDonald's was diagnosed with diabetes at age 52. Although Kroc did not start the fast-food chain, he was largely responsible for growing the company into the corporation it is today. Kroc was included in the Time 100 list of the world's most influential builders and titans of industry, and amassed a $500 million fortune during his lifetime. He died Jan. 14, 1984, just days before McDonald's sold its 50-billionth hamburger.

Fiorello LaGuardia, former New York mayor and namesake of one of the world's busiest airports, was also a diabetic. LaGuardia was the mayor of New York from 1934 to 1945. He was popularly known as "the Little Flower," the translation of his Italian first name, and has been considered one of New York City's greatest mayors by historians because of his role in leading New York during the Great Depression.

Over a career spanning five decades, country singer Johnny Cash compiled 10 Grammy Awards. He won his first Grammy in 1967 and reaped honors even near the end of his career. In 1997, Cash was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome. The diagnosis was later altered to autonomic neuropathy, associated with diabetes.

Cash died on Sept. 12, 2003, of "diabetes complications" according to his manager. He sold more than 90 million albums in his nearly 50-year career and came to occupy a commanding position in music history, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Type 2 diabetes also influenced the life and music of Syd Barrett, one of the founders of the rock band Pink Floyd. He wrote most of Pink Floyd's early material, and left an impact on the rock world that followed the band. After spending seven years in seclusion, Barrett died July 7, 2006, in Cambridge, England. He died of pancreatic cancer, but this was usually reported as "complications from diabetes." Some people have theorized that Barrett was also suffering from mental illness, or that the combination of drugs and flashing lights used in the shows triggered some epileptic seizures.

David Crosby is a founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Crosby is a member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame for his work. Crosby has type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes and is being treated with insulin to manage this disease.

Crosby received a liver transplant in 1994, necessitated by his many years of drug and alcohol abuse.

In January 2000 rock star Melissa Etheridge announced that Crosby was the biological father of her and partner Julie Cypher's two children, conceived through artificial insemination.

Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has something to sing about: his successful management of his type 2 diabetes. Lloyd Webber donated more than $300,000 to a U.K. hospital to help diabetics and kidney transplant patients.