Kathleen Turner Was One of Hollywood's Biggest Stars Until Hidden Disease Derailed Her Career


Fame is a fickle thing, always arriving and leaving when you least expect it. I think Bill Murray (“Groundhog Day,” “Ghostbusters”) captured it pretty well when, according to Esquire, he said, “I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first.’ …

“There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.”

The ancient Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius felt much the same way, writing, “Consider the lives led once by others, long ago, the lives to be led by others after you, the lives led even now, in foreign lands. … How many offer you praise now — and tomorrow, perhaps, contempt.”

Aurelius came to the conclusion that fame was worthless, and I suspect that Hollywood legend Kathleen Turner probably feels the same way. When you look at her profile, you understand that she ruled the silver screen for about a dozen years.

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Turner made a splash with the 1981 noir “Body Heat” and then went on to appear in the comedies “Romancing the Stone,” “The Jewel of the Nile,” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.” But in the early ’90s, her on-screen appearances dramatically declined.

People blamed her absence on alcoholism. But her lack of visibility owed to something more insidious: rheumatoid arthritis.

“It’s hard to understand the level of pain that this disease brings,” Turner said in an interview with Vulture published on August 7. “I don’t know how I got through it.

“One of the areas that was most painful was my right wrist. Just touching it would make me want to scream.”

Today explains that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, an illness where the body attacks itself. This particular variant assaults the joints and can cause permanent damage.

Around 1.3 million Americans suffer from it. But when Turner was diagnosed, it was more mysterious.

The arthritis hurt her career as much as herself. She noted, “If you say, ‘I have a mysterious illness and I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk tomorrow,’ you’re not getting hired. …

“Rheumatoid arthritis hit in my late 30s, the last of my years in which Hollywood would consider me a sexually appealing leading lady. The hardest part was that so much of my confidence was based on my physicality. If I didn’t have that, who was I?”

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Unwilling to stew in regret, Turner reinvented herself, enjoying multiple cameos on numerous television shows. She also became something of presence in theater.

“The roles for mature women onstage are a thousand times better than anything written in film,” she said. “The screen roles are usually stereotypes: the evil stepmother, the bitter spinster.”

Though she rues her loss of fame, Turner hasn’t let it cripple her. She says she has more important things to consider.

“I’m too busy coping with disease to think much outside the day-to-day. For me it’s, ‘Can I hold a pen? Can I stand up? Can I climb those stairs?’”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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