Six Celebrities With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Finding Success in Spite of ME/CFS

Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) doesn't discriminate. It hits people from all walks of life, and that includes celebrities.

It's hard for many of us to imagine how someone could maintain the grueling schedule of an actor or musician while dealing with this disease, and that can make it tempting to doubt that they actually have ME/CFS.

Remember, though, that this disease is different for everyone. We all have our own unique blend of symptoms and severities. Some people recover, completely or in part, while others do not.

The following celebs have been able to maintain or even begin their careers, sometime with breaks due to illness, in spite of ME/CFS. They've also all spoken publicly about it to some extent. That raises awareness, which helps us all.

1
Cher

Cher sits at a piano and sings.
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The singer and Academy-Award-winning actress has been an entertainment fixture since the 1960s. Into her 60s, she was still putting on elaborate performances featuring enormous costumes and her signature powerhouse vocals.

But in the late 1980s and 1990s she began struggling with symptoms of ME/CFS, which she has said developed suddenly after an Epstein-Barr virus infection. Unable to continue performing musically or on film, she turned to infomercials for a while to make the money to support her lifestyle. That cost her—some critics called her a sell-out and declared her career over.

She'd go on to prove herself the queen of comebacks, though, returning to stage and screen success. In interviews, she's said she found a successful treatment in Belgium, but she hasn't said what it was.

2
Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks sings on stage.
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Singer/songwriter and former Fleetwood Mac member Stevie Nicks has dealt with ME/CFS since the late '80s. The band's 1987 tour was suspended because of her illness, but she was able to get back to it the following year.

She's also dealt with multiple addictions, including cocaine and Klonopin (clonazepam), which is a benzodiazepine used to treat panic disorder, anxiety, and seizures. She went to rehab and says she's been off the drugs since the mid-'90s.

Nicks is a rarity in the music industry, having found simultaneous success with a band and as a solo artist.

3
Laura Hillenbrand

American author Laura Hillenbrand is best known for her book Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

Before getting sick, she was an avid equestrian, tennis player, and cyclist. Then ME/CFS struck when she was just 19.

She says the illness onset was sudden and violent. She could barely sit up, let alone walk to classes, so she was forced to leave college.

She's struggled with it ever since, spending much of her life rarely even leaving her house.

She shares a dislike for the name "chronic fatigue syndrome" that's prevalent in the patient/advocate/research community and said this about it in a 2011 interview with the New York Times:

This is why I talk about it. You can’t look at me and say I’m lazy or that this is someone who wants to avoid working. The average person who has this disease, before they got it, we were not lazy people; it’s very typical that people were Type A and hard, hard workers. I was that kind of person. I was working my tail off in college and loving it. It’s exasperating because of the name, which is condescending and so grossly misleading. Fatigue is what we experience, but it is what a match is to an atomic bomb.

Hillenbrand says she had no support from friends or family after her diagnosis because they thought she was just being lazy.

In a 2016 interview with a Stanford University publication, she says that writing books proved to everyone she wasn't lazy, gave her back her self-respect, and provided a vital connection to the world.

She also says that she's been gradually able, in just the past few years, to increase her activity level and enjoy life more.

4
Flea

Flea performs on stage with a bass guitar.
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The Australian-American bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers is known for crazy hair, crazier antics, and appearing on stage shirtless—and sometimes even pantless! His real name is Michael Balzary but he earned the nickname Flea as a child for his inability to sit still.

He was diagnosed with ME/CFS in 1993, right after an international tour. The doctor told him to rest for a year. More recently, he's had to recover from breaking his arm in five places, which caused nerve damage. After months of rehabilitation, he said he had to re-learn how to play bass.

Flea's illness inspired some of his fans who also have ME/CFS to start a fundraising campaign called the Chilli ME Challenge, which was similar to the extremely successful ice bucket challenge for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS.) In the Chilli ME Challenge, though, people were asked to get video of themselves eating a chili pepper or taking a shot of hot sauce, along with making a donation to biomedical research. Sadly, it didn't catch on.

5
Michael Crawford

Michael Crawford hold the famous mask while standing in front of the set for Phantom of the Opera.
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Best known for playing the title role in "Phantom of the Opera," singer and actor Michael Crawford thought ME/CFS would end his career. As it turns out, he was able to return to the stage after seven years of recuperating.

Crawford got sick in 2004 while playing a role that required him to wear a rubber costume, which he says was like "stepping into a sauna for three hours every night." He says that led so drained his body of nutrients that he contracted a virus that led to ME/CFS.

“I’d be totally exhausted by mid-afternoon, and I could barely climb the stairs at home," he said in a 20011 interview. "I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea what. What I thought had been flu turned into a physical meltdown. I went for all sorts of brain and body scans until ME was finally diagnosed."

Crawford moved from England to New Zealand as part of his recovery.

6
Randy Newman

Randy Newman sits at a piano and sings.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Randy Newman is the singer/songwriter responsible for all the heartwarming songs from Pixar movies like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. He's also scored a host of other movies and TV shows as well as recording several albums.

He was diagnosed with ME/CFS in the late 1980s which, like Cher, he attributes to a bout with Epstein-Barr. He also dealt with depression.

“I couldn’t get up a couple of steps without getting out of breath,” he told People Magazine in a 1988 interview. “But the worst part is in your brain. You just can’t think of anything that you look forward to doing. Nothing looks good.”

Also in that interview, he said that improving his diet and increasing his activity was helping him feel better, physically and mentally.

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