Stars who become famous for an illness can have a huge impact on medical research. Helen Pearson talks to physician and historian of medicine Barron Lerner about the good and the bad of celebrity patients:
It’s a series of case studies of either famous people who became sick or people who became famous because of their illnesses, and it examines what lessons their cases taught the public about medicine and medical ethics. The early famous patients were drawn into going public with their stories. Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankees first baseman who got ALS [Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis] in the 1930s, became a magnet for others with neurological disease and a reluctant spokesperson.
But over time, celebrities have become more like activists, championing the diseases in question and raising money. Lance Armstrong is a great example. He got testicular cancer and sought out the best care. But then he started a foundation and produced the yellow Livestrong bracelets to raise money. He’s a sophisticated version of a modern ill celebrity — part patient, part fundraiser, part cheerleader.