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Famous Faces With RA

Lucille Ball

Whether it's via YouTube clips or reruns, comedienne Lucille Ball can still make viewers laugh. The antics of her character Lucy Ricardo in the 1950s show I Love Lucy are Hollywood legend. But a severe bout of rheumatoid arthritis in her late teens could have sidelined the icon’s career before it even began. After taking a couple of years to get her disease under control, she returned to show business.

Christiaan Barnard

South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard earned his place in history when he performed the world’s first human heart transplant in 1967. It isn't widely known that the noted surgeon lived with painful rheumatoid arthritis for much of his adult life. Barnard officially retired his scalpel in 1983 when the effects of RA on his hands became too severe.

Kathleen Turner

Kathleen Turner, a star of notable films like Romancing the Stone and Prizzi’s Honor, is often recognized by her sultry voice, which gave life to Jessica Rabbit. She's also one of the first stars to go public with her battle with RA. With help from powerful medicines and exercise, Turner regained her health and career pursuits, including stints on Broadway.

Camryn Manheim

Actress Camryn Manheim is best known for her role as Ellenor Frutt on the TV legal drama The Practice. For years, she also worked with the hearing impaired as an interpreter and teacher. When stiff hands prevented her from signing, she sought help, though it took months to discover she had RA. Since then, she has spoken out for early diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Aida Turturro

Aida Turturro, best remembered as the always-scheming Janice Soprano Baccalieri from The Sopranos, has been living with rheumatoid arthritis since she was very young. But it wasn’t until she was older that she began to see a doctor regularly and manage her disease. Turturro, who also has diabetes, turned to yoga and healthy eating to ease her symptoms.

Seamus Mullen

Nimble hands, long hours on your feet: That’s the life of noted chef Seamus Mullen, who owns the Spanish eatery Tertulia in New York City. That he does it while battling rheumatoid arthritis shows his great determination. The Next Iron Chef finalist combines medication with exercise to keep RA at bay.

James Coburn

James Coburn’s acting resume spans five decades. But at the peak of his career, Coburn was struck with painful rheumatoid arthritis, leaving him unable to work, or even walk, at times for nearly 10 years. Coburn credited an alternative medicine in helping him feel better and well enough to act again, leading to a supporting actor Academy Award in 1999.

Rosalind Russell

Rosalind Russell lit up the stage and screen in classics like The Women and Gypsy. But her acting career came to an end shortly after she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1969. Upset by how little was known about RA, Russell worked to raise awareness and increase funding for research. The Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis was created by Congress in her honor in 1979.

Sandy Koufax

A powerful lefty, Sandy Koufax dominated the pitcher’s mound for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s and '60s. Rheumatoid arthritis in his elbow forced him into early retirement in 1966 at the age of 30. In 1972, he became the youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Though he could no longer play, Koufax stayed close to the team he loved and served as a pitching coach.

Edith Piaf

Famed French singer Edith Piaf, known for such ballads as “La Vie en Rose,” was an icon for France during World War II. The hard-living singer also battled severe RA, made worse by a series of car accidents and heavy drinking. But pain never stood in the way of her singing career, and she kept performing until her death in 1963.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir pioneered impressionist painting during the mid-1800s. By the turn of the century, the artist became more formal in his style and technique. In his later years, despite rheumatoid arthritis in his hands, Renoir kept at his craft, at times tying a paintbrush to his hand.

Botticelli’s Venus

Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” may be one of the most recognized paintings in the world. Painted between the years of 1482 and 1485, it may also be one of the earliest representations of rheumatoid arthritis. Physicians who have examined the painting, especially Venus’ hands, believe that Simonetta Vespucci, the 16-year-old model on whom Venus is based, may have had RA.

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Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on October 14, 2014

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