Kathleen Turner Was Told She’d Be Bound to a Wheelchair Due to Her Arthritis, but the Actress Defied the Disease and Rose From the Ashes

Actress Kathleen Turner rose to fame in the 1980s with several successful films. Nominated for an Oscar and two Golden Globes, she seemed to have a long and fulfilling career ahead of her. But a serious disease intervened in Turner’s plans. Despite the pain and the doctors’ pessimism, the actress continued to fight and managed to overcome her condition.

Kathleen Turner went from being a waitress to becoming a movie star.

Kathleen Turner graduated from university in 1977. For a while, she worked as a waitress but slowly kept trying to build her acting career. Turner starred in commercials and appeared on Broadway in the play Gemini. In 1978, Kathleen got a role in the soap opera The Doctors.

The actress got her first big break in 1981 in the movie Body Heat and immediately became famous. She was even nominated for a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture.

Successful roles followed one after another. Turner did win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in the film Romancing the Stone (1984) and repeated her success a year later with Prizzi’s Honor (1985). For her role in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Turner was nominated for an Oscar.

There were both tragic and happy moments in her family life.

Turner worked hard while also building a personal life. She got married in 1984. Some time later, Kathleen got pregnant. She didn’t give up on her career and went to Italy for the filming of Giulia e Giulia (1987) but suffered a miscarriage during the flight.

Kathleen later became pregnant again and, luckily, this time all ended well. The actress continued to work hard until she gave birth. Her water broke while she was voicing Jessica Rabbit for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Just 3 months after the birth of her daughter, Kathleen returned to the set and starred in the film The Accidental Tourist (1988).

A serious diagnosis changed Kathleen’s life.

The actress continued to grow in popularity. Further proof of her iconic status became Falco’s song, which he dedicated to her, calling it “The Kiss of Kathleen Turner.” But suddenly, a disease intervened in the actress’s life. In 1992, she was working on the movie Serial Mom when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

Doctors’ prognoses were grim. One of them even asserted that Kathleen would have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Turner fired that doctor and decided to keep fighting. She revealed that for about 12 years she had to undergo surgery every year.


The other part of the treatment was taking medicine. By the time she was diagnosed, the actress had already been in unbearable pain for over a year, finding it difficult to turn her head and walk. Such a severe progression of the disease and being on medication lead to changes in Turner’s appearance.

Turner’s reputation in the professional world also suffered, with people claiming that she had become difficult to work with. Kathleen attributes this to the side effects of her medication. But her family supported her in her darkest hour. Thanks to her husband, Turner managed to hide her arthritis from the people around her. For example, when they went to dinner events together, her husband would secretly help her get up from her chair, without anyone noticing.

Thanks to new treatments, Kathleen managed to overcome the disease, which went into remission in 2006.

Despite all the difficulties, Turner carried on acting.

During her battle with the disease and after beating it, Turner continued acting in films and TV series. In 2001, she appeared in three episodes of Friends (1994-2004), playing Chandler’s father. In 2005, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She also won an award for her work on The Perfect Family (2011) at Santo Domingo OutFest.

Kathleen starred in the series The Kominsky Method (2018-2021). On the set, she was reunited with Michael Douglas, with whom she appeared in several films, including The War of the Roses (1989).

Kathleen is not afraid of changing with age.

Struggling with the disease couldn’t help but affect Turner’s career. Yet it wasn’t just her arthritis that made it difficult for her to work, but her age as well. The actress noticed that by the age of 40 she was increasingly being offered to play mothers and grandmothers. She felt that this was due to a double standard. After all, the career of many women of that age started fading, while the men of the same age were doing much better.

But Turner wasn’t at all shy about her age. She even made a special appearance in Dumb and Dumber To (2014) as the former lover of one of the characters, to make a statement: “I had changed and aged. And my body was not ’Body Heat’ anymore. Get over it.”

Turner devotes a lot of time to helping others.

Derek Storm / Everett Collection / East News

Kathleen Turner at arrivals for Planned Parenthood 100th Anniversary Gala

Kathleen Turner is active in community work. As she herself explains, “In my family, it was expected that we would get involved and be part of making things better.” While still in college, she started supporting Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides reproductive health services. Turner is also on the board of Citymeals on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that provides food for older people.

The actress is always willing to take risks and try new things.

Kathleen Turner is still going strong and developing her career. She is still appearing in new films and series. 2022 saw the release of the film The Estate, and in 2023, a TV series starring Kathleen is expected to be released, by the name of White House Plumbers.

The actress is not forgetting the theatre stage, either. In 2019, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut with a small role in La Fille du Régiment. Turner made it clear that she’s not afraid of trying new things: “Unless I’m willing to risk failure, I don’t grow. And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing here on earth?”

Which of Kathleen Turner’s films is your favourite?

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