Want to share this article? Visit our re-post guidelines.
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States, with tens of thousands of new cases reported every year. When you add in the substantial number of cases that go unreported and undiagnosed, the illness takes on epidemic proportions. But we can take it even one step further. With Lyme disease spanning multiple countries and continents, it can also be classified as a pandemic.1
This widespread tick-borne illness is often considered the “great imitator” because its symptoms typically mimic other health conditions. For example, it’s often mistaken as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Throw in all the different Lyme coinfections and their various symptoms, and it gets even harder to pin down.2
Along with this, testing is often inconclusive or incorrect, leading to many misdiagnoses. Many people experience symptoms for weeks, months, or even years before receiving proper treatment.3
As anyone with Lyme knows, it can affect any individual. Young and old, healthy and unhealthy, rich and poor. And this includes those often in the public eye. Many celebrities have started to share their own personal journeys with Lyme disease and its coinfections. For a topic often so underrated and overlooked—despite its spread at a pandemic level—raising public awareness is a crucial step in the right direction.
So what famous person has had Lyme disease? Among those celebrity cases are actors, Grammy award-winning musicians, sport icons, and so on. For some of them, it has impacted their careers and temporarily pulled them out of the public eye. But these celebs ultimately chose to share their stories, which helps bring the public closer to understanding Lyme and its coinfections. Let’s take a look at some of these celebrities in the “Lymelight.”
11 Celebrities in the Lymelight
Courtesy of Entertainment Tonight
Singer and pop icon Justin Bieber revealed in a January 2020 Instagram post that he received a diagnosis of Lyme disease. In the post, he wrote:
“It’s been a rough couple years, but [I’m] getting the right treatment that will help treat this so far incurable disease, and I will be back and better than ever.”
Bieber explains Lyme disease caused depression and other symptoms and it went undiagnosed for much of a year. Bieber discusses his diagnosis and chronicles his battle with the tick-borne infection in his 10-episode YouTube docuseries, Justin Bieber: Seasons.
In episode 5 of this docuseries, Bieber discusses his recent health journey, including his crippling anxiety and fatigue. During this process, he discovered he had “something called Lyme disease, which is a super silent disease that’s not very well-known [and] it’s very hard for doctors to test for it.”
Also in this episode, Bieber’s doctor, Erica Lehman, explains, “Lyme disease is the fastest growing bacterial infection in the United States right now, and we know it can cause a whole spectrum of neuropsychiatric symptoms.”
Along with Lyme disease, Bieber also received an Epstein-Barr diagnosis. The double whammy of these two infections gave Bieber a wide range of symptoms.
At the end of episode 5, Bieber says, “It might not seem that hard to some people to just get out of bed in the morning, but it’s been really hard for me to just get out of bed. And I know a lot of people feel that same way, so I just also want to say that you’re not alone in that, and there’s people going through it with you, and life is worth living. And if you’re not gonna give up, then the only thing to do is to push forward.”
Elena Delle Donne
Elena Delle Donne, a WNBA forward for the Washington Mystics, recently shared her Lyme disease history. With the coronavirus pandemic, Delle Donne petitioned for medical exemption for the 2020 season and was denied. Delle Donne explains she has tried to balance her illness and her career for over a decade, when she first received a Lyme diagnosis. Being immune-compromised, she worried about playing admist coronavirus concerns.4
In an open letter, Delle Donne explains she takes 64 pills a day to function and play basketball. Through her journey with Lyme, a big lesson she learned was “there’s so much in the world that we don’t know.” She continues by saying, “It’s something that I started to think about around when I first started showing symptoms years ago. I had these migraines, and these night sweats. I had extreme fatigue and body aches. I felt awful, all the time. But we still had no idea what it was. For a while we had no clue. One doctor would look and think it was one thing, another doctor would look and think it was another thing, and so on. Even when I went to the right doctor, finally, a Lyme-literate doctor, who properly diagnosed me—even then there was still so much that we had no clue about. There were a million different treatments; there was a lot of trial and error; there was a little bit of everything.”
Delle Donne also expressed how the rejection for her medical exemption “shocked” her and made her realize she needs to do more to raise Lyme awareness.
“I regret not having done more in the past to speak up about Lyme disease. It’s a terrifying thing to live with, yet not many people know much about it—and I take my fair share of responsibility for that. I could have been using my platform to help raise awareness, and to help improve understanding. I could have been helping so much more. I know that I need to help so much more. I know that I need to help us get to a place with Lyme disease where what happened to me this past week never happens to anyone else.”
Country Music Hall of Famer Kris Kristofferson ranks high among the most versatile of American talents. Kristofferson received a fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2004, which should have been a red flag to also test for Lyme. Because he has a long history of chronic muscle spasms, a common symptom of the illness, he may have been infected for anywhere from 14 to 30 years.
By 2016, Kris also had a sleep apnea diagnosis. He had painful knees that required annual shots and a pacemaker for cardiac arrhythmia (which can come from Lyme). For years, he took a daily handful of Advil for headaches—so much that he got anemic. At one point, he was also being treated for Alzheimer’s disease. A visit to an integrative doctor prompted tests sent to LabCorp and IGeneX, revealing he tested positive for Lyme disease.
All the while, Kristofferson’s wife, Lisa, was his fierce advocate. She couldn’t even get certain doctors to look at his blood test and agree it was positive. However, once his Lyme doctor clinically assessed him, they all seemed to agree finally. Kristofferson’s fibromyalgia symptoms, sleep apnea, and twitching disappeared when he was treated for the illness. He went back on the road and resumed doing all the things he loved.5
Bella and Yolanda Hadid
Yolanda Hadid of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills opened up about her serious struggle with Lyme disease and coinfection in 2015. She said she had lost the ability to read, write, or even watch TV. Despite an arduous struggle, Yolanda told People magazine in October 2019 that she “feels better than ever.”
She also stated that in the prior year, she was “really bad,” but “found a new frequency healing device, and it’s been amazing for me. It took away 90 percent of my symptoms. It helped with my joint pain, the exhaustion, the brain fog, all the symptoms that come with Lyme disease.”6
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star chronicles her battle with the illness in her 2017 book Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme Disease. In this memoir, Yolanda Hadid opens up about suffering from late-stage Lyme, calling it a disease that is an undeniable epidemic and more debilitating than anyone realizes. She also describes the skepticism and doubt cast on those who “appear” healthy, and the assumption that the suffering is not real, but in their heads.
Bella and Anwar Hadid, two of Yolanda’s children, have also been diagnosed with Lyme disease. Bella and her siblings spent their early childhood living on a horse ranch, where ticks likely bit them. Because of severe symptoms that made her unable to ride, Bella had to abandon her lifelong dream of a professional riding career.
Supermodel Bella talked about her health publicly, saying she was “exhausted all the time,” and it affected her memory. Some days she couldn’t get out of bed, and her brain would get “all foggy.” She called it a “dark time” and the “hardest time of my life.” Bella is intolerant of the antibiotics that are typically used to treat Lyme disease, so she takes an alternative medicine approach to treating it.
Bella Hadid was honored for her work raising awareness at the Global Lyme Alliance gala in October 2016. During her speech at the gala, she spoke candidly about the effects of her illness:
“Life isn’t always what it looks like on the outside, and the hardest part of this journey is to be judged by the way you look instead of the way you feel.”
Bella also added that she felt like her “teenage years were taken” from her. She dedicated her award to “all the teenagers out there that have really gone through what I’m going through and have suffered from this disease without an end in sight.”7
Hall & Oates is a rock duo with a plethora of No. 1 hits from the late 70s to 80s, including “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Kiss on My List,” “Maneater,” “Out of Touch,” “Private Eyes,” and “Rich Girl.” In all, they recorded 34 chart hits on the US Billboard Hot 100, seven RIAA platinum albums, and six RIAA gold albums. They were also named the most successful duo of the rock era by Billboard magazine.
In 2005, however, Hall & Oates had to cancel several performances when Daryl Hall experienced flu-like symptoms. Once diagnosed with Lyme disease and Ehrlichia (a coinfection), Hall said, “I remember thinking, ‘Okay, now I know what I have: I have Lyme disease! Huh, that doesn’t sound so serious; now I just need to get rid of it.’ Let me tell you… I had no idea.”8
Hall worked with a Lyme-literate doctor for treatment. He would intermittently take antibiotics for symptom flares, although oftentimes, he did fine with low dose herbal therapies. Now, Hall continually manages the disease and is “pretty much fine, except for occasional flare-ups.”
When questioned about why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), and other medical providers deny that chronic Lyme exists, Hall states: “It’s mystifying to me. When something is impossible to understand, then conspiracy theories crop up. And you start asking why; what is all this virulent opposition to the reality of chronic Lyme disease? And I don’t know what the truth of it is—why they deny it—but I can certainly tell you that it is hurting a lot of people. It is hurting a lot of doctors and it is hurting a lot of patients that should be treated properly. It’s a scandal, really.”9
Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter and fashion guru Ally has long battled with Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick as a seven-year-old child. An actress, artist, fashion designer, producer, writer, and Lyme disease survivor, she details her experiences in her 2016 memoir called Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy, and Almost Killed Me.
Hilfiger claims the illness “stole her childhood.” When she was bitten as a child, lab tests of the tick were inconclusive. However, many different symptoms developed. Reading became difficult. She had light sensitivity. However, the most aggravating symptoms were joint pain, nausea, and neurological pain.
In her memoir, Hilfiger describes her 10 years of misdiagnoses. She saw many different doctors and heard a lot of different diagnoses, including anxiety, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, growing pains, and rheumatoid arthritis. Hilfiger also discusses some ways she helped lessen the effects of the illness, such as essential oils, meditation, and support systems. 10
In a 2016 interview, she stated:
“I have my good days and my bad days, but overall they’re pretty good. I’m happy to be able to get out of bed everyday and be a functioning human being, a present mother and partner.”
Courtesy of ABC News
Famous singer Avril Lavigne recently stepped into the “Lymelight” with her heart-rending story about the consequences and destruction of her life by Lyme disease. After suffering a tick bite and developing the disease, she was bedridden for months and spent several years at home fighting her illness. She revealed that “I had to fight … I had doctors tell me I was crazy and they didn’t want to test me. I had to learn about it completely on my own.”
During her worst days with the illness, Lavigne was unable to stand, fulfill basic grooming functions, and barely able to breathe at times. Her illness kept her in bed for two years. At one low point, Lavigne shares that she “had accepted death and could feel my body shutting down.”11
After her diagnosis, she completely changed her diet and exercise routine. Lavigne cut out dairy, gluten, and sugar. She tried to do yoga, swim, or walk every day. She incorporated meditation into her daily routine as well.12
Her years-long battle came to a crescendo in 2018 with a letter written to her fans and new music to raise awareness about Lyme disease and the importance of prompt treatment. The letter is published on her website, which also contains a section that offers Lyme disease resources. The pop sensation also launched The Avril Lavigne Foundation, which supports individuals with Lyme disease, disabilities, and serious illnesses. Through programs and grants, the foundation provides education, encouragement, and funding for beneficiaries to follow their dreams, no matter their circumstances.
After Bieber revealed his Lyme diagnosis, Lavigne also posted on Instagram. She wrote:
“There are too many people that have this debilitating disease! People I love and care about and many friends and fans I have crossed paths with. To everyone affected by Lyme, I want to tell you that there is HOPE . . . I needed to tell my story and to be able to share my experiences with others. Lyme disease is in all 50 states in the US and in EVERY country in the world, except Antarctica. It is a global pandemic but NOT a global priority. I never want others to suffer the way that I did.”
Kelly Osbourne is a British actress, fashion designer, model, and singer, as well as the daughter of Ozzy Osbourne. She experienced debilitating symptoms for over a decade, including a seizure, before learning the source: Lyme disease.
In 2004, she was bit by a tick at her father’s birthday party. At the time, she thought nothing of it, but came to realize a decade later that it caused her life-altering symptoms. She saw doctor after doctor and the medications piled up. At one point, Osbourne finally told her family, “I can’t live like this anymore. I’m a vegetable.”
She made an appointment with an alternative health practitioner. She recalls, “For the first time, someone listened to me, and I got tested. The results were positive: I had stage III neurological Lyme disease. I was relieved to finally know what was going on.”
Osbourne flew to Germany for stem cell therapy. Of this experience, she explains:
“Rather than trying to kill off the disease with antibiotics, this treatment worked to strengthen my immune system so my body could fight off and get rid of the disease on its own, which is a much more complete and lasting cure.”
Looking back at her journey and all she had to overcome, Osbourne states, “I’ve learned to advocate for myself when it comes to my health, and I trust my intuition. If I think something is wrong, I refuse to let anyone dismiss it.”13
Parker Posey has had a storied career as a comedic and dramatic actress. She broke out with attention-demanding roles in Dazed and Confused and Party Girl. She displayed her infectious comic energy in ensemble casts, including those seen in A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and even Scream 3. Most recently, Posey has assumed the role of the villainous Dr. Smith in two seasons of the Lost in Space reboot.
However, back in 2009, Posey was forced to drop out of an off-Broadway show to deal with a Lyme disease diagnosis. After traditional antibiotics failed to help her heal, Posey treated the disease naturally. She shared her experience in the documentary film Rethinking Cancer:14
Fortunately, Posey made successful progress and defied pessimistic prognoses from her doctors through the use of various alternative treatment methods.
Shania Twain was a tour-de-force who dominated the country and pop charts in the 1990s and early 2000s. By 2004, she had contracted Lyme disease, which, sadly, led to issues with her vocal cords. Twain shared that she was bitten by a tick in 2003 when on tour in Norfolk, Virginia. Twain explains, “I was on tour, so I almost fell off the stage every night. I was very, very dizzy and didn’t know what was going on. It’s just one of those things you don’t suspect.”
It took Twain several years to discover that she had a neurological disorder of the vocal cords called dysphonia. In dysphonia, involuntary spasms in the muscles of the voice box (larynx) cause the voice to break, and have a tight, strangled, or strained sound. Spasmodic dysphonia can cause problems that range from trouble saying a word or two to being not able to speak at all. She attributes her issues to the Lyme bacteria and now warns others about the disease:15 16
“[Lyme] is very dangerous because you have a very short window to catch it and then treat it, and then even when you treat it, you could still very well be left with effects, which is what happened to me . . . It’s a debilitating disease and extremely dangerous. You can’t play around with it, so you’ve got to check yourself for ticks.”
In 2017, Twain launched a musical comeback and began advocating for Lyme awareness and support.
It was announced in March 2019 that Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver had been diagnosed with dementia. This came 28 years after Seaver first received a Lyme disease diagnosis. His family announced that, due to dementia, he had retired from public life.17
Seaver, the iconic star of the New York Mets in the 1960s and 70s, first learned he had Lyme disease in 1991. After the initial treatment, he appeared to be better. In 2012, he started experiencing flu-like symptoms and memory issues. After symptoms worsened, he received a diagnosis and treatment for the neurological form of the illness.
In 2013, Seaver told a New York Daily News interviewer:
“You caught me on a good day. In fact, a very good day because this is the fifth straight day I’ve felt really good. You have no idea what that means—to feel good, to feel normal, for five straight days.”
Seaver has reported experiencing brain fog and other memory issues as symptoms of the disease. However, the connection between his Lyme disease and dementia diagnosis is unclear. Researchers have found cases of Lyme disease and dementia to be rare, but it is possible for the illness to cause dementia-like symptoms.18 19
Lyme Disease Can Affect Anyone
As you can see, the symptoms of those suffering from Lyme disease experience vary. Still, the cause of the illness is the same: ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi and other coinfective pathogens. These are just 11 of the well-known people who have received Lyme diagnoses, and most of them have added their voices to increase awareness. They provide much-needed visibility for Lyme disease and advocate for better diagnosis, treatment, and overall support in the medical community.
If you have or suspect you have Lyme disease, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. No one is best served by remaining silent about this potentially life-changing chronic illness. Reach out to nearby Lyme-literate practitioners and get support from loved ones. To approach the disease holistically, you can also look into protocols designed to target Lyme disease.
- Centers for Disease and Prevention. “Principles of Epidemiology in Public Health Practice.” CDC.org. May 2012. Web.
- Horowitz, Richard and Phyllis Freeman. “Precision Medicine: The Role of the MSIDS Model in Defining, Diagnosing, and Treating Chronic Lyme Disease/Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome and Other Chronic Illness: Part 2.” Healthcare, vol. 6, no. 4. Nov. 2018. Web.
- Waddell, Lisa et al. “The Accuracy of Diagnostic Tests for Lyme Disease in Humans, A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of North American Research.” PloS One, vol. 11 no. 12. Dec. 2016. Web.
- Barr, John, and Sarah Spain. “Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne Says Medical Opt-Out Request Denied.” ESPN. July 2020. Web.
- Parish, Dana. “‘A Slow Slipping Away’—Kris Kristofferson’s Long-Undiagnosed Battle with Lyme Disease.” HuffPost. July 2016. Web.
- Jones, Alexis. “Yolanda Hadid Just Revealed Her Lyme Disease Is In Remission.” Women’s Health. Oct. 2019. Web.
- Bonner, Mehera. “What You Need to Know About Bella Hadid’s Lyme Disease Diagnosis.” Cosmopolitan. June 2018. Web.
- Stewart, Jenny. “The Healthline Interview: Daryl Hall.” Healthline. July 2017. Web.
- Parish, Dana. “‘It’s A Scandal’—Daryl Hall on Doctors Denying Chronic Lyme.” HuffPost. Dec. 2017. Web.
- “How Ally Hilfiger Survived and Thrived After Her Lyme Disease Diagnosis.” Health.com. May 2016. Web.
- Hosie, R. “Avril Lavigne Opens Up About Lyme Disease: I Had Accepted Death.” The Independent, Independent Print Limited. Sept. 2018. Web.
- “Avril Lavigne Opens Up About Her Struggle With Lyme Disease.” ABC News, ABC News Network. April 2015. Web.
- Blynn, Jamie. “Kelly Osbourne Opens Up About Near Fatal Lyme Disease Battle in New Book: I Was ‘Scared S–tless’.” US Magazine. April 2017. Web.
- Milne, Carly. “Celebrities Who’ve Struggled with Lyme Disease.” Yahoo! Finance. Aug. 2017. Web.
- Stefano, Angela. “Shania Twain Says Lyme Disease Caused Her Dysphonia.” The Boot. April 2017. Web.
- Tschinkel, Arielle. “15 Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Battling Lyme Disease.” Insider. Jan. 2020. Web.
- “TOUCHED BY LYME: Baseball’s Tom Seaver Diagnosed with Dementia.” LymeDisease.org. March 2019. Web.
- Blanc, Frederic et al. “Lyme Neuroborreliosis and Dementia.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 1087-1093. 2014. Web.
- Kristoferitsch, Wolfgang et al. “Secondary Dementia Due to Lyme Neuroborreliosis.” Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift, vol. 130, no. 15-16, pp. 468-478. Aug. 2018. Web.