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5 Celebrities With Type 1 Diabetes: Singers, Athletes, and More

Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on June 21, 2024

People living with type 1 diabetes know that this disease requires ongoing monitoring and lifestyle adjustments that can sometimes be challenging. But with healthy habits and proper treatment, people with type 1 diabetes can live full and productive lives. It can be especially inspiring to know that many highly accomplished celebrities — Hollywood stars, elite athletes, public servants, and many others — have shown the world that even with type 1 diabetes, the sky’s the limit.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. The condition is treated with insulin therapy. Without insulin, people with type 1 develop high blood sugar and are at risk of serious complications such as heart disease, kidney damage, eye damage, nerve damage, and problems during pregnancy. Type 1 diabetes is commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. Although both type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause high blood sugar, their causes and mechanisms are different.

Here are five famous people who have shared their experiences of living with type 1 diabetes. These celebrity role models have dedicated time to advocacy, brought more awareness to this disease, and encouraged others in the diabetes community to follow their dreams and live their best lives.

1. Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams (CC BY 2.0/boboroshi)

Widely known as an actress, singer, and dancer, Vanessa Williams has been seen on Broadway, in television shows such as “Ugly Betty,” and in movies. She’s been nominated for numerous Grammy Awards with hits such as her No. 1 song, “Save the Best for Last.” Williams was also the first Black woman to win the Miss America competition.

She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult, which isn’t typical. Although Williams has been private about the details of her own struggles, her grandmother died from complications of the disease, her father was a kidney organ donor, and type 1 diabetes runs in her family. Williams has supported diabetes research and charities, including advocacy for African Americans with kidney disease.

2. Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayer

As the first Latina and only the third woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor is a source of inspiration for many. Sotomayor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a young child. She grew up in public housing in the Bronx in New York City, then went on to graduate with honors from both Princeton University and Yale Law School.

Sotomayor has openly talked about the shame she experienced giving herself injections of insulin and once being called a drug addict in a restaurant bathroom. Sotomayer’s response: “It’s the medicine that keeps me alive. If you don’t know why someone’s doing something, just ask them. Don’t assume the worst in people.”

Sotomayor has written numerous books on top of her demanding role on the Supreme Court. In 2019, drawing on her own experiences with type 1 diabetes, she published the children’s book “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You” to help children with special needs feel good about themselves.

3. Nick Jonas

Nick Jonas (CC BY 3.0/Georges Biard)

Pop star Nick Jonas rose to fame as a member of the Jonas Brothers. He’s also reached huge audiences with his starring role on the Disney Channel TV show “Camp Rock” and a sitcom based on his family, among other TV and movie roles. Jonas got his diabetes diagnosis at age 13 and has used his popularity to increase diabetes awareness.

Jonas regularly speaks out about diabetes to his 35 million social media followers. He also promoted Dexcom’s continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices in a prominent Super Bowl commercial. CGM is a technology that helps people with type 1 diabetes monitor their blood sugar levels more precisely and pain-free, without any pin-pricking. Jonas is also a board member of the nonprofit organization Beyond Type 1.

“My hope,” Jonas told Rolling Stone, “is that there are people out there who will feel a little less alone in their journey, by way of seeing diabetes spoken about on a stage as big as the Super Bowl.”

4. Gary Hall Jr.

In 1996, Olympic champion Gary Hall Jr. won two silver medals for the United States in swimming, but then his type 1 diabetes took a toll. He experienced debilitating fatigue and needed to slow down considerably.

“The diagnosis came out of nowhere, there was no family history. I was shell-shocked,” Hall said in an interview with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “It eventually caught up with me and I collapsed.”

Although some of his doctors warned him that he would likely never compete in swimming again, Hall worked hard to manage his condition and went on to win a total of 10 Olympic medals, including five gold. He’s believed to be the first athlete with type 1 diabetes to compete in the Olympics.

Hall speaks and travels for Breakthrough T1D (formerly JDRF) and advocates for new research and therapies to treat type 1 diabetes. “There’s a lot of people out there, and a lot of them are at a loss. People think it’s the end of their sporting career,” he told the IOC. “I have it, and I’ve been able to compete at the world’s highest level. If I can do that, then it’s OK for an 8-year-old soccer player or an athlete at a high-school state meet.”

5. Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler (CC BY 3.0/Mike Shadle)

NFL quarterback Jay Cutler was playing with the Denver Broncos when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008. At the time, he was experiencing severe weight loss, greatly elevated blood sugar levels, and other concerning type 1 diabetes symptoms. To continue playing football, he wore an insulin pump. Eventually, Cutler switched to insulin injections and, with a considerable change in his diet, regained his health.

The record-breaking star quarterback went on to play for the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins before retiring from football. Cutler is a visible advocate for people with type 1 diabetes. For example, he teamed up with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, which donated $1,000 for each of Cutler’s touchdowns to the American Diabetes Association’s camp scholarship program.

“I was affected at 24, and I was an adult and I was able to deal with it,” Cutler said in an interview with Larry King. “It’s hard enough growing up as a kid. To throw diabetes on top of it, it’s got to be tough, so we try to help as many kids as possible and get them through that process.”

Many Other Celebrities Have Type 1 Diabetes

Numerous celebrities with type 1 diabetes have worked to raise awareness about the disease by supporting research and programs that help improve quality of life for people living with type 1 diabetes.

Actors Halle Berry, Victor Garber, and Mary Tyler Moore; ”American Idol” contestant Elliott Yamin; Bret Michaels, lead singer of the band Poison; and race car driver Ryan Reed are just some of many celebrities who’ve been outspoken about their experiences with type 1 diabetes and worked to help others live better with this challenging condition.

Posted on June 21, 2024
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Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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