Val Kilmer Explains Why He Got Chemo for His Cancer Despite It Being Against His Religious Beliefs

Val Kilmer
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

The actor is a Christian Scientist, who initially planned to work with a practitioner to heal himself.

Val Kilmer's kids were the sole reason behind his decision to seek traditional cancer treatment. In an interview with The New York Times, the 60-year-old actor discusses how he initially planned to treat his throat cancer through his Christian Science faith. That plan changed, though, due to his kids, Jack, 24, and Mercedes, 28, whom he shares with his ex-wife, Joanne Whalley. 

In Kilmer's faith, his diagnosis is rather described as the "suggestion of throat cancer," which is "the idea is rather than say I have it or possess it, there is a claim, there’s a suggestion that this is a fact."

Due to that classification, Kilmer believed he would find the cure by working with his practitioner, Christian Science’s version of a spiritual adviser. Throughout that work, Kilmer would relocate and pray his fear away so that his body would no longer "manifest outwardly what can be diagnosed as a malady."

His kids, who are not Christian Scientists, protested that plan, though, and so Kilmer relented.

"I just didn’t want to experience their fear, which was profound," Kilmer says. "I would’ve had to go away, and I just didn’t want to be without them."

What followed was surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which left him with a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube. Though Kilmer's doctors consider his treatments a success, the actor thinks it's his faith and prayer that cured him.

"That’s from radiation and chemotherapy. It’s not from cancer," he says of his tracheostomy tube. "That 'treatment' caused my suffering."

Throughout his treatment, Kilmer never feared death because dying doesn't mean the same thing in the Christian Science faith, rather a person who dies in the traditional sense simply isn't gone, they just aren't able to be perceived by people anymore.

"Someone comes up to you and says you have only four months to live, and the concept of time is a human one. So, if you describe the divine concept of time, there is no time," he explains.

As for the time in 2016 when Michael Douglas discussed Kilmer's cancer battle and Kilmer denied that such a battle existed, the Top Gun actor said his statement was because he "didn't have cancer."

"They said I was denying that I had cancer, and when they asked me, I didn’t have cancer," he says. "It was a bit like do you have a broken bone? And if you broke it in high school, you would say no. Suddenly suspect. I have had a bone broken, but why are you being so aggressive? I had a bone broken. It was broken in my leg. ‘Oh, so you have a broken leg.’ ‘No, no, I don’t,’ I say. I did have a broken leg."

Prior to his health struggles, Kilmer often faced criticism for his on-set behavior, including being described as "psychotic" by his Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher -- he was later replaced in the role by George Clooney -- and accused of touching a lit cigarette to a crew member's sideburn, a claim he denies as "madness."

"In an unflinching attempt to empower directors, actors and other collaborators to honor the truth and essence of each project, an attempt to breathe Suzukian life into a myriad of Hollywood moments, I had been deemed difficult and alienated the head of every major studio," Kilmer writes in his memoir, I'm Your Huckleberry, according to the Times

“Everyone has to work out their own salvation," he tells the outlet. "How to live and by what morality, and I found that the part that I feel bad about is hurting somebody in the process."

Following that point in his life and amid his ongoing health issues, Kilmer says that he "could not possibly be in a better place for attracting better and better roles."

"If an actor is fortunate enough to do so, to steer their own course and own their own material, they control their own destiny, creating their own products," Kilmer says.

In addition to the five projects he's filmed this year, Kilmer's gearing up for the release of Top Gun: Maverick, the long anticipated sequel to the 1986 flick, in which he'll reprise his role of Iceman. Though he won't spill details on the film, which is set to be released in December, Kilmer gave one clue about his onscreen relationship with Tom Cruise's character, Maverick, who was his enemy in the original movie.

"We’re friends," he said. "This time we’re friends."