Cher ‘saved Val Kilmer’s life’ in cancer battle: Their extraordinary enduring love

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Top Gun sequel Maverick hits cinemas next week and features the return of the ace pilot’s nemesis Iceman. Although Kilmer remains too frail to travel, Tom Cruise has been on the red carpet  for the royal premiere in London, sharing his joy at working with his co-star again: “He’s an actor that I greatly admire, so it was wonderful.” Yet, seven years ago, Kilmer was battling Stage 4 throat cancer and would ultimately lose most of his voice. In 2015, it was Cher who came to his rescue, and the former lovers have spoken about how their extraordinary love has endured.

Last year, Cher declared: “If he called, it wouldn’t matter where I was, I would go.”

In the early 1980s they were one of Hollywood’s hottest couples by virtue of her music superstardom, but both were on the cusp of major film careers. Cher would star in Silkwood in 1983, followed by Mask, The Witches of Eastwick, Moonstruck and Mermaids. Kilmer would get his big break in 1984’s spoof Top Secret! before 1986’s Top Gun made him a global star.

When they met in 1981, he was 22 to her 36. He had resisted an introduction, recalling: “I saw Cher as a less-than-fascinating character out of the gossip rags. I was not motivated to meet her, not out of snobbery but simply because I was sure we had nothing in common.”

However, their physical chemistry was potent, with Cher recalling after their first kiss: “I thought my head would shoot right off my body. I had to catch my breath.”

They called each other Sid and Ethel, he bonded with her children Chastity (now Chaz) and Elijah Blue with spontaneous painting days and the gift of a human scalp!

Neither can name precisely when the relationship truly ended, but their bond remained strong. Kilmer collapsed in 2015 in a pool of blood and later said: “I presumed this was the day of my death.” He was rushed to hospital and had an emergency tracheotomy, but it was just the start of two nightmare years.

When he was diagnosed with throat cancer and struggling to pay the bills, the star described in his biography I’m Your Huckleberry how ”Cher stepped in and stepped up… Once Cher works her way inside your head and heart, she never leaves.”

Cher, herself, recalled: “He was at my house a lot of the time he was sick. He was brave the whole time. I saw how sick he was.”

Yet, both also described a classic moment, in the darkest of times, when their senses of humour could not be erased.

Cher had Kilmer treated at the prestigious David Geffen School of Medicine. The actor is now cancer-free, but the accompanying surgeries cut through his throat and windpipe and make it difficult for him to speak. He covers the scars in public with scarves and collars.

2021 documentary Val told his remarkable story, with his son Jack voicing his thoughts. It is expected Jack will also provide the voice for his father’s upcoming appearance in Top Gun: Maverick, although the actor has also helped pioneer new AI technology.

Kilmer made a video with ground-breaking technology pioneers, Sonantic, explaining their work: “I was struck by throat cancer. After being treated, my voice as I knew it was taken away from me. People around me struggle to understand me when I’m talking. But despite all that I still feel I’m the exact same person.”

The company has taken old voice recordings and fashioned an AI version that allows the actor to speak freely and clearly.

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