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It’s hard to believe now, as I write this, but just two months ago, when we were allowed to roam free, when we could board planes and alight from them and wander into rental cars and check into hotels — when we could chase down and replenish the beauty and wonder our very cells need to survive — I went to Los Angeles, where I was asked this question by Val Kilmer:
“Do you think South by Southwest will be canceled?”
But Val Kilmer no longer sounds like Val Kilmer, the movie star of the ’80s and ’90s who has mostly vanished from screens. He hasn’t since his tracheostomy. He can still squeeze air up through his windpipe, however, and past the hole that was cut into his throat and the tracheostomy tube, in a way that makes him somewhat understood — not very, but somewhat. The sound is something between a squeak and a voiceless roar. He says the fact that I can understand him is a result of the endless vocal exercises that he was trained to do when he went to Juilliard after high school, that he was taught to work his voice “like it was a trumpet.” He hated the authoritarian rule at Juilliard while he was there; he hated those stupid vocal exercises. Now look at him, still using his most beloved instrument when really, by all rights, it should be useless. See how it all turned out for the best?
All Val Kilmer’s stories are like that, told with that same dash of preordained kismet. He was traveling in Africa in 1994 when he decided to spend a morning exploring a bat cave; later that day, literally seriously that day, he was inspired to call his agent, who had been trying to contact Kilmer for weeks to see if he was interested in playing the role of Batman, now that Michael Keaton was hanging it up. Another story: In the days before he set eyes for the first time on his (now ex-) wife, Joanne Whalley, he dreamed that he met the woman he was destined for and woke up and immediately wrote a poem called, “We’ve Just Met but Marry Me Please.” Then right after that, he went to London, and while he was there, he saw a play, and Whalley was in it. He was so taken with her that he followed her to the pub after-party just so he could look at her. This was crazy even for him, so he made no move. But two years later, in 1987, she would be randomly coincidentally serendipitously cast opposite him in “Willow,” and they would end up married. So yes, he can talk, and it’s such a miracle that he has these abilities, because if you have enough faith, you’ll see how every part of your life is just a piece of a bigger part of your life, and nothing is an accident, and everything is good.
We were in his office at HelMel, an office space/art gallery/artists’ studio/retail museum for Val Kilmer’s movie career that takes up several storefronts and more than half the block of Melrose Avenue between Edgemont Street and Heliotrope Drive in Hollywood. Officially, according to Brad Koepenick, his childhood friend and adult business associate, who was in the room to help me better understand Kilmer, HelMel’s mission is to serve as “a fun, sacred space where eclectic artists gather with novices to collaborate, and through new technology, inspire change and spark giving in our local underserved community.”
Of its storefronts: One is a traditional art gallery. Another is a dark window display with three black cubes that say GOD stenciled in white paint, behind which is an inventory of merch from Kilmer’s long and storied movie career — socks that featured his “Tombstone” character, Doc Holliday, and Jim Morrison coasters from his role in “The Doors” and some paintings that Kilmer himself created, some of which are about his film career (a rendering of his “Top Gun” character, Iceman, with the word “LOVE” stenciled across it) and some that aren’t (a hummingbird in a forest).
The final storefront is a door that leads to the Willy Wonka core of HelMel. Inside there’s a podcasting studio, a cafe area and a screening room. HelMel also houses a foundation Val and Koepenick created called TwainMania, which aims to send its Mark Twain curriculum into schools. Twice a week, high school students from South Central Los Angeles practice “Hamlet” and other plays there as part of a program called Inner City Shakespeare. HelMel started holding events last February: a screening of “Tombstone,” an Echo in the Canyon concert. It is the creative incubator of Kilmer’s dreams — the fruition of a vision he had always hoped his 6,000-acre New Mexico ranch would be before he lost most of it in the 2008 housing crash. “The idea is to create kind of a life that’s active,” Kilmer told me. “It’s active. It’s alive. I want the feel of it being alive. You feel the electricity.”
He sat at his desk. Behind him was a replica of a painting he had sold to Robert Downey Jr. and, on the other side, a maybe two-foot-tall Batman figure with a Mark Twain head. Elsewhere were Apple computers from the 1980s and 1990s dipped in glossy red paint, a tumbleweed bathed in gold paint. There was a box of newly shipped hardcovers of his new memoir, “I’m Your Huckleberry,” which debuted on the best-seller list in April, a brooding photo of the Val Kilmer of your 1990s matinee memories on its cover.
On the walls were more of his paintings, swishes of paint and resin and oil (and sometimes spray paint) on sheets of repurposed aluminum. He makes them by swirling around the chemicals and paint until they look like an emotion or an element to him, at which point he adds a photograph, solidifying his theory into fact. I stood and admired a rectangle of blue-gray haze that he had determined looked like ocean waves, and so he had added photos of swimmers, diving into the waves, one after another.
Of all the projects going on inside the studio at that minute, it was a short animated film about Mark Twain that concerned him most. In it, Mark Twain falls asleep and dreams of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, resulting in his waking up and realizing that Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science — Val Kilmer is a lifelong Christian Scientist — was correct about God’s eminent perfection and the theories of Mrs. Eddy, as Kilmer calls her, about God’s capacity to heal. Kilmer loves a lot of things, but two of the tops are Mark Twain and Mrs. Eddy.
Kilmer wanted to debut the short at South by Southwest in a few weeks. It was early March. There were rumors that festivals and concerts and even air travel might be canceled. Kilmer believed that even if he and his team couldn’t take an airplane, they could just drive to Austin and still screen “Mark Twain Dreams of the Resurrection” and, I don’t know, will the festival into existence. He was undaunted by all the signs and portents that made it feel as if the world were dropping to its knees; he believed if he could get the film done and over to Austin, the rest would take care of itself. So when he asked me if South by Southwest would be canceled, I told him I didn’t know. The surgeon general had started asking the public not to hoard surgical masks, and just that morning, Los Angeles had declared a state of emergency.
“You don’t think we will be going to Cannes?” Kilmer asked. “How about the Olympics? The Olympics has never been canceled except in time of world war.” You can’t cancel the world, right? Bad things happen, but you still need art.
And I thought: Right? Right! You still need art. You still need forward momentum. You still need to believe that all your effort wasn’t for nothing, that we could — we will — survive a dark moment in history and that when that happens, we won’t be left without the things that made those moments decipherable and meaningful and therefore tolerable.
The world outside had seemed to be getting so, so bad for so, so long, and this was the first whiff of overarching hope and positivity that I’d witnessed in I couldn’t remember how many months or years now — so much so that I almost couldn’t identify it when I saw it. The last glowing embers of hope coming from Val Kilmer? The movie hunk of my youth, who disappeared unceremoniously and now presented with an entirely different appearance and a bizarre accounting of where he’d been? But there was something familiar about it, like a faint knocking that came from inside me: It was the special kind of optimism that maybe only the faithful have, the enduring belief that some force will come along and save us from the centrifuge of despair we’ve found ourselves in. When is the last time you saw that up close?
Before you can understand the story of what happened to Val Kilmer, you have to determine for yourself who he was in the first place. Trying to compare him to any movie star working either now or then will fry your mental circuit board: He was an upwardly mobile conventional movie star; he was equally a fringe weirdo who would soon disappear.
His first movie, “Top Secret!” (1984), about a rock star in East Berlin, was the follow-up to “Airplane!” by its creative team, and it was so funny, and such a strange thing to see this extraordinarily handsome young kid — a jaw like the sharp-cut bottom half of a stop sign, that true-Swede golden hair, a Cupid’s bow that lays in shadow of the plump convex swoop of his upper lip — who also seemed to be in on the joke. The ’80s were a time when a handsome young man with blond hair was mostly the butt of it.
He’d been on the road to something slightly more, say, classical when he was at Juilliard. He starred in “Orestes” and in “The Wood Demon.” He wrote a play with his classmates called “How It All Began,” which went on to run for a month at the Public Theater after Joe Papp himself saw it at the school. He starred in “Slab Boys” with Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon. He did “As You Like It” in Minneapolis with Patti LuPone.
But once Hollywood got a look at him, he was on too-fast a conveyor belt to safely step off. The success of “Top Secret!” begat a somewhat-starring role in “Real Genius,” meaning that his Chris Knight, the apathetic, irresistible prodigy who helps something laser chemical transmitter radio something, is the guy on the poster, but he’s not the character with the clearest narrative arc; he’s more of a wise fool in the Shakespeare tradition. Another hit.
Then in 1986 came “Top Gun,” and after that, everyone knew who Val Kilmer was. Because how could you not? Iceman, the fighter pilot Tom Cruise’s Maverick is trying to best for the “best of the best” of the best position, has maybe 17 words in the whole movie, but it is there that you can see Val Kilmer’s greatest gift, which is to make something out of nothing — to breathe real life into a character who was only there to set the volleyball so that Maverick could spike it.
If you asked me then what beguiled me about Val Kilmer, I wouldn’t have had the words for it. Instead, I would have pictured a man without a shirt (I am still hard-pressed to picture young Val Kilmer in a regular shirt), but it wasn’t his body that stuck with me when the lights came on. No, it was his awesome physicality, him spinning that volleyball on his finger, him offering the most fraught ’80s masculinity-soaked condolences ever when Maverick’s radar intercept officer, Goose, buys it during a flight exercise — there was something in his immense focus and his full-bodied commitment to just plain Being-in-the-Scene that took my breath away. I read somewhere that Kilmer was so dedicated to inhabiting the role that he created Team Iceman and Team Maverick factions in the “Top Gun” movie cast. What I also remember is Iceman’s snapping his gum with his mighty jaw in nonresponse to Maverick’s admitting that yes, he’s dangerous. In that jaw snap — which is my absolute favorite GIF to send to people — there’s so much more than a weird way to end a conversation: It’s arrogance and pathos, frustration and whatever the emotion is where you know that laughing at someone will hurt them more than insulting them.
The next few jobs came relatively quickly: the crazed, greedy, delightful Madmartigan in “Willow,” shouting epithets at the hero of the story with a vitality and electricity that makes you somehow root for him; “Kill Me Again,” in which he plays a dumb investigator who becomes the mark of a con woman (played by his wife at the time, Joanne Whalley); “The Doors,” an Oliver Stone movie made extremely watchable by Kilmer’s Method performance as Jim Morrison, so Methody and deep in the role, it’s not so long into any kind of rewatching of that movie that I realize I can no longer remember what real Jim Morrison sounded or looked like. Then the beloved “Tombstone,” in which he once again went deep Method on the tubercular dentist, Doc Holliday, sweaty and yellow, gasping for breath through his puffs on his cigarette.
It was around this time that both Kilmer and his viewing public ran into a problem. If you’re good at acting, and you’re superhunky, and you look good with your shirt off and also are willing to take it off, you are an excellent candidate for a promotion, and so Val Kilmer leveled up. Pretty soon, he was cast as pure leads of what were or were designed to be blockbusters: “Batman Forever,” “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “The Saint.”
He didn’t do badly in any of those roles, exactly. It’s more as if all the elements were there, but they couldn’t unite to make a real person — the whole was less than the sum of its parts. His Jack Andrews in “Kill Me Again” is supposed to be some kind of Everyman, but he’s really the absence of a person, a body without a soul. In “Thunderheart,” Kilmer plays a regular-guy F.B.I. agent with some Native American lineage, and I couldn’t really get through the rest. In “Batman Forever,” he barely moves his face, and well, here were the reviews: Janet Maslin in this newspaper said Kilmer was “hamstrung by the straight-man aspects of the role,” while Roger Ebert raved that he was “completely acceptable.”
There came reports of problems on sets — that he was complaining constantly and making impossible demands; that he was rude to his co-stars and stayed in character all the time, never bothering with even small courtesies to the other people on set. That he fought with Oliver Stone about glorifying substance abuse in a movie that was literally about Jim Morrison; that Kilmer, committed to the Method even through casting, became too aggressive with a woman during an audition in front of Stone and the casting director as he became swept up in an emotionally charged moment. (The incident resulted in a settlement, though he maintains it was the actress who attacked him, and the casting director has said that both actors were physical with each other in the heat of this moment.) Joel Schumacher called him “psychotic” in an interview after directing him in “Batman Forever,” whose sequels Kilmer was supposed to star in. There are several different versions of why George Clooney replaced him — Kilmer says it was because of scheduling difficulties with the other movie he had a contract for, “The Saint” — but one factor was surely this assessment by its director. Multiple sources have claimed that on the set of “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” Kilmer touched his lit cigarette to a crew member’s sideburn. (He claims this was an accident that resulted from the cinematographer’s asking him to blow smoke from off camera very close to where a member of the camera crew was standing. “What kind of person would singe a fellow worker he spends 15 hours a day with, often less than a foot apart? Madness.”)
This all begins to explain why it’s hard to make sense of who exactly Val Kilmer was. His whole thing is telling stories, but at this point he didn’t yet know which story he was telling.
He can put it all together now far better than he ever could back then. He’d had his pick of roles; he was being offered lucrative franchises. His talent was in doubt by absolutely no one. His gift was both so overt and so subtle that he was the most memorable part of the movies he merely supported. And yet suddenly he was radioactive.
He didn’t know how to handle what was happening to him. He’d gotten into acting because he wanted to perform serious roles, but the bigger they came, the more empty and cavernous too.
“It was all silly to me,” he said to me in his office. “I’d been preparing to do ‘Hamlet’ for 10 years.”
He always thought of himself as a character actor. He could do “a hundred different voices” and a million different impressions. “I would’ve loved to have been on ‘Saturday Night Live’ as a regular,” Kilmer said. “Fame wasn’t my priority, and I had it.”
If you read his press around the time of “Batman,” all those interviews are mostly just him complaining about the suit; he liked to say it was “a battering experience” because he loves wordplay. In interviews, he brought up Tom Cruise often, particularly his inclination for movies where instead of running from their oiled, volleyball-playing forms of yesterday, Cruise ran back toward them.
“I have very definitely had a different kind of career than Tom. You never know if a job has commercial success written all over it. I just think life’s too short to worry about that.” — The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 31, 1993
“I have nothing against Tom Cruise, but he must have a large capacity to deal with the business side of movies.” — Details, June 1995
Interviewer: “How about Tom Cruise. You make fun of him sometimes?”
Kilmer: “You can’t make fun of Tom Cruise. Poor thing.” — Interview, March 24, 2011
Maybe he was jealous that Cruise was getting all those leads. Maybe he really couldn’t take the leading-man pressure. Maybe he was burned out already from all that Methoding. But that doesn’t seem right. The burnout theory ignores that he was still doing smaller roles on the side in the same magnetic way he had before: his Elvis-inspired cameo in “True Romance,” a movie in which he shines in a tiny role where they don’t even show his face; his bank robber in “Heat.” Forget that amazing shootout sequence that everyone talks about; the movie’s most mesmerizing moment is the 40-second microscene in which he watches a clerk verify that his fake license is real.
No, the problem was that he had been trained to inhabit any role he could find himself in; he just couldn’t find himself in a normie, and by the time Kilmer came online as a movie star, normie roles were all there were, the ’90s standard-issue regular guy in extraordinary circumstances. Kilmer’s greatest roles were always supporting characters. The roles of troubled men with broken souls went to the other guys because who would believe that a guy who looked like him had real troubles or a broken soul?
But he couldn’t reverse course and bow out, either. By then, he had been seduced by a lifestyle. Look at his face in a tabloid photo of him and Cher circa 1984. Look at the pride; look how much he enjoyed being on Cher’s arm. It reminds him of something he heard once: “God wants us to walk, but the devil sends a limo.” He was invited to go to Toga by Tadashi Suzuki, whom he calls “the Japanese Stanislavski,” but he turned it down. He didn’t want to say yes to Hollywood, but look at that picture again: How could you say no?
By the time he realized how miserable he was, it was too late. He tried to supplement these movies with other artistic endeavors that nourished his soul. He began working on a documentary about nuclear disarmament in 1983, when he was doing “Real Genius.” When he was filming “Wonderland” in 2003, as the porn star John Holmes, he holed up with Ali Alborzi, who had been a protégé of Kilmer’s friend the wildlife photographer Peter Beard, to photograph the set and then make collages of the photographs and pages from the film’s script all over the walls of the Chateau Marmont, and also spill blood all over them, a complex art project I don’t fully understand.
He took the roles, always imagining that when he had enough money, he could get out with enough to support both that giant Santa Fe ranch, with its animals and staff, and the artists he wanted to invite to it. “I was gambling with being able to maintain the status, and I would’ve won my gamble, except for 2008.” Not only did he lose his status in Hollywood, but the one spoil he escaped with, his ranch, lost half its value, and he was forced to sell most of it away. “I just lost my home like a million other people. It was pretty awful.”
His casting problem was solved for him when no one wanted to work with him anymore. The roles went to people who, presumably, were not known for unkindness toward movie crews; the phone stopped ringing. In his book, he sums up this period like this: “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.”
He says this in an attempt not to apologize (clearly) but to make clear why he behaved the way he did. “Everyone has to work out their own salvation,” he told me. “How to live and by what morality, and I found that the part that I feel bad about is hurting somebody in the process.”
He remembered a story from his time as Batman. One day he was filming and about to take off the Batsuit when Warren Buffett and his grandkids came by. They wanted to see Batman, so Kilmer stuck around in the suit, but they didn’t want to talk to him. They wanted to try on the mask and ride in the Batmobile. He understood then that Batman isn’t meant to be a real guy. Batman is meant to be so anonymous that the person who is looking at him can see himself in him. “That’s why it’s so easy to have five or six Batmans,” he says now. “It’s not about Batman. There is no Batman.” And so what kind of thing is that to play, a person whose job is to be as nonspecific as possible. He looked good in the Batsuit, but wearing it was torture. When he took it off, he was finally free.
See what he did there? See how it all worked out? That’s a pretty happy ending to a sad story. The lesson here is Val Kilmer’s perpetual lesson, that if you have enough faith — if you can take the long view and remember that things will work out — destiny takes over. I say that to prepare you for the story of what happened to his body, because if you think that turning the story of a blown-up career into a best-case scenario is impressive, wait till you see what the Val Kilmer story-optimizer does with cancer. So:
By 2014, he was living a life he loved. He was no longer under contract for franchises he couldn’t put his heart into. He had some money, he had a place in Malibu, his kids nearby, and he could finally do what he wanted.
He began to pick the projects that mattered to him. It so happens that the animated short “Mark Twain Dreams of the Resurrection” is not the first movie Kilmer has made about Mark Twain. It’s not even the second, and I’ve heard there’s an additional screenplay for a feature-length script out there, too. But the main Mark Twain event is a film called “Citizen Twain,” and it was conceived as a live performance in which Val Kilmer dresses up as Mark Twain and does Mark Twain- and Christian Science-related stand-up comedy. Take a minute with that sentence. I went to see “Citizen Twain” one rainy Friday night at the College of Staten Island, a half-filled theater, which I remember a little like a fever dream. There’s not a lot of marketing copy that can prepare you for its strangeness, and also its elaborateness, and also its sincerity, and also the delightful warmth of Val Kilmer, whom you will never see happier than when he is presenting this film of his — though it started out as a half-filmed, half-live performance, it is now, in light of his vocal condition, a totally filmed performance that Kilmer merely introduces.
The subjects of “Citizen Twain” range from sarsaparilla to congressional representatives being idiots, from Mark Twain quotes to Mrs. Eddy quotes to quotes Val Kilmer only wishes either of them had said. Here he was, using his celebrity and his talent, along with some heavy rubber prosthetics — Mark Twain was many things, but he was not a person who looked like Val Kilmer — to finally do something he wanted, which was to work out for himself the relationship of two people he absolutely worshiped but who were at odds in almost every way. Samuel Clemens was a Christian and a rational man who seemed fairly appalled at Mrs. Eddy’s interpretation of the Bible and its assumptions that healing from illness was something resulting from prayer, rather than medical treatment. He wrote a book about it called “Christian Science,” in which he clearly mocks all of it. But Kilmer believes he did this only because he was so drawn to it. With each project, Kilmer gets a little closer to making the universe conform a little bit more to what he wishes it were: a place where the two historical figures he loves most, Mark Twain and Mrs. Eddy, are finally no longer polar opposites but magnetically aligned.
Val Kilmer can’t remember when it was that Mark Twain first re-entered his life. And he certainly doesn’t know when he first realized that his life’s work would be about trying to meld the visions of Mark Twain and Mrs. Eddy into one. And he certainly can’t remember the year he started having symptoms of what other people (the ones with medical degrees who evaluated him) called throat cancer. Partly this is because he gets tired when he talks now, but mostly it’s because it’s hard to track time and mark space when you don’t believe in them.
As near as I can tell, in 2014, as he was touring with “Citizen Twain,” Kilmer found himself in Nashville with a big lump in his throat. He was having a hard time swallowing. He canceled the show. He’d been having symptoms for a while and had woken up in a pool of his own blood a time or two back in Malibu. A doctor eventually told him it was throat cancer, or as Kilmer told me Christian Science calls it, the “suggestion of throat cancer.” Meaning that in Christian Science, “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.”
He knew the cure for him would be to work with his practitioner, Christian Science’s version of a spiritual adviser, to pray his fear away so that his body would no longer “manifest outwardly what can be diagnosed as a malady.” Meaning it’s not really cancer. It’s just his fear expressing itself — think of what he’d just been through losing all his land, reckoning with his career. He had to go away and pray to relocate his faith within himself.
But it wasn’t so easy. He has kids, a grown son and daughter he had while he was still married to Joanne Whalley, and they’re not Christian Scientists. His family couldn’t let him go heal by himself; cancer, as they know it, is a thing that spreads. He relented. “I just didn’t want to experience their fear, which was profound,” Kilmer said. “I would’ve had to go away, and I just didn’t want to be without them.”
He had surgery that year, which was followed by chemotherapy and radiation “that zapped my whole throat, and it’s still dry as a bone” and left him with the tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube. Shortly after, Kilmer was spotted wearing scarves, his head slightly askew, as if his neck couldn’t properly hold it up. In 2016, Michael Douglas was doing a press junket after his own bout of cancer, and a reporter asked him about “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Douglas mentioned that Kilmer, his co-star in that movie, was suffering from the same illness he had suffered from. Kilmer denied this, posting on Facebook that he had “no cancer whatsoever.”
I asked Kilmer why he said he didn’t have cancer, when it seemed to me, judging by the fact that the thing he described is absolutely the treatment for throat cancer, that he perhaps definitely did.
He said, “Because I didn’t have cancer.”
I blinked a few times. “They said I was denying that I had cancer, and when they asked me, I didn’t have cancer. It was a bit like do you have a broken bone? And if you broke it in high school, you would say no.” He continued: “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.”
It’s not exactly mind over matter. It is, he tells me, the lost art of Christian healing. “ ‘There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,’” he said, quoting Mrs. Eddy quoting “Hamlet.” “I prayed, and that was my form of treatment.” The doctors did those other things, but it was the prayer that worked, he’s sure. He is no longer suffering from cancer, he said. Or rather, he never was. No, he’s suffering from something quite different. He pointed at his trach tube. “That’s from radiation and chemotherapy. It’s not from cancer.” His prayer, he said, was the true treatment; the medical response to cancer was the thing that hurt him. “That ‘treatment’ caused my suffering.”
The next day, Kilmer sat at a conference table in HelMel and opened up a red Igloo cooler and began to mix liquids together from various canisters before putting them into a syringe. He opened his shirt, uncapped his feeding port and injected the food into a tube. It was lunchtime.
He has no vices anymore. He watches all the food shows — “Top Chef,” “Chef’s Table,” “Ugly Delicious” — yearning for the time he’ll be able to eat again, though it has been years and he’s not sure how much longer it will be. When it is, though, he said, making his arms into a food-shoveling gesture, “I’m going to look like Orson Welles.”
He’s 61 now. He is still so handsome. His hair is still blond. His eyes are still the unimaginable green of Oregon grass right after the rain. His jaw is still the main event — the nasolabial area of his cheek bookending the inferior jowl so that his superior jowl appears sunken and his face takes on romantic geological proportions. He was wearing a very heavy turquoise and coral necklace that his mother, who died last year, wore for 20 years straight, along with her turquoise bracelet.
He was never scared during his medical treatment, he told me; he never panicked. Right as he was graduating from high school, his younger brother, Wesley, who had received a diagnosis of epilepsy, drowned in the family’s Jacuzzi. Wesley had been a “supergenius,” he said, a gifted filmmaker who made stop-motion animation ahead of his time. But Kilmer still talks to Wesley. Wesley shows up in his office, and they hash things out or trade ideas. His mother has appeared to him lately, too, as if “she’s at a party, saying how happy she is to be with her husband again and Wesley, my little brother, so happy.”
Death isn’t death in Christian Science. It’s simply that humans have limitations, and one of them is that we perceive people only through our five senses. When a person dies, they aren’t gone. They are just not showing up in our senses anymore. So if a Christian Scientist prays and still dies (according to standard definitions of death), it doesn’t mean the prayer didn’t work. As Kilmer said when he was dressed up as Mark Twain, all prayers work: “It’s just that sometimes we don’t like the answer.”
So how can you be scared of cancer when there’s no such thing as cancer? How can you fear death when there’s no such thing as death? The answer is you can’t. “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’s been off the trach tube a couple of times, though each time, he has a setback: a cough, a cold, a fever. But why all this talk about the time that fear manifested in his body? He addressed it. He made it through that, and now he’s on the other side, and his life is finally what he wanted it to be. By the time I met him, he had taken “Citizen Twain” to more than 30 cities.
“I feel like I could not possibly be in a better place for attracting better and better roles,” he said. “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.” He talked about how Irwin Winkler and Francis Ford Coppola had each leveraged their wealth to get projects made. His slate these days is no different. “I haven’t picked subjects such as boxing, jealousy or uncontrollable madness. Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy are the subjects of the film I’ve dedicated 20 years of my life to, on and off.”
He told me he’s filmed five roles so far this year. The opportunities are coming in the way they do only when you’re peaceful and not desperate about them. There’s a “Top Gun” sequel coming out this year. Kilmer is in it. He’s not allowed to say anything about the new “Top Gun” except that he’s in it. And that instead of being enemies with Maverick, their relationship has changed. “We’re friends,” he said. “This time we’re friends.”
As I walked out of HelMel that day, Kilmer presented me with a gift: It was the abstract painting I admired the day before, with the swimmers diving into the waves. I told him I couldn’t take it — that Times policy was that I couldn’t accept anything even close to this. I put it down. He picked it up. I put it on a desk. He told Brad Koepenick, who stayed with us until the end of the interviews, to carry it out to my car and not let me leave without it. So I took it and put it in the passenger seat with a seatbelt around it, just me and Val Kilmer’s abstract swimmer art driving down Melrose, and honestly, I felt so good and so weightless — spending the day with someone who doesn’t believe in death is as fine an antidote to hearing all the stories of fear that were coming through the radio now as any — that instead of passing Cahuenga Boulevard back to my hotel, I hung a right and went to the movies, the way I used to when I was young.
I sat in the movie theater, watching “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and thinking of stories Kilmer told me: about an accident his daughter was in, how she was walking and got hit by a car on Little Santa Monica and then thrown through a storefront window, but the storefront had been evacuated and so was empty, and even though she’d gone through the glass, she emerged unscathed; about a time he was driving to the airport from his ranch and a car wandered through the median, and he was going too fast to stop, and so his car went through this other car without colliding with it. He can still see the mole on the driver’s neck as he went through him without causing material disturbance to either of their bodies or vehicles. These things happened because he’d been praying his whole life.
But the other thing he’d been doing his whole life was telling these stories, turning the way we are constantly walking along the edge of our imminent demise — sure, imminent if you believe in time, demise if you believe in death — and trying to make sense of what could happen to a person at any given moment: a religious person, a person who is trying to be good in the world. That his daughter could be hit by a car? That he could die on the way to the airport? That his reputation could be shattered? That he could have a hole in his throat? Who could blame a person who needed to make sense of the chaotic turns of his life with a story? But even more: What else was he supposed to do?
When he told me those stories, I told him it was hard for me to imagine that a person could heal themselves or prevent certain disaster with prayer.
He said, “It’s not that difficult.” When he said that, I realized that as the days had gone on, it had become easier to understand him.
The Times was calling for staff members to return to base and begin working from home, so I headed to the airport the next morning with my suitcase and my painting, which I promised myself I would mail back to Kilmer when I arrived at home. People were wearing masks on my flight and sanitizing the cups of soda they received during in-flight service, and I drifted off to sleep feeling bad for them.
South by Southwest was canceled before I even landed. Cannes was postponed. Eventually, the Olympics were too. In the coming weeks, everything was canceled: school, outside, hugs. Peter Beard went missing, and Kilmer took a walk with Ali Alborzi, who was distraught. It was the longest walk Kilmer had taken in a long time, and he realized that two hummingbirds had been following him, had been following them for three days.
“Birds have always been a part of my family,” Kilmer texted me. “Being the harbingers of life and the story of death.” He believed the hummingbirds had a message for them about Beard. By then, I thought, “How beautiful.”
Perhaps we had created the coronavirus out of our fear and wickedness — children in cages, the rich hoarding wealth; perhaps we had only the suggestion of a virus. I grew up with too many messianics in my household. I found this kind of thing too easy to believe, if only because it was more believable than the fact that in 2020, my young, healthy colleagues were in the hospital, the streets were bare, I was stuck inside my house and nobody knew how long that might go on for. For a few days, I stared at my beautiful painting, which I will absolutely return when it’s safe to take a nonessential trip to the post office. It was so hard to parse all the fear that permeated society now — what was real and what had come as a result of our own hysteria. During the day I’d think that it was the fear that was hurting us most.
But at night my husband would shake me to wake me up because I’d been crying in my sleep. More quickly than I could have imagined, the world took on the hallucinogenic quality of right before you fall asleep, when everything is outsize and nothing makes sense. The margins on my suspension of disbelief started to close in on themselves, and the borders of things began to diminish, and now the world seemed like a word you stare at so long that it becomes nonsense. I watched all the Val Kilmer movies again, but this time they struck me as representations of a world that never existed, that couldn’t possibly exist: What is sweaty shirtless fighter pilot? What is dentist with tuberculosis? What is Downtown L.A. shootout? What is Batmobile? What is Lizard King?
Amid all this, I received a phone call. One of my closest and oldest friends, Lydia, called me to tell me she had throat cancer. I had seen her a few weeks before, and she told me she had been having bouts of laryngitis. But now she had a diagnosis. It was Stage 0 — it had not yet spread. I cried into the phone with her.
But also here I was, finding this out while writing an article about a man who had throat cancer. I called up Kilmer and told him about Lydia. I asked if he had any advice to give her. He did. Kilmer told me she could “have a healing at any minute. It could happen right now, or when she’s on her way to the hospital, or even while a doctor is operating on her.” I called her and told her this, and it made us both giddy for some reason.
But then, a few days later, her surgery was postponed because of the coronavirus, and we aren’t sure, even as of this writing, when it will happen, and now her cancer might spread. I felt stupid for trying to find meaning and hope in what was happening to Lydia; I felt stupid for trying to make this into a story for her and for us.
In just two weeks, the palm trees against the bright blue sky that hung over HelMel seemed like something I made up, as weird to think about as a Batman figure with a Mark Twain head. (Was that even real? I searched my phone and found a picture of it. Phew.)
By now I understood that the story I was telling about Val Kilmer, which I’d thought had been about a man’s relentless faith and optimism, was really about reconciliation: the squaring of two opposing things into something we swear is true despite all evidence to the contrary. Your beauty can sentence you to misery; Val Kilmer uses a tracheostomy tube, but he can talk; his brother is dead but only to our senses. Mark Twain despised Mary Baker Eddy, until you can will him into a dream where he doesn’t. God is good, and there are no ventilators. My beautiful friend has cancer, and the treatment exists, but it’s unavailable to her right now.
Here’s the thing: Mark Twain, Kilmer’s favorite storyteller, thought that storytelling couldn’t (and shouldn’t) try to capture an entire life, to draw its arc, to determine its meaning. He was suspicious of the kind of autobiography that Ben Franklin had done. He thought it should just be a mishmash of remembrances told not even in the right order lest a person be tempted to force a story into a certain direction and make themselves a more sympathetic character than they deserve. Here’s another thing: I spoke to his daughter, Mercedes, who told me that she did have a miraculous recovery, but that a bone in her face had been broken and that she was in a wheelchair for a month and required major surgery.
I spoke to Val Kilmer one more time. While we were on the phone, I stared at my painting, the divers diving in over and over — What is HelMel? What is ocean? — and I tried to remember how I felt when it was beside me in Los Angeles, in the passenger seat of the rental car. Kilmer told me that he and Alborzi were going to get in a car and drive to New Mexico, where he still has 160 acres of land. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise tweeted that the “Top Gun” sequel was moving to December, two of my colleagues were in the hospital and another’s husband lay in his bed gasping for breath. I attended a Zoom shiva for a friend’s mother, who was buried alone. Peter Beard lay in the woods, weeks away from being found. The Val Kilmer GIF snapped its jaw over and over forever in a text message. Lydia waited by the phone though she had not been told to expect a call, and Val Kilmer planned his road trip into the desert.
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Since 2015, Kilmer has privately struggled with throat cancer; he had a procedure on his trachea that damaged his vocal cords to the point where he had extreme difficulty speaking. He also underwent chemotherapy and two tracheotomies. In 2020, he published his memoir titled, I'm Your Huckleberry: A Memoir.
Kilmer said at the end of the project that Sonantic had “masterfully restored my voice in a way I've never imagined possible.”
Director Joseph Kosinski says Cruise and Kilmer, the two Hollywood vets, had “tears in their eyes" as they shot Iceman's farewell. “Tom and I get along really well,” Kilmer writes. “We giggled like little kids in school between takes. I consider him a real friend.
Val Kilmer's net worth is around $10 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. At his peak Kilmer was earning significant sums for every role; in 1995 he earned $7 million for playing Batman in Batman Forever, equivalent to about $13.3 million today. Kilmer previously owned a 6,600 acre ranch in New Mexico.
It is not clear how much Val Kilmer earned as some reports state that he took home $400,000 and others say he had a paycheque of $2 million. While talking about the film, just recently, it surpassed another major milestone at the box office.
Now, over half a decade later, Kilmer has his voice back and it's all thanks to artificial intelligence. In correspondence with the debut of his new documentary, “Val”, Kilmer gave an epilogue of sorts to his biography with the reveal of his new voice, which he was able to recreate with the software company, Sonantic.
The 62-year-old actor, who reprised his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the new film, recalled what the shooting process felt like this time around. “We blew a lot of takes laughing so much,” he said. “It was really fun … special.”
Both Russell and Kilmer were very good friends in real life and their chemistry spills over into the film. They work beautifully together, and are very successful in making us believe why Earp and Holliday were such great pals who would lay down their lives for each other.
While Kilmer has claimed that he wasn't "too proud to beg" the studio to reprise his role as Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick, the film's producer Jerry Bruckheimer said that Cruise refused to do the sequel without him.
The heroes return: Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick.” The Iceman cometh again, this time as a friend. And as Val Kilmer tells The Times, “I can't believe how kind the whole world has been. ... It's very humbling.”
Kurt Russell Net Worth and Salary: Kurt Russell is an American actor who has a net worth of $100 million dollars. Starting off as a successful child actor... Goldie Hawn is an iconic American television and film actress who has a net worth of $90 million.
As of August 2022, Jerry Seinfeld is the richest actor in the world with a net worth of $950 million. Who is the 2nd richest actor in the world? Tyler Perry with a net worth of $800 million.
In a new report, Variety affirms that Cruise will earn $100 million or more “from ticket sales, his salary and his eventual cut of home entertainment rentals and streaming revenue.” Unsurprisingly, he is the highest-paid actor of the year, by a large margin.
|Born||July 9, 1957 Newport Beach, California, U.S.|
|Education||Allan Hancock College Juilliard School (BFA)|
Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer returned to the Navy for Top Gun: Maverick, but one familiar face missing from the sequel is Kelly McGillis, who played Cruise's love interest in the 1986 original. According to McGillis, she wasn't asked to join the film, and she matter-of-factly cited her appearance for her exclusion.
Seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he turned down an offer to have a role in the Top Gun: Maverick movie. Hamilton, who is currently in his 16th season of competing in F1, is known to have various interests outside the world of racing.
It's not just a stunt for Top Gun: Cruise is actually an experienced pilot who's been in possession of a professional license since 1994. In an interview with James Corden, Cruise mentioned that he has a flying license for several types of aeroplane, including fighter jets and commercial flights.
In the early part of Top Gun when a commanding officer is chewing out Maverick and Goose, he scolds Maverick for his history of high-speed passes — not just of air control towers but of "one admiral's daughter." This causes Goose to lean over to Maverick and whisper the name "Penny Benjamin" into his ear.