From being a sexy leading lady to acting jobs drying up and not being able to move, she has overcome all of it.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 4, 2021. It has since been updated.
She was once a sexy leading lady in Hollywood, but those roles eventually dried up. Her deep voice still sets her apart. It's distinctive. Everyone knows it's her when Kathleen Turner talks. She was a hit in the 1980s thanks to movies like Body Heat, Prizzi’s Honor, and Peggy Sue Got Married, as well as The War of the Roses, Romancing the Stone, and The Jewel of the Nile. However, by the following decade, the tables had turned against her because of illness and addiction. Eventually, she turned to theatre and teaching. She went from starring in big-budget movies to small productions on stage but managed to keep up the quality of her work. What took away her success from her was Rheumatoid arthritis, starting in her late 30s.
She revealed to Vulture magazine that "rage" has fuelled her career for four decades. She's "fuckin’ angry" about "everything," she says. When asked if her disease is part of what makes her feel the rage, she said, "I’m too busy coping with disease to think much outside the day-to-day. For me, it’s 'can I hold a pen? Can I stand up? Can I climb those stairs?'"
"It’s hard to understand the level of pain that this disease brings," she said, according to Today. She was given "massive doses of steroids" with "massive side effects," she added. There were times that she wanted to pick up something and couldn't, so people assumed she was drunk.
For Turner, 66, there is a "feeling of loss" when it comes to her career, writes Vulture. "Rheumatoid arthritis hit in my late 30s — the last of my years in which Hollywood would consider me a sexually appealing leading lady. The hardest part was that so much of my confidence was based on my physicality. If I didn’t have that, who was I?" she said. She eventually found the answer to that question. "You work with what you have, as best you can. That’s what I’ve done," she added.
However, in mid-1994, Turner wasn't able to get out of bed without assistance. Her left hand didn't move and moving her head caused pain in the neck. She fell into despair over it, writes HuffPost. She also started struggling with alcoholism because of the pain. “With my loss of confidence went a loss of sexuality,” she wrote in her memoir. "When my pain from the illness was at its worst, I discovered that vodka killed it quite wonderfully. I didn’t want to take painkillers because I didn’t like the way they mucked up my mind, so I used alcohol instead. Stupidly, I didn’t consider that alcohol mucks up your mind, too."
This put a strain on her marriage as well since even having intercourse was painful for her. Eventually, she went to rehab and AA meetings and found a doctor who helped her claim her life back. She did gymnastics, was able to swim, and walk. It wasn't just her illness that made work difficult but also leading Hollywood men, who labeled her as a "trophy," which frustrated her, as per Vulture.
"You have to remember that my first big role was Body Heat and after that I was a sexual target. I understood later, from Michael Douglas, that there was a competition between him and Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty about who would get me first. None of them did, by the by... I don’t like being thought of as a trophy," she added. She co-stars with Douglas in The Kominsky Method.
Cover image source: Getty Images | Photo by (L) Diane Freed (R) Theo Wargo