In a personal essay published May 14 in the New York Times, actress Angelina Jolie announced that from February until April of this year, she underwent a preventative double mastectomy.
In a piece titled My Medical Choice, Jolie writes that her reasoning was that she carries an inherited cancer gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases the chances of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Jolies mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in 2007.
Jolie is not the first public figure to speak from personal experience on disease prevention. Several other actors and athletes – such as Magic Johnson and Giuliana Rancic – have shared their health scares and advocated for awareness.
In 1989, when Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry was 22, she slipped into a coma on set and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She later learned that was a misdiagnosis and that she actually had Type 2. In April, Berry became the first national ambassador for Diabetes Aware.
In 1991, Magic Johnson announced his retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers because of a diagnosis of HIV. His groundbreaking statement helped remove some of the stigma around the virus and increase support for testing. He founded the Magic Johnson Foundation, which, according to its website, works to develop programs and support community-based organizations to address the educational, health and social needs of urban communities.
Diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in 1991 at age 30, Michael J. Fox went public with his illness in 1998 to advocate for its prevention. He founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation to help advance research in curing the disease.
Grammy-winning singer Olivia Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 at age 43. To raise prevention awareness, she is now the spokeswoman for the Liv Breast Self-Examination Kit, which assists women with early detection.
In 1993, Shaft actor Richard Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 51. He now tours the country to raise awareness about male breast cancer.
After her husband died of colon cancer in 1998, Katie Couric became a spokeswoman for cancer awareness. To get the word out for cancer testing, Couric underwent a colonoscopy on-air in March 2000 on the Today show. In October 2005, Couric broadcasted her own mammogram on Today as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Daytime talk-show host Montel Williams went public with his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1999 after he had been suffering from sudden constant pain.
The View co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck was diagnosed with celiac disease after falling ill during her stint on Survivor: The Australian Outback in 2001. In 2009, Hasselbeck published The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide to provide guidance to those on how to cook healthfully while also dealing with the food-restrictive disease.
Melissa Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at age 43. After undergoing chemotherapy, she famously performed bald at the 2005 Grammy Awards. She appeared with several other celebrity cancer survivors in the 2010 breast cancer documentary 1 a Minute that raised awareness and helped raise money in hopes of finding a cure.
In 2006, Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44. An advocate for disease awareness, she lobbied Congress to pass the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act.