Val Kilmer vanished from the screens, and many seemed to have forgotten about him after his cancer diagnosis. But his true friend Tom Cruise didn’t lose contact with him, and they’ve been friends for over three decades since filming “Top Gun.”

    Val Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015, and he kept his health condition private while he received treatment for it for about two years.

    At one point, Kilmer lost his ability to speak and eat because of his illness and it affected his ability to deliver lines in front of the camera.

    Kilmer’s good friend of over three decades, Tom Cruise, cried when they reunited, and the A-list actor invited his pal to star in “Top Gun: Maverick” to reprise his role as Iceman.

    Val Kilmer starred in several hits in the 1990s, with huge roles in “Batman Forever,” “Top Gun,” “Heat,” and “Tombstone.” These films earned over $2 billion, and Kilmer’s part in them was one of the reasons why.

    Years later, fans were surprised to discover that the actor spent years secretly battling throat cancer. He had to undergo a tracheotomy, which made speaking almost impossible for him to do.

    Val Kilmer during an outdoor interview at Munich, Germany in 1992. | Source: Getty Images

    Initially, Kilmer was hesitant to seek medical attention for his cancer. His children convinced him to do so, and he went through several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

    Thanks to the treatment, Kilmer fully recovered from his cancer and entered remission. However, his procedures left him with a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube, leaving him unable to speak and eat the way he used to.

    Despite the hurdles, Kilmer was determined to beat all odds. In an amazing feat, he made his return to the film industry with “Top Gun: Maverick,” where he reprised his role as Iceman alongside his good friend, Tom Cruise.

    Val Kilmer attends the Simply Shakespeare's Live Read of "The Merchant Of Venice" at Walt Disney Concert Hall on October 28, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

    The actor spent 2015 to 2017 battling his terminal illness. He kept his struggles private, not letting fans know that he was dealing with a serious condition.

    He initially denied having throat cancer, despite his friend Michael Douglas implying he had cancer at an event he attended. Douglas even told the press that his actor friend wasn’t doing good.

    After discovering that Douglas had outed his sickness, Kilmer decided to speak up. It was in 2017 that Kilmer finally revealed what he had gone through.

    He shared that it had been years since he last saw Douglas, and at the time, they spoke about getting a diagnosis for the lump in Kilmer’s throat. The actor was unsure where Douglas got his news, calling his friend to meet with him so he could know the real score regarding Kilmer’s health.

    The “Tombstone” star assured fans that he sounded a lot worse than he actually felt. He was feeling great, and he looked forward to living life to the fullest.

    A journalist described Kilmer’s new voice as something “between a squeak and a voiceless roar.” While Kilmer no longer has the deep, powerful voice he once had, he’s still the same guy.

    Kilmer still feels very much like himself despite losing his ability to eat and speak. Speaking about it, he said:

    “I still feel I’m the exact same person. Still the same creative soul. A soul that dreams ideas and stories confidently, but now I can express myself again, bring these ideas to you, and show you this part of myself once more. A part that was never truly gone. Just hiding away.”

    Nowadays, Kilmer communicates through the Artificial Intelligence program, Sonatic. It recreated his voice through the use of old audio recordings and allows others to understand him like they used to.

    The program made its silver screen debut on “Top Gun: Maverick,” where Kilmer’s character, Tom, is seen speaking to Tom Cruise’s Pete Mitchell. Fans can expect Kilmer to use the same program in his future projects.

    It hasn’t been easy for Kilmer to land projects given his limitations, but he hasn’t been completely abandoned by the industry he dedicated most of his life to. The actor released a documentary on his life titled “Val,” which explores his career, personal life, and recovery process.

    Val Kilmer attends the 2019 annual Thespians Go Hollywood Gala at Avalon Hollywood on November 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

    His two adult children, Mercedes and Jack, supported him throughout filming. They couldn’t be more proud of their father’s perseverance and dedication to become better and to break through his previous cancer diagnosis.

    Mercedes, who acted alongside her dad in the 2020 film, “Paydirt,” was amazed to look back at the great life her dad continues to live. She’s glad that his fans are able to see him from such a perspective for the first time through the documentary.

    Kilmer’s good friend, Cruise, also talked him into returning to the “Top Gun” franchise to reprise his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. It was a personal invitation from a good old friend that was too hard to pass.

    Kilmer was a huge part of the first “Top Gun” movie, which was a box office sensation. It was an iconic pop culture favorite that people look to as a reference up until this day. So when “Top Gun: Maverick” was in the works, Cruise made it clear that he wasn’t going to make the movie unless Kilmer was with him.

    When the producers called Kilmer to be in the film, he was delighted. He eventually worked on the script with them and filmed for a day.

    Cruise revealed that filming with Kilmer again made him emotional. Since they’d known each other for decades, he already knew what Kilmer was capable of. He was able to execute his character successfully as if the first “Top Gun” movie wasn’t decades back. “He’s such a powerful actor that he instantly became that character again,” Cruise raved.

    Kilmer and Cruise shared a moving scene in the movie. While it was short and sweet, Kilmer’s talent shone brightly despite his inability to talk. He communicated with Cruise’s character through a computer but spoke a line with the help of Artificial Intelligence.

    Admittedly, the scene had Cruise crying. He wasn’t shy to admit he was emotional, because he thought so highly of his good friend.

    Even during the first “Top Gun” movie, it was Cruise who insisted that Kilmer make the cut. He has nothing but praise for his co-actor, describing him as “brilliant.”

    It’s been 36 years since the first “Top Gun” movie, yet the bond between Cruise and Kilmer remains special. There’s a three-year age difference between the co-stars, with Cruise looking up to Kilmer with admiration.

    While the first movie saw Kilmer and Cruise go head-to-head, the second movie saw a fitting closure to the challenging past both their characters had together. The Iceman was now Maverick’s friend and trusted adviser.

    According to the film’s director, Joseph Kosinski, he noticed both actors were crying after one of their two takes.

    Tom Cruise on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on February 25, 2023 | Source: Kimmel Live!

    Despite the movie’s energetic action scenes, the favorite scene of many viewers was when Cruise visited Kilmer. Although it was a bittersweet on-screen reunion, Kilmer revealed that no off-screen reunion was needed for him and his good friend.

    “We are in touch and exchange Xmas [sic] gifts every year!” the “Batman” star shared. He also revealed that he was very involved in the storyline of “Top Gun: Maverick,” as he and Cruise both talked about what they felt was best for the story.

    “I think they got it right at the end,” he said, commending the producers of the second film installment. They only shot his scene twice: once in San Diego, and another time when they did a wardrobe change.

    There was nothing more genuine than the respect Kilmer and Cruise had for one another. According to the film’s director, Joseph Kosinski, he noticed both actors were crying after one of their two takes.

    “It felt like a genuine moment between two old friends,” he described. Despite not being able to talk, Kilmer managed to portray Iceman with so much power and so much expression that it was as if nothing had changed.

    The director described Cruise and Kilmer as two actors at the top of each other’s game. Rather than directing them so strictly, he allowed them to go at their own pace and create space for them to do what they wanted to do.

    Despite all the emotion, the two actors bantered and shared funny stories off-screen as if time hadn’t passed. Admittedly, they shot “Top Gun” at a time when they were both still trying to make it, and were still competitive with one another.

    Through it all, Kilmer and Cruise developed a life-long friendship filled with love and admiration. They both get along well and “giggled like little kids in school” whenever the camera wasn’t rolling.

    When asked to describe the friendship they share, Kilmer didn’t hold back. He said of Cruise :

    “I consider him a real friend. We shared intimate stories and challenges about our different lifestyles.”

    Kilmer remains active on social media, where he’s made several references to his friend through the years. When “Top Gun: Maverick” was at the Cannes Film Festival, he celebrated it with a tweet congratulating his “old pal.”

    In another well-received post, he posted a still from their recent scene together and wrote: “36 years later… I’m still your wingman.” The post had fans raving about their friendship, garnering over 109,000 likes and over 3,800 comments on Instagram.

    Now, Kilmer is looking forward to living his best life. He’s not done with the things he wants to achieve in his career, wanting to star as Frankenstein, directed by Werner Herzog. He also launched Kamp Kilmer, where budding artists can learn and share their skills with others.

    He’s glad to still have such a loyal fan base, with Kilmer noting that he receives hundreds of fan letters each week. The reception he received after the “Top Gun: Maverick” release has been humbling, and he can’t wait to show them more of what he has in him.

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