Val Kilmer Opens Up About Battling Cancer and His Kids' Showbiz Ambitions

Austin Hargrave
From left: Val Kilmer, Jack Kilmer and Mercedes Kilmer

The actor poses for THR's Hollywood Legacies issue with children Jack and Mercedes as he reveals how he's changed after battling throat cancer: "I was too serious. I'd get upset when things like Oscars and recognition failed to come my way."

Val Kilmer, 57, is seated on a couch in his Brentwood art studio, which is spilling from every crevice with his personal projects. (A spray-painted "GOD" stencil is a recurring motif.) Next to him are Mercedes, 26, and Jack, 22, his two children with ex-wife Joanne Whalley, the English actress who was his co-star in the 1988 Ron Howard fantasy film Willow.

Kilmer is not the screen god he was in '80s and '90s films like Top Gun, The Doors and Batman Forever. A two-year battle with throat cancer has taken its toll, and a procedure on his trachea has reduced his voice to a rasp and rendered him short of breath.

Still, when the topic turns to his performer kin — Jack is an actor who has appeared in The Stanford Prison Experiment and The Nice Guys; Mercedes travels in New York avant-garde theater circles — he has plenty to say. "Fame is sort of a mess," says Val. "You get treated differently, but it doesn’t have anything to do with who you actually are."

Jack, who inherited his dad's harlequin pout, says acting allows him to try "a little bit of everything, like an experiential dilettante." Mercedes, with a face worthy of a femme fatale, says she "can't remember not being aware" of her parents' fame. "It was about navigating how other people perceived us rather than any kind of reckoning."

Shortly after Val's diagnosis, Mercedes was hit by a car in a scary accident that left a scar down her leg. "We were in the same hospital at the same time," she recalls. Adds Jack, "I was just, you know, miserable, distraught, sitting next to these two." Val, a Christian Scientist, says his faith helped him get through those ordeals, and he has undergone chemotherapy to combat the disease.

These days, he keeps things light. "I was too serious," he admits of his movie-star moment. "I'd get upset when things like Oscars and recognition failed to come my way." Was an Oscar something he always wanted? "I would like to have more Oscars than anybody," he says. "Meryl Streep must feel pretty good, you know? It must feel nice to know that everyone loves her. It's about being loved."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.