Val Kilmer On Surviving Throat Cancer: 'I Want to Share My Story More Than Ever'
Six years after a throat cancer diagnosis and the radiation and chemotherapy treatments that followed, along with a tracheostomy that permanently damaged his speaking voice, Val Kilmer has a new lease on life.
Now cancer-free and on this week's cover of PEOPLE, the actor, 61, is showing a side of himself that fans have never seen in the new Amazon Original Documentary Val.
The film is co-directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo and produced by Kilmer, his son Jack, 26, and his daughter Mercedes, 29. Scott, Poo, Jack and Mercedes all spoke to PEOPLE in this week's issue.
"Now that it's more difficult to speak, I want to tell my story more than ever," Kilmer says in the documentary, which is an intimate look at the Top Gun star's personal and professional life, including his cancer battle and recovery.
Val received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and features a treasure trove of Kilmer's personal video footage from behind the scenes of his most popular films, along with vulnerable, candid moments from the star about coping with his physical limitations in the documentary. His son Jack also reads Kilmer's words to narrate much of the film.
"I obviously am sounding much worse than I feel," Kilmer says in the film, his voice thin and raspy.
"I can't speak without plugging this hole [in his throat]. You have to make the choice to breathe or to eat," he adds, and now has his meals through a feeding tube. "It's an obstacle that is very present with whoever sees me."
Filmmakers Scott and Poo tell PEOPLE they were inspired to pursue making the documentary with Kilmer after learning about the actor's extensive personal film archive and getting to know the man himself.
"We approached him three years ago," says Scott. "I'd worked with him on his Cinema Twain project and when he couldn't tour the play Citizen Twain, he was touring a film of the play, so I was working with him on that and some other projects too, archiving his footage."
Poo respects how open Kilmer was to collaborating with them and showing all facets of his personal and professional life.
"He doesn't have the vanity that you would expect from someone of his fame and celebrity. There was never any of that kind of artifice or protection that people who are really famous have to put up around themselves," she says. "It's humbling to be around that."
For much more on Val Kilmer, pick up his PEOPLE cover story on newsstands Friday
She continues: "He's such a layered person, there's the childlike playfulness, but then there's also the deep wisdom of somebody who's been on a spiritual path their whole life at the same time. He's a lot of opposites that make him incredibly interesting, and it's kind of why our film is so interesting."
Kilmer has continued working and is busy with his artistic pursuits tied into his gallery/creative incubator HelMel Studios in Los Angeles, as well as continuing to act. In 2020 he costarred with Mercedes in the thriller Paydirt and has an emotional role in the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick.
"He's continued to express himself creatively," says Scott. "He makes incredible pieces of art. He's always positive and is not someone who has self-pity."
Scott adds: "He has evolved like all of us, but in the material from the past [in the documentary], you see so many of the same kind of themes: he's always been a spiritual person, he's always been incredibly creative, super hilarious and he's always been so besotted with his children, and all of that remains."
In Val, Kilmer says he looks forward to his future, whatever it holds.
"I have behaved bizarrely to some. I deny none of this and have no regrets because I have lost and found parts of myself that I never knew existed," the actor says in the film. "I am blessed."
Val is now streaming on Prime Video.
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