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June 07, 2018 04:03 PM

Val Kilmer is officially strapped in for the long-awaited sequel Top Gun: Maverick — his first major role since recovering from throat cancer.

The actor will return as hotshot fighter pilot Iceman in the sequel alongside his costar in the original, Tom Cruise, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed Wednesday.

Kilmer’s comeback role in the film comes after what has been a mysterious Hollywood hiatus for the actor. After years of rumored health problems, he finally came clean about his battle with throat cancer during a December 2017 interview with the The Hollywood Reporter.

His health issues first became apparent in January 2015, when a spokesperson told PEOPLE that he was rushed to the hospital “for a possible tumor.” Soon after, he took to Facebook to deny having a tumor, saying only that he “had a complication.”

Reports surfaced again in October 2015 that Kilmer had been rushed to the hospital, and once more he took to social media to dispute the rumors. “There’s a rumor I’m unwell again and in hospital which is totally untrue. I was in to verify I have no tumor or infection of any kind which was verified by the very caring experts at UCLA,” he wrote on his Facebook page at the time.

Val Kilmer covering his neck with a scarf in 2015.
David Jensen/PA Wire via ZUMA Press; Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Less than two months later, Kilmer was spotted out with what appeared to be a tracheostomy tube, which sparked new concerns over his health. In the ensuing months, the selfie-happy actor was photographed wearing scarves and shirts buttoned up tightly around his neck.

Then in February 2016, Kilmer was spotted running errands in London without the tracheostomy tube. He also appeared to be more active in the months leading up to the sighting, often posting pictures of himself in Miami and London to his Facebook.

Questions about his health resurfaced again, however, after Michael Douglas referenced that Kilmer was dealing with health issues in late October.

Douglas, who beat stage 4 oral cancer in 2013, said during a Q&A in London that the Batman Forever star was “dealing with exactly what I had, and things don’t look too good for him … My prayers are with him.”

Just days later, Kilmer responded to the rumors by declaring he has “no cancer whatsoever.”

In November, Kilmer announced that Douglas had apologized for making the comment. “Michael Douglas wrote me a nice note apologizing for suggesting to the press overseas I ‘wasn’t doing too well…’ and was grateful to hear I am doing well,” Kilmer, 56, wrote on Facebook. “He’s a classy guy.”

Around the same time, Kilmer attended a screening of his film Citizen Twain in Los Angeles, where he remained upbeat but appeared to be thinner and struggled with his speech, slurring his words and using a handkerchief to wipe the corners of his mouth.

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Yet in February, Kilmer once again took to social media to profess his good health. “Sorry to bore you who know I’m healthy but there’s more lies again that I’m ‘ill,’ ” the actor captioned a photo on Twitter. “I mentioned the other night I was doing speech therapy!”

Kilmer finally opened up about his cancer recovery to the The Hollywood Reporter in December in an interview alongside his children with his ex-wife Joanne Whalley: Mercedes, 26, and Jack, 22.
Val Kilmer in Top Gun.
Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The article revealed that the actor’s two-year fight with throat cancer had “taken its toll” on the family and noted that Kilmer had undergone a procedure on his trachea which made his voice raspy and left him short of breath.

Kilmer credited his Christian Scientist faith in helping with his recovery, and has undergone chemotherapy, according to THR.

The Top Gun star also said he’s working on improving his mental health, saying he was “too serious” during the height of his career. “I’d get upset when things like Oscars and recognition failed to come my way,” he explained.

“I would like to have more Oscars than anybody,” he added. “Meryl Streep must feel pretty good, you know? It must feel nice to know that everyone loves her. It’s about being loved.”

Top Gun: Maverick is scheduled for release on July 12, 2019.

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