10 Famous People with Diabetes

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Fame, power, and wealth can’t prevent you from getting diabetes. But it doesn’t have to hold you back, either. If you or your children have this condition, it’s something shared with some of the most famous people in history. Here is a sampling of the many inventors, athletes, singers, writers, actors, business people, and political leaders who have or had diabetes.

Photo of Thomas Alva Edison.
Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors ever. He developed or innovated everything from the electric light bulb to the phonograph and motion picture camera. His perseverance as much as his success makes him a hero to me. When asked once about lack of results, he replied, “I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.” He died from complications of diabetes in 1931.

Photo of Jackie Robinson.
Wikimedia Commons, Bob Sandberg

Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson

Jackie Robinson was one of the most significant baseball players in history. He ended 60 years of racial segregation in major-league baseball when he began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, well before the end of legal segregation in our schools. In spite of racist attacks, he remained nonviolent. But just 25 years after his groundbreaking achievement, he too died from complications of diabetes.

Elvis signs autographs in Minneapolis, 1956
Wikimedia Commons, The Minneapolis Tribune

Elvis Presley

“The King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley was one of the most significant musicians and actors of the 20th century. Elvis is the highest selling individual artist of all time. Do you remember him singing “Hound Dog”? Elvis had diabetes before he died in 1977, but he is so sorely missed that Elvis sightings continue, although he would be in his 80s now.

Photo of Johnny Cash, 1969.
Wikimedia Commons, LOOK

Johnny Cash

“The Man in Black,” Johnny Cash, was a singer-songwriter and a country music icon. But he was also a great crossover artist, embracing rock and roll, blues, folk, gospel, and more. I can’t decide if I like “I Walk the Line” or “Folsom Prison Blues” the most. One of the best-selling musicians of all time, Johnny Cash died from complications of diabetes.

Photo of Ernest Hemingway.
Wikimedia Commons, Lloyd Arnold

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway changed the way we write. Because of his lean style, both fiction and nonfiction is much easier to understand now than before Hemingway burst on the literary scene with his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He had diabetes.

Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump.
Wikimedia Commons

Tom Hanks

One of Hollywood’s most famous actors and directors said three years ago that he has Type 2 diabetes. Tom Hanks has starred in films that have grossed more than $8.5 billion, making him the fourth highest-grossing actor. If you saw “Forrest Gump,” you contributed to his film that earned the most, when adjusted for inflation, about $681 million.

McDonald's golden arches.
Wikimedia Commons

Ray Kroc

The name Ray Kroc may not ring any bells with you. But you probably have seen some Golden Arches and may have eaten a Big Mac or two. Ray Kroc is the person who built McDonald’s into the most successful fast food operation in the world. Because of his business success, Kroc amassed a fortune during his lifetime, much of which he gave away. He also had diabetes.

Parliament at dusk.

Theresa Mary May

The name of the United Kingdom’s new prime minister may not be familiar to you yet, but I guarantee that it will be soon. The Right Honourable Theresa May has been both the Prime Minister of the UK and leader of that country’s Conservative Party since July 2016. Since 1997, she has been a Member of Parliament. And in 2012, she learned that she has diabetes.

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen meets with King Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud at Al-Yamamah Palace, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 13, 1998
Wikimedia Commons, the United States Department of Defense

Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was the King of Saudi Arabia from 1982 to 2005. He was one of the world’s last absolute monarchs. One of almost 100 children of Ibn Saud, who founded the kingdom, King Fahd had diabetes for the last two decades of his life.

William Howard Taft, head-and-shoulders portrait.
Wikimedia Commons, the United States Library of Congress

William Howard Taft

At least one President of the United States most likely had Type 2 diabetes. William Howard Taft was the only person who served as both U.S. President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was a distant cousin of mine (fifth cousin three times removed). Taft died a few years before I was born, but I well remember talking with his son, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, in the Capitol rotunda.

The Hollywood sign.
Wikimedia Commons, Thomas Wolf

Many more famous people with diabetes

In 1998 I reviewed the largest list of famous people with diabetes for the American Diabetes Association’s site. While the list is no longer live, you can read it on the “Wayback Machine.” But many of its reports are unconfirmed because of the secrecy and limited knowledge we used to have about diabetes. We know much more about famous people with diabetes and about how to prevent or manage it now.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.