Lou Reed — founding member of the Velvet Underground — is the latest celebrity to die from liver disease. Reed, who died last week at 71, had long suffered from chronic Hepatitis C. He underwent a liver transplant earlier this year. But like Freddy Fender, who also had a liver transplant and died of Hep C’s ravages shortly following the procedure, it was too late.

Unlike some sufferers in the limelight, Reed chose not to go public with his disease. In fact, few initial reports about his death last week even mentioned Hep C, despite the fact that it’s the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the U.S.
The biggest battle for Hep C awareness is the perceived stigma it carries and its association with intravenous drug use.

Some celeb sufferers are more open. Country singer Naomi Judd fessed up when she was diagnosed, blaming it on a needle stick she got when she was working as a nurse.

Natalie Cole also spoke out about undergoing Interferon treatment and admitted she contracted it from intravenous drug use — heroin, to be precise.

Others put forward stories that raise eyebrows. Pamela Anderson maintains she got the virus when she shared a tattoo needle with Tommy Lee. Yes, you read that right — “tattoo”.

There are more than celebrities carrying the silent killer. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 3.2 million people carry the potentially deadly virus in the U.S. The World Health Organization estimates 150 million people worldwide carry the virus and 350,000 die from it each year.

In the U.S., approximately 15,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C-related liver disease. Most people don’t know they have it, because there are no symptoms in the early stages. Most people find out when it’s too late and liver cancer has set in. And it’s a bitch to get rid of. Drug companies are working furiously to find the right cocktail of antiviral drugs to eradicate the virus.

Here’s what a few celebs have said about getting, living with, and getting rid of Hep C.

Pamela Anderson

“When Tommy and I got married, we both had physicals. We had AIDS tests, we had every kind of test you can imagine, and we were gonna tell each other what we had, because we’d just started our life together — what normal people would do,” Anderson told Jane magazine. And when Tommy did his blood work, the doctor told him, ‘You have hepatitis C, and you really need to tell Pamela.’ And the next time the doctor saw Tommy, he said, ‘Did you tell Pamela?’ and Tommy said, ‘Yeah, I told her, everything’s cool.’ But he never told me.

Actress Natasha Lyonne

In 2005, former American Pie star Natasha Lyonne was admitted to the intensive-care unit of a New York hospital for a variety of ailments, including a collapsed lung and Hepatitis C. Word of her condition quickly spread. In a 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly, she said, “Oh, I thought I escaped under the radar,” as a deadpan joke. “But everybody knows? That’s embarrassing.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis

He wrote in his autobiography: “I contracted Hepatitis C from my drug experimentation. When I found out that I had it sometime in the early ’90s, I immediately researched the topic and found a herbal regimen that would cleanse my liver and eradicate the hepatitis. And it worked…”

Rolling Stone groupie Anita Pallenberg

Keith Richard’s girlfriend says she started using heroin while she was filming Performance. Initially Brian Jones’ girlfriend for two years, she ended up with Richards after he saw Brian beating her up and took her home with him. So then she lived with Keith Richards. She has Hep C, but since she has stopped drinking, thanks to AA, she’s not worried. “When you stop drinking, the liver regenerates,” she told The Guardian in 2008

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards

Surprise, he’s cured! The Rolling Stone told GQ in 2008: “Apparently, I do have an incredible immune system. I had Hepatitis C and cured it by myself.”

Singer Marianne Faithfull

Faithfull, a former drug addict, did not say whether she had picked up the virus during her heroin habit in the 1970s or later. But she told an ITV correspondent in 2007: “I have Hepatitis C and the worst thing for that is alcohol. I found out about 12 years ago. I was incredibly lucky. I shouldn’t be alive — I know that. Life has become much more precious to me and my health has become much more precious to me. I do not miss the drugs. I suppose it would be nice to have a glass of wine or something, but it really would not be good for my health.”

Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler

“I’ve been pretty quiet about this. The band took a break about three years ago and I’ve had Hepatitis C for a long time, asymptomatic,” he told Access Hollywood. “And I talked to my doctor… and he said now is the time and it’s 11 months of chemotherapy. So I went on that and it about killed me. Hepatitis C is the one that of all the people in this room at least three have it and don’t know it. It’s the silent killer. I may go on Oprah and talk about this. I mean, you know it’s just one of those things… it’s one of those things people don’t speak about it, but it is treatable. It’s non-detectable in my bloodstream and so that’s that.”

Singer David Crosby

“I go to a doctor’s office and he says, ‘David, somewhere back there you contracted Hepatitis C, and you’re dying. You’re down to about maybe 20 percent of your function on your liver now, and you’re gonna die very soon if we don’t get your transplant.’” Crosby received a highly publicized liver transplant in 1994, paid for by Phil Collins. News of Crosby’s transplant created controversy because of his celebrity status and past drug and alcohol addiction. He’s still alive and kicking.

Gregg Allman

“I never thought I’d be writing a memoir, until I was in a fight for my life battling chronic Hepatitis C,” he told Men’s Health in 2012. “When I first found out I had the disease, I just didn’t know that much about it. It was a little overwhelming, and I knew that it would be a long road ahead. I didn’t want it to hold me back from my music, but eventually for a short time it did — but fortunately, I got through it and am back in action. Fact is, the situation is different for people who are diagnosed today. We know more. Doctors know more.”

Allman had a successful liver transplant in 2010.

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