During his peak, Val Kilmer was one of Hollywood’s top celebrities. He had the perfect career, starring in big franchises like Batman and films like Top Gun, The Doors, and The Saint. He had the turbulent love life and everything else that went with being a leading man. But somewhere along the way, his credibility as an actor diminished. Hollywood labeled him hard to work with after many altercations with colleagues and directors, some of which were physical.
In the years following, Kilmer kept his career alive, barely, by working on projects he loved. Until his throat cancer diagnosis, landing him in a battle he’s still fighting. But there’s hope for Kilmer now that his speaking voice is somewhat back.
Val Kilmer went public with his cancer in 2017
Kilmer’s health started to decline in 2015 when he was rushed to the hospital for tests. Later, Kilmer’s one-time co-star, Michael Douglas, revealed in 2016 that Kilmer had oral cancer and that it didn’t “look too good for him.”
His reps released a statement saying he was undergoing tests for a tumor. Still, Kilmer denied this, writing on his Facebook, “I have not had a tumor, or a tumor operations, or any operation I had a complication where the best way to receive care was to stay under the watchful eye of the UCLA ICU. I am praying for a speedy return to the boards as they say. God bless you all and please don’t worry.”
People reported he was seen wearing what looked like a tracheostomy tube around his neck. In 2017, he confirmed his cancer diagnosis on an AMA on Reddit, Variety reported. He said he’d had a “healing of cancer.”
“But my tongue is still swollen altho [sic] healing all the time,” he said. “Because I don’t sound my normal self yet people think I may still be under the weather.”
As a result of the throat cancer, Kilmer underwent a tracheotomy and lost his voice. He talks with a medical device, but it’s still hard for him.
He used Artificial Intelligence to get his voice back
According to IndieWire, Kilmer has recreated his speaking voice “by feeding hours of recorded audio of himself into an artificial intelligence algorithm.” Kilmer and his team worked with software company Sonantic and Amazon to “create an emotional and lifelike model of his old speaking voice.”
“I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible,” Kilmer said in a statement. “As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence and the side effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me. The chance to narrate my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.”
The Wrap wrote Kilmer could potentially utilize the software in the future “both personally and professionally.” So Kilmer’s acting career could get a revival.
“People around me struggle to understand when I’m talking. But despite all that I still feel I’m the exact same person,” Kilmer says, using the AI model to speak in a promotional video from Sonantic. “Still the same creative soul. A soul that dreams ideas and stories confidently, but now I can express myself again, bring these ideas to you, and show you this part of myself once more. A part that was never truly gone. Just hiding away.”
Will Val Kilmer uses the technology to star in more films?
Kilmer has been on the road to recovery. Before the aid of the A.I. software, Kilmer told Good Morning America learning to speak again was like learning a new language.
“It’s just like any other language or dialect,” he said. “You have to figure out a way to communicate that’s no different than any other acting challenge but it’s just a very unique set of circumstances.”
His progress was going great, though. “I’m doing great, I feel a lot better than I sound,” he said. So whether Kilmer uses the A.I. software to aid his speech or does it by himself, it’s highly likely we’ll be seeing more of him on the big screen and soon. It’ll be interesting to see regardless.
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