What Happened to Val Kilmer's Character in 'Top Gun: Maverick'?

What Happened to Val Kilmer's Character in 'Top Gun: Maverick'?
Image credit: Legion-Media

Iceman's story came to an emotional end.

Warning: major spoilers ahead!

Everyone remembers Top Gun. The action-packed air force flick of the 80s propelled many actors to stardom. Chief among them were Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, portraying characters that are stark opposites of one another. The characters were exciting, and the plot was stellar. Cruise and Kilmer played stereotypical rivals, but their drama was one of the movie's highlights.

Maverick (played by Tom Cruise) and Iceman (played by Val Kilmer) were among the favorite characters of many moviegoers because of their dynamic. Despite their contrasting personalities, both "hotshots" gained mutual respect for one another over the course of the movie. The two had bonded, and their conflict was seemingly at an end. It was quite surprising that Kilmer's Iceman was strangely absent for most of the sequel.

Top Gun: Maverick is a sequel to the original Top Gun. Set 35 years after the end of the first one, the sequel follows the titular character of Maverick, being the same hot-blooded pilot he always was, albeit a bit more aged. He is shown dealing with his past demons and new challenges. Iceman, a prominent character in the original, did not enjoy as central of a role as he had in the sequel. To many fans' surprise, the character was relegated to one poignant scene.

This is where the line between reality and fiction blurs. Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014. He eventually overcame the disease, but the treatment involved undergoing a tracheotomy. This left him unable to speak properly. Despite his acting ability being severely impacted, Kilmer continued to work. The documentary "Val" chronicles many of his struggles and how he adjusted to his new life.

Due to his difficulty in speech, the producers and directors at first did not approach Kilmer when the sequel was being developed. Tom Cruise rallied to have him reprise his role as he believed "Val had to be in it." At the insistence of "Maverick" himself, Kilmer was hired to play Iceman again.

His real-life struggle against cancer was worked into his character, and he is shown to suffer from an illness. The details are not revealed, but it inhibits his speech, just like his throat cancer did in real life. That is why Iceman uses a voice to speak to Maverick throughout the movie and uses his original voice only at the end.

Iceman is shown speaking his final lines to Maverick, after which it is revealed that he passed away. He is then buried with full honors with a flyover and a 21-gun salute as Maverick bids farewell to his old friend, or as some would say, "frenemy." It was an emotional scene not just for the audience but also for the movie production team. Everyone who worked on the set agrees that the impact of Kilmer's real voice was something that cannot be replicated. Iceman's final scene is bittersweet because it masterfully blurs reality and fiction.