Cellular Bcl-2 family proteins regulate a critical step in the mammalian programmed cell death pathway by modulating mitochondrial permeability and function. Bcl-2 family proteins are also encoded by several large DNA viruses, including all known gamma herpesviruses, adenoviruses, and several other unrelated viruses. Viral Bcl-2 proteins can prevent cell death but often escape cellular regulatory mechanisms that govern their cellular counterparts. By evading the "altruistic" suicide of infected cells, viruses can ensure replication and propagation in the infected host, but sometimes in surprising ways. Many human cancers and other disorders are associated with viruses that encode Bcl-2 homologs. Here we consider the available mechanistic data for viral compared to cellular Bcl-2 protein function along with relevance to the virus life cycle and human disease states.