On August 26 1930, Lon Cheney, Jr. died of a lung tumor – the first movie actor to die of cancer.
Paul Newman was five years old.
Some people collect stamps – I collect death and disease. For over 45 years, I’ve scoured all available biographies, anthologies, major newspapers, the Internet … for the diseases and deaths of famous persons. Stamp collections cost money and take up space. Death arrives to my laptop free of charge.
The earliest Hollywood death of known causes was that of Director, Francis Boggs – shot to death by an insane janitor named Frank Minematsu, in 1911. As of October 2008, 1,799 movie people (including 173 porno stars, and 273 Producers / Directors) have succumbed to identifiable diseases or injuries. Countless others died “after a long illness,” “suddenly,” “of natural causes,” etc and are not included in this analysis.
Trends in Hollywood deaths are contrasted with statistics for all famous persons in Figure 1. Note that since 1950, the relative number of movie obits have actually decreased somewhat.
Cancer accounts for 29.1% of all death in Hollywood. In fact, since the murder of Francis Boggs, cancer has accounted for 24.5% of all famous deaths; and movie people have accounted for 19.4% of all death among famous persons. The specific type of cancer is mentioned in only 54% of death notices. Lung tumors account for 29.2% of all famous cancers, but only 20.2% of cancers in Hollywood. In contrast, 14.4% of Hollywood tumors have involved the brain, but only 9.6% of tumors among other famous folk.
In figure 2, I’ve summarized the cumulative number of cancer deaths for famous people in general, and for movie people specifically. Note that the relative proportion of movie folk – and movie folk with lung cancer – has actually been decreasing over the past 90 years.
Lung Cancer Deaths in Hollywood
Lon Chaney, Sr.
Barbara Bel Geddes
Harald Heide-Steen, Jr.
Herbert ‘Zeppo’ Marx
Lois June Nettleton
Cirio H. Santiago
The complete “collection” of famous disease and death is available at www.VIPatients.com , with expanded content and functions on the new IPhone app = VIPatients. On this site you can access the full medical history of any specific person (or animal); or generate a custom-designed list according to disease, profession, year … or any combination. As of October, 2008 the website documents the 17,655 misfortunes of 12,457 famous persons