Lung Cancer and Hollywood

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.