Birds, Pigs and Silent VIP’s

Almost 100 years have passed since Rose Cleveland (and over fifty-million other humans) died from the paradigm One Health Disease: “Swine flu”  During January to April 2016, an alphabet-soup of “swine flu” and “bird flu” have continued to affect birds and / or humans, on all continents: H1N1, H5N1, H5N2, H7N9, H5N6, H7N8. In 2015, the list also included H5N2, H5N3, H5N7, H7N3 and H7N7.

Rose Cleveland – sister of President Grover Cleveland who acted as “first lady” to her bachelor brother – was one of approximately 150 famous people that perished in the “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918 to 1920. Best known at the time were Francisco Rodrigues Alves (Brazilian President Elect) and Louis Botha (President of South Africa).

No less than ten stars of the Silent Movie era are known to have died during the pandemic.

True Boardman – appeared in 137 films

William Courtleigh, Jr.

Dark Cloud (Elijah Tahemont) – Canadian Indian, appeared in 34 movies

Myrtle Gonzalez – Hollywood’s first Hispanic movie star

Shelly Hull – Brother of actor Henry Hull

Joseph Kaufman

Vera Kholodnaya – The first Russian star of Silent Movies

Julian L’Estrange

Harold A. Lockwood

Wayland Trask, Jr. – Starred in several Mack Sennett comedies

Following the Spanish flu of 1918 to 1920, influenza has continued to contribute to the deaths of famous people: Pope John Paul, II; Juan Peron (Argentina), Francesco Nitti and Paolo Boselli (Italy); performers Angela Baddeley, Lillie Langtree, Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Harlow and Trevor Howard; baseball legends Dick Bertell and Hack Wilson; movie directors Jules Dassin and Luchino Visconti; and philosopher Bertrand Russell. In fact, two additional Silent Movie stars managed to join my famous-flu-deaths list after the Spanish flu had already passed: Edward J. Connelly (1928) and Henry B. Walthall (1936).

These lists are abstracted from a hobby which I maintain on-line at   The site is free and interactive – users can explore the medical file of a specific VIP; or generate lists by profession, disease, year … or any combination


Fame and Zoonotic Diseases

Diseases acquired from animals have repeatedly shaped human history; but the influence of zoonoses on well-known leaders in science, politics, war, religion, art, industry or even crime is not as well known.  The suffering or death of a world leader from plague, anthrax or rabies can serve as an important paradigm in the appreciation of One Health.

In this series I will explore the impact of zoonotic diseases on famous and infamous humans throughout history.  Background data are derived from a “hobby” which I maintain at   The site is interactive.  Users can explore the diseases of over 22,000 “VIP’s”; or generate lists based on disease, profession or year of death.  Although specific “diagnoses” are derived primarily from biographies, and are often speculative or biased, entries are regularly updated as additional information becomes available.

Rabies and Fame

Although rabies was first described as early as 1930 B.C.E., only five famous persons are known to have died of the disease. 

The first VIP to die of rabies was Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond.  Richmond was appointed Governor General of North America in 1818, but died only one year later after contracting rabies from the bite of a fox in Quebec.

In 1868, Gieseppe Abbati, an Italian painter from the Macchiaoli School, died of rabies after his pet dog bit him.  Ironically, both Abbati and the dog had been memorialized in a portrait painted three years earlier (see  Six years later, Ada Clare, a little known American actress died of rabies following the bite of a dog.

Hayes St. Leger, 4th Viscount Doneraile was an Irish peer who sat in the British House of Lords.  In 1887, he developed rabies from the bite of a pet fox, and died as his house-servants smothered him to end his suffering.

Actor, Fernando Poe, Sr. is a household name in the Philippines.  Poe was injured while filming a movie in 1951, and died of rabies after allowing a dog to lick his wound.  Thus, the disease does not require an overt animal bite for transmission.

Ironically, the best-known encounter with rabies did not result in death.  In 1886, a Spanish child prodigy was bitten by a rabid dog.  One year earlier, a Frenchman named Pasteur had developed a vaccine for the disease, and this boy became one of the first humans to be saved through vaccination.  In 1891, young Pablo Casals went on to give his first cello recital, in Barcelona.