Facing mortality is one of life’s most difficult challenges. People drink nasty green smoothies, deny themselves the satisfaction of eating food that makes their souls sing, and swallow handfuls of pills to squeeze just a few extra weeks or years out of the gift of life.
And it’s all for naught. No one’s won the game yet…and it doesn’t matter if you’re rich and famous or poor and unknown; it’s definitely in the cards somewhere. Being rich gives you the advantage of choosing one or many doctors reputed to be the best available but that’s no guarantee they can save your life.
Many celebrities have died from complications following surgery. Some incidents stemmed from elective surgery but most deaths occurred after routine surgeries performed to save the patients’ lives. Here’s a sampling of a few celebrities lost after developing difficulties following medical operations.
One of the movie industry’s most famous “anti-hero” actors ever, McQueen gained international fame for such movies as The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, Papillon, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Sand Pebbles. In 1978 he developed a nagging cough and, fearing lung cancer, he stopped smoking. However, he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, an incurable cancer associated with asbestos exposure. McQueen had been exposed to asbestos on movie sets as well as during his tenure with the US Marines. He spent 2 years trying a wide range of unorthodox alternative treatments in Mexico to battle the spread of the cancer but to no avail. He succumbed to the disease in November of 1980 where he died at the age of 50 from cardiac arrest at a Juarez clinic following a surgical procedure to remove several metastatic tumors in his neck and abdomen.
Dangerfield built his stand-up comedy career on self-deprecation, always lamenting, “I don’t get no respect,” a persona that earned him leading roles in memorable comedy movies such as Back to School. His health problems began at age 80 with a minor heart attack backstage at The Tonight Show in 2001. He roared back to perform on the show the next year on his 81st birthday. Doctors then discovered Dangerfield needed a heart valve replacement surgery but needed brain surgery first to improve his blood flow. He had the brain surgery in April 2003 and the heart surgery in August 2004. Then in September 2004 news broke out stating that he had been in a coma for several weeks. After a brief and encouraging spate of breathing on his own and visiting with friends, Dangerfield died from surgery complications on October 5, 2004.
The Twilight Zone was one of the first science fiction/horror shows and surely the most memorable. Rod Serling created the show as well as wrote, produced and narrated it. His trademark introduction for each show had him stepping from the shadows, cigarette often in hand, telling the viewers to prepare themselves for a gripping trip into the unknown territory known as The Twilight Zone. In May of 1975, Serling was hospitalized for two weeks after a minor heart attack. A mere two weeks later, he suffered a second heart attack and required open-heart surgery, a rare and highly risky procedure at the time. After 10 hours of surgery, Serling had another heart attack in the operating room and died two days later. Rumors persist that Serling died of lung cancer but his 4-pack-a-day habit actually caused the heart disease that took his life.
Magnano was a strikingly lovely beauty queen of the ’90s. She was Miss Argentina in 1994 and a highly successful fashion model. In 2009, the mother of eight-year-old twins decided she wanted a firmer, more defined bottom and had cosmetic surgery done on her buttocks at a clinic in Buenos Aires. She developed severe breathing problems during the procedure and was rushed to a local hospital. After three days in critical condition in the ICU, Magnano died from a blocked lung artery three days later.
Warhol was one of the major forces behind the visual art movement known as pop art. He was best known for his paintings of Campbell’s soup cans but contributed to almost every niche of pop art during his career. He was a sickly child, spending a lot of time in bed drawing and writing but overcame most of his maladies by adulthood. He ran with several echelons of celebrities in the 60s and 70s, enjoying all the drugs introduced during the era and was a heavy drinker. Warhol survived a near fatal bullet wound in 1968 when he was shot by a disgruntled associate but died a few hours after surgery in 1987 following routine gallbladder operation at a New York hospital.
Although best known for playing the stern yet lovable uncle Phil on Fresh Prince of Bel Air for 6 years, James Avery also gave memorable performances on CSI, That ’70s Show and L.A. Law. His towering size made him perfect to portray either a threatening or protective character and his distinctive voice can be heard in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and in the animated Iron Man of the 1990s. At age 68 in 2013, Avery died from complications following open heart surgery at Glendale Memorial Medical Center.
A sharp-tongued, sharp-witted comedic icon, Rivers stopped breathing during routine throat surgery on her vocal cords on August 28, 2014 at a clinic in Yorkville, Manhattan. Rushed to Mt. Sinai Hospital, Rivers went into cardiac arrest and was put into a medically induced coma. Three days later, doctors reportedly initiated first steps to bring Rivers out of the induced coma. Unfortunately, three days later, after being moved from ICU to a private room, Rivers died at age 81 on September 4, 2014.
“I hate people who die of natural causes; they just don’t understand the moment. It’s the grand finale, act three, the eleven o’clock number — make it count. If you’re going to die, die interesting! ” – Joan Rivers