The fact that the average life span of humans has increased is common knowledge enough, though this has happened because of advancing medical science and technology. The current lifestyle we live, surrounded with all the “goodness” of packaged and processed food, little to no exercise, and an overall couch potato aspiration does not help, does it?
And while medical science is scratching its brains out, trying to a find a cure for deadly diseases like AIDS and cancers, still newer and deadlier diseases turn up just to prove that they are faster and may emerge the winner in the race of human preservation. Clearly, there are some deaths brought on by our lifestyles – think of rock stars (and their orgies) leading to AIDS or accidental overdoses, or professional athletes wearing their bodies down a tad too quick, or stunt maniacs with a reckless disregard for their own life. And the list also includes the couch potatoes who literally eat and sit themselves to an early death.
Some deaths are more related to your social stature, for instance, tuberculosis was once known as the poor man’s disease. So can we categorize what kills celebrities the most, other than their penchant for drugs, sex, and that odd crazed fan?
Turns out, no!Celebrities may seem larger than life on screen and stage, but on their death beds, they are as frail and mortal as the rest of us. So here’s a list of celebrities and famous people that have died of relatively rare, unknown and sometimes even surprising diseases and conditions. They were and still are missed, and they fought their battles with grit, and grace.
15. Bob Marley: When Religion Bars Amputation
This king of reggae was as colorful a personality as he was a musician, and he left an indelible mark on the music industry and the world in general. Bob Marley‘s music was a runaway success and it made him such a popular icon that when he was diagnosed with a type of malignant melanoma (skin cancer) under the nail of a toe, Marley didn’t take it all that seriously.
The doctors advised him to have his toe amputated but Marley’s Rastafarian beliefs and his performing career became hindrances to the suggested surgery. So he had the nail and the nail bed removed and skin grafted on to the same. His career was back on and Marley went on to perform what would end up being his last concert in Pennsylvania, in 1980. Soon after, his “toe” cancer metastasized. As a last resort, Marley sought treatment at the Bavarian clinic of Josef Issels and underwent the controversial Issels treatment, based on avoidance of certain foods and drinks. After some eight months, a dying Marley decided to go back and die in Jamaica but en route, his vital functions worsened. The plane landed in Miami and he died on 11 May 1981 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, aged 36. His final words to his son were “Money can’t buy life…”
14. Muhammad Ali: One Too Many Knocks
He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee and despite all his trash talk, Muhammad Ali was a gentle man in real life but turned into a legendary fighter in the ring. Everything he did put him in the limelight – from dissing his opponents to his draft refusal. And he paid a heavy price for that, for the ban he faced from boxing from 1967 to 1971 took away the best years of his life. When he came back to the ring, Ali’s legendary footwork had turned a bit shoddy. Years later, his 1984 Parkinson’s diagnosis finally confirmed what many were, in fact, suspecting for years.
Ali remained active even after his diagnosis but the fight had literally gone out of him. Four marriages, nine acknowledged children and many years later, on December 20, 2014, Ali was hospitalized for a mild case of pneumonia. He was once again hospitalized on January 15, 2015, for a urinary tract infection but released the next day. More than a year later, Ali was hospitalized in Scottsdale on June 2, 2016, with breathing issues and though his condition was initially described as “fair,” it worsened and he died on June 3, 2016, at age 74 from septic shock.
13. Robin Williams: When Smiles Can’t Hide The Pain Anymore
Despite his heart-warming demeanor, Robin Williams had struggled through addictions many times in his life. In the 1970s and 80s, Robin was a cocaine addict and what prompted him to finally seek help were three things: the birth of his son Zak, an arrest, and finally, the death of his friend John Belushi from a cocaine overdose.
He did leave cocaine and his drugged up past behind, only to fall for alcohol over and over again in the 2000s. In 2006, he checked himself into a substance-abuse rehabilitation center but years after, he acknowledged his failure to remain sober. And then his health problems started. In March 2009, he was hospitalized and underwent surgery to replace his aortic valve. In 2014, he underwent another alcohol rehab. In the period before his death, Williams was misdiagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease, something that rattled him enough to end it all on August 11, 2014, as this jolly guy hanged himself with a belt. The autopsy revealed that Williams had been suffering from Lewy body dementia, and his wife Susan Schneider later said, “Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it for he kept saying, ‘I just want to reboot my brain.’ However, you look at it—the presence of Lewy bodies took his life.”
12. Brittany Murphy: A Rare Combination Of Commonplace Conditions
Pretty, petite, and with a mile-wide funny bone – Brittany Murphy made a great transition from child actor to a budding actress. So when, on December 20, 2009, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to “a medical request” at the home Murphy and her husband Simon Monjack shared, no one knew how serious the matter would be. Brittany had collapsed in a bathroom and was resuscitated by the fire fighters. She was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she died at 10:04 after going into cardiac arrest. After a detailed autopsy and many revisions, the coroner finally revealed, two months later, that the primary cause of Murphy’s death was pneumonia, with secondary factors of iron-deficiency anemia and multiple prescription drug intoxication.
Eerily, on May 23, 2010, her widower Simon Monjack was found dead at the same Hollywood Hills residence, and the cause of his death was acute pneumonia and severe anemia as well. Rumors of poisoning and toxic mold followed but nothing was ever proven. 32-year-old Brittany died, of mysterious reasons, that led to pneumonia and anemia and a generally weakened state. Later in 2013, her father Angelo Bertolotti claimed that a toxicology report showed that deliberate poisoning by heavy metals, including antimony and barium, were possible causes. The case remains foggily open.
11. Tony Rosato: From SNL To Jail Time
A veteran of SCTV and Saturday Night Live, we may not know his face but we all sure know his voice. He voiced Nemesis in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Luigi in The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World! So basically Rosato died of a heart attack on January 10, 2017, at the age of 62, but he suffered from mental health issues long before. In 2005, Rosato was arrested at his wife’s behest – she complained that his deteriorating mental health was putting her and their infant daughter at risk. Before her complaint, Rosato had been complaining repeatedly to the police that his wife and daughter had been abducted and replaced by impostors.
Basically, he was suffering from Capgras delusion, a delusional misidentification syndrome but despite the diagnosis, Rosato got no relief. He denied mental illness and refused to plead insanity, was held for over two years without bail at a maximum-security detention center, awaiting trial. Finally, he was spared a criminal conviction and handed a conditional discharge, but the damage to his heart and head had already been done.
10. Irwin Keyes & Paul Benedict: When Size Does Matter
So acromegaly isn’t a very nice thing to have. It is a disorder that results from excess growth hormone that affects adults. And this is after all the growing up is done, mostly from a pituitary gland tumor. The initial symptom is an enlargement of the hands and feet and then of the forehead, jaw, and nose. Further symptoms include painful joints, a thickening of the skin, deepening of the voice, headaches, and problems with vision, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and high blood pressure… As we said, not a very nice thing at all.
Acromegaly is treated like any other cancer, with surgery to remove the tumor, medications, and radiation therapy. It is fairly treatable now, but even then with tumors, you never know. Strangely, two actors who both appeared in the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons got this disease and died from it. Irwin Keyes, who played Hugo Mojoloweski, George’s occasional bodyguard and Paul Benedict, who portrayed Harry Bentley, The Jeffersons’ next-door, elite English neighbor!
9. Suzanne Crough: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!
Suzanne Crough was a child actor who played Tracy Partridge on the long-running classic TV show, The Partridge Family. The plot of the show revolved around a widowed mother and her five children who formed a band to make ends meet. The series starred Shirley Jones as Mrs. Partridge, with her real-life stepson David Cassidy as the resident heartthrob. Tracy was the youngest of the family and played the tambourine in the family band, and played sweet victim to her brother Danny’s mischief, played by Danny Bonaduce.
After the show was over, Suzanne Crough retired from acting and settled down with a husband and family, and lived long enough to have grandchildren too. On April 27, 2015, she died suddenly at home, aged 52. The cause of death was not suspicious and later revealed as arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, a rare form of cardiomyopathy cardiac arrest. Paying her a tribute, Danny Bonaduce said, “Everyone thought I’d be the first Partridge to go. Sadly it was little Tracy. Suzanne was a wonderful lady and a good mom. She will be missed.”
8. Bernie Mac: Funny Man, Fatal Disease
For those who remember the original Charlie’s Angels, Bernie Mac played an amazing Bosley the way only he could. He was also the voice of Alex the lion’s father, Zuba, in the second Madagascar enterprise, Escape to Africa. Born Bernard Jeffrey “Bernie” McCullough but better known by his stage name Bernie Mac, he joined fellow comedians Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and DL Hughley in the film The Original Kings of Comedy.
In 2005, Bernie revealed he had been suffering from sarcoidosis, a rather mysterious disease that medical science hasn’t been able to figure out much about. No one really knows how you get it, but it causes massive tissue inflammation. In Bernie’s case, it got his lungs. In 2008, he finally had to be hospitalized but sadly a week after, on August 9, 2008 – Bernie passed away from a cardiac arrest brought on by complications from pneumonia. And another great bit the dust.
7. Bill Paxton: When Life Throws You A Twister
To me, Bill, or William Paxton will always be that hot storm chaser opposite Helen Hunt in the 1996 movie Twister, a movie that became a cult in its own right. He did appear in many others though, from Terminator to Aliens, Predator to even Titanic (he’s the guy digging the ship out!). He married and divorced Kelly Rowan and then in 1987, married Louise Newbury with whom he had two children.
In February 2017, Bill Paxton spoke about his upcoming heart surgery – which he needed to repair a damaged heart valve, the result of having suffered a bad episode of rheumatic fever when he was young. On February 25, 2017, Paxton sadly died at the age of 61 from complications following heart surgery. Ironically, the surgery happened on February 14, Valentine’s Day but his heart and aorta were too weak and 11 days later, Bill died of a stroke. Upon learning of his death, many storm chasers paid him tribute by spelling his initials across Kansas and Oklahoma via the Spotter Network.
6. Michelle Thomas: Sometimes, Life Punches You In The Gut
Best remembered for her role as the aspiring singer Callie Rogers Stark on the soap opera The Young and The Restless, Michelle Thomas was a vivacious actress who first played Justine Phillips, the girlfriend of Theo Huxtable on The Cosby Show. She appeared in plenty other shows as well and in 1993, she won the role of Myra Monkhouse on Family Matters.
In August 1997, she was diagnosed with a rather rare form of cancer, intra-abdominal desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor. She chose to avoid radiation or chemo and instead underwent surgery to remove a lemon-sized tumor. After her surgery and recovery, she landed her The Young and the Restless role in the spring of 1998. She had to leave the show in October 1998, as she underwent emergency surgery after a second cancerous growth ruptured. She spent her last Thanksgiving with her family, before finally succumbing to the disease on December 22, 1998, with her longtime boyfriend Malcolm Jamal Warner (who played Theo Huxtable) right by her side.
5. Christopher Reeve: An Extraordinary Tale Of Unfortunate Events
We all know about the rather heroic tale of Christopher Reeve who once played Superman but was left a paraplegic after a tragic fall from a horse. Nonetheless, he geared up and began to live his life as best as he could. But his travails weren’t over yet. Reeve suffered from asthma and allergies since childhood and at age 16, he even got alopecia areata – that caused patches of his hair to fall out. In his youth, he was able to comb over it but once he became paralyzed, the condition worsened and he had his head shaved.
More than once he had a severe reaction to a drug. A drug named Sygen, which was supposed to help reduce damage to the spinal cord, made him go into anaphylactic shock and have an out of body experience. Then in 2002 and 2004, Reeve survived several serious infections believed to have originated from the bone marrow and even recovered from three that could have been fatal. In October 2004, he was being treated for sepsis, when he suddenly went into cardiac arrest after receiving an antibiotic for the same. He fell into a coma and just a day later, on October 10, 2004, Reeve died at the age of 52. Sadly, his wife Dana Reeve was also diagnosed with lung cancer just a year after his death and died at age 44 on March 6, 2006.
4. Jeff Hanneman: Did The Fasciitis Come First Or The Liver Disease?
Jeffrey John “Jeff” Hanneman is best known as a founding member of the American thrash metal band Slayer for which he also wrote the songs “Raining Blood,” “War Ensemble,” and “Angel of Death.” He even had his own signature guitar, the ESP Jeff Hanneman Signature model. In early 2011, Jeff Hanneman announced that he had contracted necrotizing fasciitis through a spider bite he got, while in a friend’s hot tub. Accordingly, he had the dead and decaying tissue surgically removed (the scars on his arms!). But that was only the start of Hanneman’s health problems, and literally the end of his career.
His band, Slayer, had to bring in Gary Holt of the band Exodus since Hanneman was still struggling with his health. It seemed that Hanneman was recovering but soon, he fell into further health issues. Finally, Hanneman died of liver failure on May 2, 2013, and the official cause of death was announced as alcohol-related cirrhosis which basically means that he drank himself to his grave. The condition took Hanneman and his family by surprise but the end was nigh and there was nothing that Hanneman could do but wait for the Angel of Death.
3. Dudley Moore: When Your Brain Just Gives Up For Gags
Dudley Moore started out as a comedy writer-performer in the UK, before settling down in Los Angeles to concentrate on acting. Movies like Foul Play, 10, and Arthur made him popular and the last of which won him a Golden Globe Award as well. He also got his second Golden Globe for Micki & Maude. Married and divorced four times each, Moore got sick in 1997. After a five-day stay at the hospital, Moore was informed that he had calcium deposits in his brain and irreversible frontal lobe damage. The same year, he also underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and survived four strokes!
In 1999, Moore announced that he was suffering from the terminal degenerative brain disorder, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). The symptoms of the disease are very similar to being drunk, and some media reports had even labeled him an alcoholic before the truth of his disease came out. Finally, on 27 March 2002, Dudley Moore passed away at age 66 from pneumonia, a complication brought on by his immobility caused by the palsy. His then partner, journalist Rena Fruchter, was supposedly holding his hand when he died, and she said that his final words were, “I can hear the music all around me…”
2. Natalie Cole: When Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You
After years of struggling with drug abuse and finally being clean, Natalie Cole announced in 2008 that she had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a liver disease that spreads through contact with infected blood. Cole attributed having the disease to her past intravenous drug use which was so bad at one time that she worked as a prostitute, and almost let her son drown in the family swimming pool.
In 2009, Cole stated, “It (Hepatitis C) stayed in my body for 25 years, and it could still happen to addicts who are fooling around with drugs, especially needles.” Four months after starting treatment for Hepatitis C, Cole’s kidneys gave in and she required dialysis three times a week to survive. After a transplant that seemed to work, Cole canceled several events in 2015 due to sudden health issues. On January 1, 2016, the world woke to the news that Cole had died the day prior at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the cause of death was idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension after her kidney transplant – meaning her blood pressure shot up. She was clean and sober at the time of her passing, but her past intravenous drug use perhaps exacerbated her demise.
1. Steve McQueen: When Nothing You Do Can Save Your Life
Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen was often dubbed The King of Cool for his smouldering anti-hero persona in movies like The Sand Pebbles, The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Towering Inferno alongside Paul Newman. In 1974, he became the highest-paid movie star in the world, though he did not get along with his directors or producers.
In 1978, Steve McQueen developed a chronic cough and so he gave up cigarettes and took antibiotic treatments. Nothing helped and his shortness of breath grew even more pronounced. In 1979, a biopsy of his lungs revealed the ugly truth. Steve had pleural mesothelioma, a fatal cancer, associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no known cure. McQueen even gave a medical interview in which he blamed his condition on his massive exposure to asbestos, while he was in the Marines and tasked with removing asbestos lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship. By February 1980, there was evidence of widespread metastasis, meaning Steve was terminal. In July, McQueen sought unusual and controversial treatment from William Donald Kelley, who announced that McQueen would be completely cured and return to normal life. McQueen’s condition soon worsened and “huge” tumors developed in his abdomen. In October 1980, McQueen flew to Mexico, to have an abdominal tumor on his liver (weighing around five pounds) removed, despite warnings from his US doctors that the tumor was inoperable. McQueen checked into a small clinic under the assumed name of “Sam Shepard” and on November 7, 1980, McQueen died of cardiac arrest in his sleep, 12 hours after the tumor removal surgery.
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