Celebrities With Lung Cancer: Survivors and Non-Survivors

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide after skin cancer. According to the Worldwide Cancer Research Fund, it contributed about 1 in 8 (13%) of new cancer cases diagnosed in 2012 (excluding skin cancer). What causes lung cancer? Well, a vast majority of lung cancer cases — 8 out of 10 or 86% — is caused by cigarette smoking; this figure includes a very small percentage who get cancer through second hand smoke or passive smoking.

Celebrities With Lung Cancer. Wondering about who among your favorite celebrities are living with lung cancer (or succumbed to the disease)? Well, here’s a list:

Peter Jennings. The ABC anchorman succumbed to lung cancer in August 2005 at a relatively young age of 67. In his final broadcast delivered a few months before his death, the multi-awarded newsman had this to say about his condition:

[A]s some of you now know, I have learned in the last couple of days that I have lung cancer. Yes, I was a smoker until about 20 years ago, and I was weak and I smoked over 9/11. But whatever the reason, the news does slow you down a bit. I have been reminding my colleagues today who’ve all been incredibly supportive that almost 10,000,000 Americans are already living with cancer, and I have a lot to learn from them.

celebrity lung cancer - peter jennings

And living is the key word. The National Cancer Institute says that we are survivors from the moment of diagnosis. I will continue to do the broadcast; on good days my voice will not always be like this. Certainly it’s been a long time, and I hope it goes without saying that a journalist who doesn’t value deeply the audience’s loyalty should be in another line of work.

To be perfectly honest I’m a little surprised at the kindness today from so many people, that’s not intended as false modesty, but even I was taken aback by how far and how fast news travels. Finally, I wonder if other men and women ask their doctors right away, “O.K., Doc, when does the hair go?” At any rate, that’s it for now on World News Tonight. Have a good evening. I’m Peter Jennings. Thanks, and good night.

Steve McQueen. Unlike Peter Jennings, actor Steve McQueen’s lung cancer, a rare form called mesothelioma, was not caused by smoking but possibly by asbestos exposure. How was he exposed to asbestos? Penina Spiegel’s book, McQueen: The Untold Story of a Bad Boy in Hollywood has some possible answers:

Steve had been peculiarly surrounded by asbestos all his life. It was often present in his place of work during his itinerant years when he picked up odd jobs–at construction sites, for example. Asbestos was used in the insulation of every modern ship built before 1976; it is found on sound stages, in brake linings of race cars, and in the protective helmets and suits worn by race car drivers.” John Sturges remembers Steve telling him about an incident that occurred while he was stationed in the Aleutian Island during his stint in the Marine Corps. “Steve had been sentenced to six weeks in the brig. He spent the time assigned to a work detail in the hold of a ship, cleaning the engine room. The pipes were covered with asbestos linings, which the men ripped out and replaced.” The air was so thick with asbestos particles, Steve told John Sturges, that the men could hardly breathe.

In 1980, McQueen succumbed to lung cancer; he was only 50 years old.

Dana Reeve. Actress Dana Reeve, who was married to actor Christopher Reeve, may have contacted lung cancer through second-hand smoke. She died of lung cancer in 2006 at the age of 44. Because she lived a healthy life, Dana was shocked with her cancer diagnosis: “What I didn’t know is that lung cancer is the number-one cancer. We’re always looking for breast and ovarian and uterine, and I’m a non-smoker, and I live in the country, so I think ‘I’m good,’ so I was completely shocked.”

How often do non-smokers like Dana get diagnosed with lung cancer? Dr James Mulshine of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago has some figures for us:

“Ten to 15 per cent of people who develop lung cancer are thought to be non-smokers. It was said that she had, in the course of being an entertainer, spent a lot of time in pubs, in nightclubs, in which there is a lot of cigarette smoke.”

Donna Summer. Disco queen Donna Summer was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011 and died of the disease eight months later in May 2012. Media reports speculated that her cancer was due to smoking which prompted her family to issue the following statement:

Ms. Summer was a non-smoker. Obviously, numerous factors can be attributed to the cause of cancer in general, but any details regarding the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of Ms. Summer’s case remain between her family and team of doctors.

According to TMZ, Donna herself believed that her cancer can be due to the toxic air she inhaled during 9/11. At the time of the tragedy, she was living in an apartment near Ground Zero. According to USA Today, thousands of Ground Zero workers also developed lung ailments.

Bryant Gumbel. While guest co-hosting Live With Regis and Kelly, this TV journalist and sportscaster revealed that he underwent a surgical procedure which removed part of his lungs. Says Bryant:

“They opened up my chest; they took a malignant tumor, part of my lung and some other goodies. The pathology on most of the stuff came back benign but enough aggressive cells had escaped the tumor that it warranted some treatment.”

Even with the surgery, some aggressive cancer cells had escaped, “so I went through some treatment and it’s done now.”

Note: It is important to note that the malignant tumor was actually not in his lung but near it.

celebrity lung cancer - marlboro man - Wayne McLaren

Marlboro Man Male Models. According to a 2014 article in People Magazine, five models who portrayed the Marlboro Man in print and TV advertisements succumbed to lung cancer. People named the models as: Eric Lawson (portrayed the Marlboro Man in the late 1970s, died from respiratory failure due to lung disease in 2014), David Millar (starred in Marlboro TV adverts in the 1950s, died of emphysema in 1987), Wayne McLaren (starred in cigarette adverts in the 1970s, succumbed to lung cancer in 1992. He is the first Marlboro Man to campaign against cigarette smoking), David McLean (appeared in print and TV ads as the Marlboro Man in the early 1960s, he died of lung cancer in 1995), and Richard “Dick” Hammer (starred as the 4th Marlboro Man from 1970 to 1980, he died of lung cancer in 1999).

celebrity lung cancer survivors - wilhelmina cooper

Wilhelmina Cooper. One of the world’s first supermodel, Dutch-born Wilhelmina Cooper died of lung cancer in March 1980. She was only 40 years old.

Other famous people or celebrities diagnosed with lung cancer are as follows: actress Kathryn Joosten, singer Joe Cocker, football coach Joe Paterno, Disney founder Walt Disney, actor Lou Rawls, actor John Wayne, singer Warren Zevon, actor Paul Newman, singer George Harrison, baseball great Joe DiMaggio, painter Claude Monet, actor Yul Brynner, King George VI, and many more.