Celebrity Dialysis: Famous People Who Had Dialysis Treatments

Dialysis is a treatment for those with kidneys which lost most or all their function and, thus, are no longer able to do the job of cleansing the blood (thus maintaining balance between water and other substances) and are no longer capable of producing the hormones the body needs to stay healthy. [Related reading: Celebrities With Kidney Transplants.]

Here’s a list of famous people who have undergone dialysis treatments:

Walter Matthau. In a 2000 interview with Larry King on CNN, Academy Award-winning actor Walter Matthau revealed that he has been having dialysis. Here’s an excerpt from the interview transcript:

KING: Oh, so you got kidney problems off the pneumonia problems.
MATTHAU: And be on dialysis.
KING: You’re on dialysis.
MATTHAU: Oh, yes.
KING: How many times a week?
MATTHAU: Three times a week.
KING: What’s that like?
MATTHAU: Well, I like it because I fall asleep.

celebrities who have dialysis treatments - walter matthau

KING: You do? It’s not painful?
MATTHAU: No. No. Whatever the pain is, if you absorb too much water or any fluid. I found out last night that too much wine is no good.
KING: You drank some wine?
MATTHAU: I had some wine. It was very good wine. I mean, this wine, I’m telling you, it must have been in the area of $6,000 a bottle.
KING: Walter, is it advisable that you drink?
MATTHAU: Somebody said you have to have this wine, and it was so delicious I kept drinking it.
KING: And that affected the kidney?
MATTHAU: Well, the kidney is already a thesaurus (ph). so nothing is going to affect it really.
KING: Are you eligible for a transplant?
MATTHAU: I’m eligible, but a little too old. KING: You’re going to be 80, huh?
MATTHAU: I am — shh.

Shammi Kapoor. Bollywood actor Shammi Kapoor told interviewers in 2006 that he has dialysis treatments three times a week. He died of chronic renal failure in 2011 at the age of 79. According to an Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) report, he “was on dialysis for the last few days and was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai where he breathed his last.”

Ferdinand Marcos. The ousted dictator of the Philippines was dependent on dialysis to survive for the last years of his life. From a 1989 New York Times report:

In late June, his liver failed and he had a 104-degree fever, but survived to undergo removal of his only functional kidney, which had been transplanted in 1984. Mr. Marcos became dependent on kidney dialysis for survival.

The dictator died at 72 years old after a long battle with heart, lung and kidney ailments.

celebrities who have dialysis treatments - gary coleman

Gary Coleman. The Diff’rent Strokes actor was born with a congenital autoimmune kidney disease (which limited his height to only 4 feet, 7 inches). He had at least two kidney transplant but also had to have thrice-weekly dialysis.

In 2010, reportedly weakened by his dialysis treatment, he fell down the stairs of his home. From US Magazine:

“Dialysis had taken a lot out of him that day,” Spence told Us. “He just wanted to go home, but he was pretty weak. He had no strength at all.”

Coleman died at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center where he was rushed following his accident. He was 42 years old.

Art Buchwald. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist and columnist Art Buchwald died in January 2007, eleven months after he decided to take himself off dialysis. Doctors warned that he will only live for two-three weeks if he’s off dialysis but he proved them wrong. In a letter he wrote to his readers, he explained his decision to forgo dialysis:

Via NPR: One of the reasons for the decision was that I lost a leg at Georgetown Hospital. I miss my leg, but when they told me I would also have to take dialysis for the rest of my life, I decided — too much.

Several things happened. My decision coincided with an appearance on Diane Rehm’s radio talk show. She has over a million listeners. I talked with her about my decision not to take dialysis. The response was very much in my favor. I had over 150 letters, and most of them said I did the right thing. This, of course, made me feel good.

I have a constant flow of visitors. Many of them have famous names, so much so that my family is impressed with who shows up. (I would not be getting the same attention if I were on dialysis.) I hold court in the big living room. We sit here for hours talking about the past, and since it’s my show, we talk about anything I want. It’s a wonderful place to be, and if for some reason somebody forgets to come see me, there’s always television and movies on DVD.

Also, I have received dozens of flower arrangements, something I would never get if I were on dialysis.

Richard Pryor. Grammy and Emmy award-winning comic icon Richard Pryor, who died of myocardial infarction in 2005, had to deal with several several health issues such as multiple sclerosis, heart attacks, a quadruple by-pass surgery, and third degree burns. He, apparently, also had a condition which required him to be on dialysis. Talking about the heart attack which took his life, Richard’s wife Jennifer also told People Magazine that, “he’d been on dialysis and that was taking a lot out of him. But the last two weeks were wonderful. He’d been communicating and happy and smiling.”

Neil Simon. Pulitzer and Emmy award-winning playwright Neil Simon has “been undergoing dialysis treatment three times a week” according to the New York Times which also went on to report that “he received a kidney yesterday from his longtime friend and publicist, Bill Evans, in transplant surgery at a New York hospital”.

James Michener. Like Art Buchwald above, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James Michener decided to no longer undergo dialysis. From Independent:

“A person on dialysis undergoes very heavy and irritating treatment and in time it seems more than you can bear,” he said. “There’s always an easy out. Just don’t go to hospital. Then, after two weeks, you’re dead.” A few days after his 90th birthday, James Michener took himself off his dialysis machine.

He died on October 16 of kidney failure.

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