Tobacco is an indiscriminate killer. It takes young and old, rich and poor alike. It steals lives through a multitude of diseases that follow tobacco use, including heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease.
Let’s take a look at some of the celebrities we’ve lost to tobacco over the years.
Famous Tobacco Victims
We often think that the health risks associated with tobacco use don’t apply to the larger than life celebrity figures we admire, but the fact is, no one is immune to the diseases that follow tobacco use.
Let’s take a look at some of the famous people we’ve lost to tobacco over the years.
Smoking and Heart Disease
The leading cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death from smoking, cardiovascular disease accounts for 17 million deaths annually worldwide. Most come from heart attacks and strokes.
Famous Tobacco Victims: Heart Disease
- Louis Armstrong
- Leonard Bernstein
- Noel Coward
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Ian Fleming
- Clark Gable
The toxins in cigarette smoke cause plaques to form in the arteries of smokers, leading to atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. Smoking can also cause sudden heart attacks, even in people who have never had a cardiac event before. Smokers have two to three times the risk of nonsmokers of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Smoking and Cancer
Once inhaled, the toxins in cigarette smoke reach virtually every organ in a smoker’s body, putting them at risk for numerous forms of cancer.
The second cause of death in the United States today, approximately 30% of all cancer deaths are linked to tobacco use. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and also the most preventable, with 87% of lung cancer deaths being related to smoking.
Smoking-related cancer risk goes up with the number of pack years reached.
Famous Tobacco Victims: Cancer
- Stephen E. Ambrose
Stephen E. Ambrose, a military historian and biographer, died of lung cancer on Oct. 13, 2002 at age 66. A long-time smoker, Ambrose had just 6 months after diagnosis to live.
- Desi Arnaz
Actor Desi Arnaz died of lung cancer on Dec. 2, 1986 at age 69. He was a star of the I Love Lucy TV series with wife Lucille Ball — both were smokers.
I Love Lucy was sponsored by Philip Morris, with their cigarette products appearing both in the show and in commercials during the show’s time slot.
The pair promoted cigarettes in this vintage Philip Morris TV commercial.
- Barbara Bel Geddes
Barbara Bel Geddes, actress. Lung cancer. Best known as Miss Ellie, matriarch of the Ewing family on the 1980s show Dallas, Bel Geddes smoked for many years. It wasn’t until she suffered a major heart attack in 1984 that she decided, along with some encouragement from her doctor, to quit smoking. She left the series temporarily to recover, but returned months later.
Barbara Bel Geddes ultimately died of lung cancer at her home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, on August 8, 2005.
- Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney was a singer and actress. A heavy smoker for most of her life, she was diagnosed with lung cancer late in 2001. She had a lobectomy in January of 2002, but suffered a recurrence months later. She lost her battle with lung cancer on June 29, 2002 at the age of 74.
- Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole, jazz singer. Lung cancer. Died Feb. 15, 1965 at the age of 45.
A KOOL menthol cigarette smoker, he would often smoke several cigarettes in a row before recording his songs. He believed they helped keep his deep, crooning voice low. He smoked approximately three packs of cigarettes a day.
Nat King Cole recorded his last album L-O-V-E days before admission to the hospital for lung cancer treatment. The album was released just before his death.
- George Harrison
George Harrison, musician and lead guitarist for The Beatles. Lung cancer. George was initially treated for throat cancer in 1997. In 2001, he had surgery for lung cancer, which then metastasized to his brain. He died on Nov. 29, 2001, at the age of 58.
- John Updike
Pulitzer Prize winning author with over 50 books penned under his name, John Updike fell victim to lung cancer. He died on Jan. 27, 2009.
A long-time smoker, it is unclear whether Mr. Updike had quit smoking before his cancer diagnosis. He was 76 years old when he died.
Smoking and Respiratory Disease
Smoking is directly linked to most types of chronic lung disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the third leading cause of death in the United States today, claiming a life every 4 minutes.
Twelve million people have been diagnosed with COPD and it’s estimated another 12 million have it who haven’t been diagnosed.
Famous Tobacco Victims: COPD
- Mary Astor
- Tallulah Bankhead
- Johnny Carson
Tobacco Victims: Our Loved Ones
If we live long enough, just about all of us will be touched in some way by the destruction that follows tobacco. Here at About.com Smoking Cessation we have a gallery that pays tribute to those we’ve loved and lost to tobacco.
- Tobacco Victims: Gallery of Lost Loved Ones
If you have lost someone to tobacco and would like to share their story, we would be honored to have it added to the growing library of personal accounts.
- Lost Loved Ones Submission Form
With five million people falling victim yearly to tobacco use worldwide, most of us have, or will, lose someone we love to a smoking-related disease.
As hard as it is to think about, facing the reality of where smoking leads helps us change our course and commit to smoking cessation.
This gallery pays tribute to those we’ve lost to tobacco and allows their stories to live on to inspire others to quit smoking.
We would be honored to have your loved one’s story added to the permanent library here at About.com Smoking Cessation. Please share below and include a photo of your loved one, if possible.
One in ten deaths worldwide is due to tobacco use, causing nearly six million deaths each and every year. If trends continue unchecked, that number could rise to eight million lives lost annually by the year 2030.
If you’re still smoking, quit now.