Celebrities With the Lung Disease COPD
COPD damages the lungs
Many people have never heard of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But it's a lung condition that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and is the fourth leading cause of death in the US. People who have it can end up with inflamed or damaged airways that make it difficult to breathe. In most cases, COPD is caused by smoking.
It is not a glamorous disease. The most recognizable symptom of COPD is a chronic, hacking cough. And yet, over the years, celebrities who have suffered from COPD—most of whom developed emphysema from smoking—have, through their fame, brought greater awareness to this serious and life-threatening disease.
The ethos of the Rat Pack can be summed up as a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other. But the high life can take its toll, and for Dean Martin—crooner, actor, roaster of celebrities—cigarettes ultimately hastened his demise.
Martin was a heavy smoker, and late in life he developed emphysema, which lent a perpetual wheezing to his breathing. In 1995, at the age of 78, he eventually died of acute respiratory failure.
In 1997, after her father died of lung cancer, supermodel Christy Turlington lent her million-dollar looks to a series of antismoking public service announcements. Turlington herself had quit smoking in 1994, after maintaining a pack-a-day habit for nearly a decade.
She didn’t quit soon enough. Three years later, at the age of 31, the cover girl
revealed that she had early-stage emphysema. Turlington’s story is a vivid reminder that COPD can start to develop in one’s 20s, and even earlier, although most people aren't diagnosed until their 40s, 50s, or 60s.
As unbelievable as it may seem now, it wasn’t too long ago that smoking cigarettes on live television was considered perfectly normal. Times have changed, but unfortunately they didn’t change quickly enough for Johnny Carson, who for years smoked cigarettes on air as the host of the Tonight Show. He succumbed to emphysema at the age of 79.
At 76, Carson was reportedly still playing tennis twice a week, but in his later years he grew bloated from steroid medications and winded when he climbed stairs. “Those damn cigarettes,” Carson repeated over and over in his last conversation with his brother.
Leonard Bernstein had one of the great careers in American music; he was a longtime conductor of the New York Philarmonic, and the composer of the scores for West Side Story and On the Waterfront. Sadly, the maestro’s life was cut short at just 72 years old, when he died of a heart attack brought on by progressive lung failure.
Bernstein smoked throughout his life, developed emphysema, and had been fighting off pulmonary infections before his death.