Mesothelioma is a devastating form of cancer which annually claims the lives of approximately 3,000 people in the U.S. The sole known cause of this disease is asbestos exposure. It is estimated that over 5,000 different consumer products have been manufactured with asbestos throughout the past century, while 11 million people were exposed to this toxic mineral between 1940 and 1978. With a long latency period, mesothelioma typically develops several decades after exposure. Consequently, most people who were in contact with asbestos before the 1980s, when it was incredibly prevalent, were only recently diagnosed.
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However, people who worked in high-risk occupational settings such as the construction industry and veterans who have been exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Military are not the only groups who struggle with mesothelioma. Over the course of the past decades, multiple celebrities have been diagnosed with this form of cancer, many of whom tragically lost their lives. We have compiled a list of five famous celebrities who battled mesothelioma, although it is regrettably far from being exhaustive.
1. Paul Gleason (1939 – 2006)
Having starred in 140 films and TV shows, including famous productions such as All My Children, Die Hard and Trading Places, Paul Gleason is perhaps best known for his role in The Breakfast Club. The actor was also an accomplished athlete, with a short-lived but remarkable professional basketball career with the Cleveland Indians. He has also participated in numerous celebrity golf tournaments.
In 2005, Paul Gleason’s health began dramatically declining and one year later, he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. He was exposed to asbestos as a teenager, while he was working on various constructions sites with his father, a building contractor. Unfortunately, the actor’s illness was detected too late and as a result, mesothelioma did not respond to treatment. Paul Gleason passed away on May 27, three weeks after the diagnosis, at the age of 67.
2. Ed Lauter (1938 – 2013)
As a successful actor and comedian, Ed Lauter has had roles in over 200 movies and television projects over the course of his impressive 45-year career. The Longest Yard and Born on the Fourth of July are only two of the critically acclaimed films he is renowned for, as well as for his appearance on famous TV shows such as The X-Files and Charlie’s Angels.
The actor found out he was suffering from pleural mesothelioma in 2013 and passed away five months later, on October 16, at the age of 74. After his death, Mia Lauter, his wife, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple automotive, broadcasting and manufacturing companies which might have been responsible for Ed Lauter’s exposure to asbestos. Some of the companies held accountable are CBS Corporation, John Crane, Inc., and Ford Motor Company, as his exposure is believed to have occurred at several film studios and sets in Los Angeles, where Ed Lauter had worked for 20 years, as well as through various auto components, including brakes and clutches.
3. Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980)
Steve McQueen, also known as The King of Cool by virtue of his iconic role in The Great Escape, was one of the highest-paid actors in the world in 1974. Throughout his outstanding acting career, he has starred in famous films such as Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Magnificent Seven and The Towering Inferno. The car chase which the actor performed in Bullitt is considered one of the greatest scenes in film history.
After struggling with a persistent cough, Steve McQueen was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in December 1979. However, because the cancer was considerably advanced, the number of treatments he could safely undergo was limited and surgery was strongly not recommended. Despite the serious risks associated with the procedure, the actor decided to have several malignant tumors removed from his neck and abdominal cavity in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Shortly after the surgery, on November 7, 1980, Steve McQueen died of a heart attack.
The actor had been exposed to high levels of asbestos during his military service in the U.S. Marine Corps when he would frequently remove asbestos-containing insulation from ships. Steve McQueen’s hobby, car racing, might have also contributed to his illness, as the flame retardant suits he wore were often lined with asbestos to protect drivers from the fire. Moreover, the movie sound stage insulation could have represented a source of exposure for Steve McQueen as well.
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4. Malcolm McLaren (1946 – 2010)
Musician, visual artist and fashion designer Malcolm McLaren was an iconic figure of the British punk rock movement during the 1970s. Although he is best known for having brought together the members of the first British punk band, The Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren’s owning of the notorious SEX boutique on the King’s Road in Chelsea and his collaboration with Vivienne Westwood have undoubtedly contributed to his fame as well.
The artist found out he was suffering from peritoneal mesothelioma in 2009, after having been misdiagnosed by a doctor who claimed the suspicious spots which appeared on the X-rays were, in fact, benign. Soon after receiving the diagnosis, Malcolm McLaren sought treatment in Switzerland, but cancer was unfortunately too severe. He passed away on 8 April 2010, at the age of 64. Exposure to asbestos is very likely to have occurred while Malcolm McLaren was remodeling the ceiling of his clothing boutique.
5. Joe Sample (1939 – 2014)
Joe Sample – pianist, composer, and keyboard player – was a jazz pioneer famous for his unique music style, a fusion of blues, soul, bebop and funk. He was also one of the founding members of the band Jazz Crusaders, which subsequently change its name to The Crusaders. The musician is also renowned for his numerous collaborations with famous performers, including George Benson, Eric Clapton and B. B. King.
The cause of Joe Sample’s death, which occurred on September 12, 2014, is pleural mesothelioma. Nevertheless, information regarding his circumstances of exposure to asbestos has not been made public.