Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on August 28, 2023
Eddie Money

Eddie Money


This rock star of “Two Tickets to Paradise” fame learned he had esophageal cancer after a routine checkup. The disease was already at stage IV, the most advanced, and had spread to his lymph nodes and liver. Money died in September 2019, just a few weeks after he went public with his disease. He was 70.

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg


She credits fellow fashion designer Ralph Lauren for helping to catch her tongue cancer. Lauren had a benign tumor in his brain that caused noise in his left ear. Von Furstenberg had the same complaint. A biopsy of a swollen gland found no sign of cancer. Still, she insisted on surgery to take out what was supposed to be a harmless cyst in her tongue. It was skin cancer. With radiation, von Furstenberg has stayed cancer-free since 1994.

Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr.


The day after a 1989 performance in Florida, this legendary entertainer and Rat Pack member awoke with an odd sore throat. The culprit was cancer behind his vocal cords. Eight weeks of radiation treatment seemed to cure it. But the next year, Davis was hospitalized for what seemed like a gum infection. Doctors found that his throat cancer had come back. Davis stopped chemotherapy and died shortly later at age 64.

Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen


Called one of the greatest rock guitarists, Van Halen felt a callus on his tongue in 2000. It was cancer. He tried an experimental treatment, and doctors also took out part of his tongue. The cancer returned a decade later, this time in his throat as well. He had more of his tongue removed. The chain-smoking Van Halen blamed his cancer on metal guitar picks he once held in his mouth, not on cigarettes. He died of a stroke on October 6, 2020.

Erin Moran

Erin Moran


In late 2016, this former Happy Days actress woke up to a spot of blood on her pillow. It happened again, and again, for weeks. Finally, Moran’s husband peered into her mouth with a flashlight. He found her left tonsil raw and swollen. A biopsy confirmed she had stage IV throat cancer. Moran started radiation and chemotherapy right away. But the cancer spread aggressively fast. Moran died only a few months later, at age 56.

Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper


The former Los Angeles Lakers star and one-time coach of WNBA’s Atlanta Dream was stunned to learn in 2014 that the “shooting pains” on the left side of his tongue weren’t due to his molars. He had early-stage tongue cancer. Surgeons took out 55 lymph nodes and a section of his tongue a bit bigger than a quarter. Cooper now speaks out for regular screening for head and neck cancers, which kill about 15,000 Americans each year.

Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch


This founding member of the hip-hop group Beastie Boys had tumors in his parotid glands. These salivary glands are inside your cheeks, just in front of each ear. Parotid cancer is rare. It can strike from unclear causes and is often hard to treat. Yauch had surgery followed by radiation, and once declared himself hopeful “that I’ve beaten this thing.” The rapper died three years after his diagnosis, in 2012. He was 47.

Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas


This actor and producer was diagnosed with stage IV oral cancer in 2010. He first said the cancer was in his throat. He actually had tongue cancer, which can require disfiguring surgery. Douglas said the cause was human papillomavirus (HPV) he caught from giving oral sex. HPV, a very common sexually transmitted virus, is the No. 1 cause of throat cancers and can lead to tongue cancers. After radiation and chemotherapy, Douglas is now healthy.

Ann Richards

Ann Richards


The former Texas governor and Democratic icon died of esophageal cancer in 2006, just 6 months after her diagnosis. The disease, which affects the cells that line the tube that links the throat to the stomach, can have no symptoms in early stages. Most people survive less than 5 years with esophageal cancer. Heavy tobacco and alcohol use can raise your odds of having it. Richards had both habits.

John Gotti

John Gotti


He was nicknamed Teflon Don for getting away with murders during his flashy reign as head of New York’s Gambino mafia group. But the law eventually caught up with Gotti. And once he got behind bars, so did throat cancer. He had surgery in prison in 1998 and was hospitalized several more times. Gotti died in 2002 at age 61, 10 years into his life sentence.

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton


Crichton was trained as a doctor and created the TV medial drama ER. But the prolific author of blockbusters The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park kept the news of his cancer private. It wasn’t until after his shocking death at age 66 in 2008 that the public learned Crichton had throat cancer.

George Harrison

George Harrison


This ex-Beatle first noticed a lump on his neck while gardening. The small tumor turned out to be throat cancer. Harrison had surgery and radiation in 1998. Harrison was smoker. Three out of four head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use, and men are twice more likely as women to get them. Harrison had many other health problems, including a brain tumor and lung cancer. The youngest Beatle died at 58 in 2001.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert


He was half of the film reviewer team “Siskel and Ebert.” The rotund, bespectacled Ebert’s decade-long battle with cancer began in 2002. First, doctors removed his cancerous thyroid. Then part of his salivary glands. Then in 2006, Ebert lost a portion of his lower jaw. He could no longer eat solid foods or use his voice. But Ebert kept blogging and reviewing movies. He died in 2014 at age 70.

Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly


This former Buffalo Bills quarterback has faced several bouts of cancer since 2013. Doctors removed tumors from Kelly’s upper jaw, only to have the cancer appear the following year in his sinus. Kelly was deemed cancer-free in 2014. But the disease returned again in 2018. Today, Kelly is once again in remission. But the many treatments has made it hard for him to speak and left him unable to make saliva or to taste food.

Peter Tork

Peter Tork


He was best known as the “goofy” member of the 1960s made-for-TV band, the Monkees. Tork had surgery in 2009 for a rare and deadly type of cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). It commonly appears in the salivary glands. But Tork’s was in an unusual location on the lower part of his tongue. Researchers don’t know what causes this kind of cancer. Tork died at 77 in 2019 of complications of his cancer.

Lana Turner

Lana Turner


A sore throat sent this sultry Hollywood icon to the doctor in 1992. It led to surgery for “a small cancer” in her throat. Turner had used alcohol and cigarettes heavily. She had radiation therapy, eventually quit smoking, and her cancer went into remission. Turned died three years later at age 75, reportedly of natural causes.

Larry Hagman

Larry Hagman


He achieved TV fame as villain J.R. Ewing on Dallas. In 2011, Hagman learned he had throat cancer. But the illness hardly seemed to faze him. Years earlier, he had already faced possible death before his liver transplant. Hagman signed up for 6 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy to treat his throat tumor. On the way to the hospital, he made time to wrap up shooting for a remake of Dallas. Hagman died in a year later at age 81.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud


He’s called the father of psychoanalysis. Freud, a heavy smoker, spent the last 20 years of his life having dozens of surgeries for cancer in his jawbone. His verrucous carcinoma, also called Ackerman’s tumor, happens most often in older men and stems largely from tobacco use. Doctors fitted him with mechanical jaws. Freud hated his prosthetics until he got a lighter version that allowed him to chew, talk -- and smoke -- as before. He died in 1939 at 83.

Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart


Rick Blaine in Casablanca. Sam Spade in TheMaltese Falcon. Bogart often played cool characters, usually with a cigarette pinched between their lips. “Bogie” smoked in real life, too. At the urging of his wife, Lauren Bacall, the actor in 1956 saw an internist about his worsening cough and a burning in his throat when he drank orange juice. He had throat cancer. Bogart died less than a year later. He was 57.

Ed Sullivan

Ed Sullivan


His groundbreaking TV variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show, introduced major acts like Elvis and the Beatles to Americans. Sullivan was hospitalized in New York in September 1974 with what turned out to be cancer in his esophagus. He died 37 days later, shortly after his 73rd birthday.

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland


At the start of his second presidential term -- the only time in U.S. history that someone served two non-consecutive terms in the White House -- Cleveland noticed a growing bump in the roof of his mouth. Cancer wasn’t very treatable in 1893. Fearing a national uproar, he arranged a secret, risky operation on a friend’s yacht. Six surgeons removed the tumor, some teeth, and much of Cleveland’s upper jawbone. Luckily, he had a built-in disguise: his walrus mustache. He lived until 1908.

Show Sources


1) Kevin Foley / Wikipedia

2) David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons

3) Alan Light / flickr

4) Laurence Faure / Wikipedia

5) Bobby Bank / Getty Images

6) Scott Cunningham / Getty Images

7) Artiquities / Wikipedia

8) David Shankbone / flickr

9) Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikipedia

10) Dugrad / Wikipedia

11) Jon Chase / Wikimedia Commons

12) David Hume Kennerly / Wikipedia

13) Sound Opinions / Wikimedia Commons

14) Staff Sgt. Corenthia Fennell / Wikimedia Commons

15) Amysmith1981 / Wikimedia Commons

16) MGM / Wikimedia Commons

17) Glenn Francis / Wikimedia Commons

18) Max Halberstadt / Wikipedia

19) flickr

20) Maurice Carnes LaClaire / Wikimedia Commons

21) National Archives and Records Service / Wikipedia




Chicago Tribune: “Eddie Money, ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’ Singer, Dies at 70,” “Roger Ebert Cuts Film Review Workload After Cancer Returns.”

People magazine: “I’m Just Lucky To Be Alive,” “Valerie Bertinelli Addresses Eddie's Past Health Battles.”

Oral Cancer Foundation: “Sammy Davis Jr.,” “Peter Tork,” “Aldous Huxley,”
“Humphrey Bogart,” “Lana Turner.”

Vogue: “Diane Von Furstenberg Shares Her Philosophy on Aging in an Excerpt from Her New Memoir.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Death of Ann Richards Stirs Debate About Esophageal-Cancer Screening.”

Mayo Clinic: “Esophageal Cancer.”

The New York Times: “Former Texas Governor Ann Richards Dies at 73,” “Mr. Cleveland is Dead at 71,” “Larry Hagman, Who Played J.R. Ewing in ‘Dallas,’ Dies at 81,”  “Peter Tork, Court Jester of the Monkees, is dead at 77,” “John Gotti Dies in Prison at 61: Mafia Boss Relished the Spotlight, “George Harrison, Former Beatle, Dies at 58,” “Lana Turner, the Sultry Actress, Is Dead at 75.”

The ASCO Post (the American Society of Clinical Oncology): “Michael Douglas Shares His Experience With Stage IV Oropharyngeal Cancer.”

National Cancer Institute: “Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment.”

The Washington Post: “What Men Should Know About Cancer That Spreads Through Oral Sex.”

CDC: “HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer.”

NPR: “A Yacht, A Mustache: How A President Hid His Tumor,” “Other Acts That Shared 'The Ed Sullivan Show' Stage.”

Self: “With Oral and Throat Cancer on the Rise, Here Are Signs to Look Out For.”

Associated Press: “Erin Moran’s Cause of Death Confirmed.”

Fast Company: “Michael Crichton on the Block: Record Haul Expected from 'Jurassic Park,' 'ER' Creator's Collection."

MTV News: “Adam Yauch's Cancer: How Rare Is It?”

Head and Neck Cancer Alliance: Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week: Celebrity Spokespersons and Notable Sports Figures.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Understanding Immunotherapy.”

Texas Monthly: “Larry Hagman’s Curtain Call.”

CNN: “Roger Ebert, Renowned Film Critic, Dies at Age 70,” “ ‘Dallas’ star Larry Hagman diagnosed with cancer.”

Biography: “Aldous Huxley,” “Humphrey Bogart.”

Billboard: “Eddie Van Halen Confirms Cancer Diagnosis.”

The Atlantic: “Colon Eruption: Stay Strong, Eddie Van Halen.”

Journal of Trauma & Treatment: Treatment of Sigmund Freud’s Maxillary Jawbone Cancer.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Jim Kelly's MRI Comes Back Clean of Cancer.”

Wired: “George Harrison Dying From Cancer.”

Deseret News: “Sammy Davis Jr. Enters Hospital for Gum Infection.”

Los Angeles Times: “Family, Friends Keep Vigil for Sammy Davis Jr.”

Rolling Stone: “100 Greatest Guitarists.” “Eddie Van Halen on Surviving Addiction, Why He's Still Making Music and What He Really Thinks of David Lee Roth (and Other Past Van Halen Bandmates).”

Esquire: “Edward Van Halen Is Alive.” “Cancer Didn’t Slow Michael Cooper.”

MedlinePlus: “Head and Neck Cancer.”

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences: “Adenoid cystic carcinoma.”

The Week: “Lauren Bacall's remarkably honest account of Humphrey Bogart's death.”

Vanity Fair: “The Ed Sullivan Show, Reconsidered.”