yul brynner
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Yul Brynner

Best known for his role as the bald, strutting monarch of Siam in the long-running Broadway musical The King and I, Brynner smoked up to five packs of cigarettes a day. He died at age 65 on Oct. 10, 1985, 3 months after his final on-stage performance. He filmed an anti-smoking commercial before his death.

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nat king cole
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Nat King Cole

Born Nathaniel Coles in 1919, he moved from Montgomery, AL, to Chicago when he was 4. His mother taught him to play the piano. An early star with his own television show, Cole’s biggest hits were “Mona Lisa,” “Ramblin’ Rose,” and “The Christmas Song.” A long-time cigarette and pipe smoker, Cole died at 45 in a Santa Monica, CA, hospital 3 weeks after surgery to remove his left lung.

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chuck connors
3 / 17

Chuck Connors

Connors played basketball for the Boston Celtics and baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He's known best for his television role as rifle-toting Lucas McCain in The Rifleman, from 1958 to 1963. He appeared in more than 45 films and television shows, including a memorable role in the miniseries Roots. He died of lung cancer at age 71, in 1992.

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joe dimaggio
4 / 17

Joe DiMaggio

The “Yankee Clipper” had a major-league record 56-game hitting streak in 1941 for the New York Yankees, was the husband of Marilyn Monroe, and starred in commercials for Mr. Coffee. DiMaggio made 11 All-Star teams and played in 10 World Series. He spent 99 days in the hospital after surgery for lung cancer. He died of infections and pneumonia associated with the disease in 1999 at the age of 84.

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walt disney
5 / 17

Walt Disney

The creator of Mickey Mouse and other iconic cartoon characters, Disney found success with Steamboat Willie. His empire eventually grew to award-winning movies, The Wonderful World of Disney television show, and Disneyland, which opened in 1955. A second park in Florida was in the works when he went to the hospital for surgery to remove part of his lung. He died 6 weeks later, shortly after his 65th birthday.

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duke ellington
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Duke Ellington

Born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C., he got his nickname from a childhood friend for his sophisticated bearing and dress. Ellington, the composer of more than 1,000 songs and a prominent jazz bandleader, accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon on Ellington’s 70th birthday in 1969. He died of complications from lung cancer in New York 5 years later.

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betty grable
7 / 17

Betty Grable

With her “girl next door” looks, Grable was one of the most successful actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Era, at one time holding the title of the highest paid woman in the United States. Born in St. Louis in 1916, she was the No. 1 female box officer earner between 1942 and '51. A lifelong heavy smoker, Grable was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1972 and died a year later.

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george harrison
8 / 17

George Harrison

Known as the “quiet Beatle,” Harrison played lead guitar and introduced sitar to popular music on the hit “Norwegian Wood.” After the band’s breakup, he continued as a solo artist with a string of hits, including “What Is Life” and “My Sweet Lord.” He had surgery for throat cancer -- which he attributed to smoking -- in 1997. Harrison had lung cancer surgery 4 years later and died shortly after at 58. 

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moe howard
9 / 17

Moe Howard

The leader of the Three Stooges with the bowl haircut, Moe Howard and his two brothers, Shemp and Curly, entertained generations of audiences with their unique brand of slapstick humor. Born Moses Harry Horwitz, Howard outlived the other Stooges but died of lung cancer in 1975 at the age of 78.

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peter jennings
10 / 17

Peter Jennings

Jennings dropped out of high school to work full-time as a radio reporter. He started with ABC News in 1964 and covered everything from the Civil Rights movement to the Middle East conflict before he became the network's evening news anchor. A longtime smoker, Jennings quit for a time, only to restart after 9/11. He underwent aggressive chemotherapy for lung cancer, only to die of the disease in 2005. He was 67.

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andy kaufman
11 / 17

Andy Kaufman

Television viewers first noticed Kaufman’s comedic genius when he landed the role of an immigrant auto mechanic on Taxi. Kaufman’s stand-up routine was anything but conventional. He played bongos, lip-synched to children’s records and taunted women wrestlers. Despite a healthy lifestyle, Kaufman got lung cancer in January of 1984 and died 4 months later.

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dean martin
12 / 17

Dean Martin

A member of Hollywood’s Rat Pack, the suave and sophisticated Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in 1917. Martin met Jerry Lewis in 1946. That pairing led to 16 feature films, plus popular radio and television programs. They split in 1956, and Martin went on to headline in Las Vegas, host his own TV show, and star in numerous movies. He died of acute respiratory failure stemming from lung cancer at age 78, in 1995.

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steve mcqueen
13 / 17

Steve McQueen

The blue-collar, man-of-action star of such films as Bullitt, The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, McQueen starred on television in Wanted: Dead or Alive. McQueen, a two-pack-a-day-smoker, got mesothelioma in 1980. He died during surgery to remove a tumor on his right lung. He was 50.

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jesse owens
14 / 17

Jesse Owens

Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands. Owens spent the rest of his life traveling as a motivational speaker and evangelist. A longtime smoker, Owens got lung cancer in 1979 and died 5 months later, at the age of 66.

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vincent price
15 / 17

Vincent Price

Price, best known for his roles in horror and thriller movies, made a famous cameo appearance in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. His role in the 1953 film House of Wax cemented his reputation as a villain. Price died in 1993 after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 82. 

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donna summer
16 / 17

Donna Summer

The “queen of disco” made her debut as a 10-year-old fill-in singer at her church in Boston. From that point, Summer’s place in music history was clear. In addition to 1970s disco hits “Love to Love You Baby,” “Hot Stuff,” and “Bad Girls,” Summer’s songs were crossover smashes on rhythm and blues, rock, contemporary, and dance charts. Despite never smoking, Summer got lung cancer and died in 2012, at the age of 63.

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john wayne
17 / 17

John Wayne

Marion Michael Morrison was a prop boy at Fox Studios in Hollywood. When stuntmen refused to jump in the ocean for one scene, director John Ford asked Morrison if he’d fill in. Most known for his westerns, Wayne played a variety of roles in everything from war movies to romantic leads. He made more than 200 films. A heavy smoker, Wayne had most of his left lung removed in 1964 and died of complications from stomach cancer 15 years later. He was 72. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/02/2019 Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 02, 2019


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American Cancer Society: "Key Statistics for Lung Cancer."

Los Angeles Times: "Yul Brynner's Posthumous Message," "From the Archives: Nat 'King' Cole dies of cancer at 45," "From the Archives: Wizard of Fantasy Walt Disney Dies," "From the Archives: Jazz Great Duke Ellington Dies in New York Hospital at 75," "From the Archives: Actor Steve McQueen Dies in Juarez Hospital," "From the Archives: Veteran Actor Vincent Price Dies at 82."

New York Times: "Chuck Connors, Actor, 71, Dies; Starred as Television's 'Rifleman'," "Joe DiMaggio, Yankee Clipper, Dies at 84," "Moe Howard, 78, Last Survivor Of The Three Stooges, Is Dead," "Jesse Owens Dies of Cancer at 66; Hero of the 1936 Berlin Olympics," "John Wayne Dead of Cancer on Coast at 72."

Lawrence Daily Journal: "Betty Grable Dead at 56."

San Francisco Chronicle: "George Harrison Dies After Long Fight With Cancer."

New York Daily News: "ABC News Anchorman Peter Jennings loses battle to cancer in 2005," "Andy Kaufman, ‘Taxi’ and ‘SNL’ comic, dies in 1984."

Biography.com: "Dean Martin."

CNN.com: "Donna Summer died of lung cancer not related to smoking."

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 02, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.