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Celebrities With COPD

You might have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) if you have shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. It usually comes as a result of long-term exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, or dusts. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis typically play a part in it. COPD has affected some of America's most famous people.

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Christy Turlington

This supermodel is one of Glamour’s 2013 “Women of the Year.” She's famous for her work with Calvin Klein and Maybelline. In 2006, a lung scan revealed she had early-stage emphysema. She began smoking at 13 and quit at 26 after her father died of lung cancer. She's now an anti-smoking activist. Since her diagnosis, Turlington has competed in four marathons and written a book about practicing yoga.

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Amy Winehouse

Winehouse, an English singer and songwriter, took home five Grammys in 2008, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year for “Rehab.” But her heavy smoking and drug use took a toll on her lungs. She admitted in a radio interview later in '08 that she found out she had early-stage emphysema. Winehouse died 3 years later of alcohol poisoning at 27.

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Dean Martin

“The King of Cool” was born Dino Paul Crocetti in 1917. Martin teamed with Jerry Lewis to make one of America’s most famous comedy duos. Martin also gained fame as a singer, a Las Vegas entertainer, and prominent member of the “Rat Pack,” along with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. A heavy smoker, Martin learned he had lung cancer in 1993. He died of complications from emphysema 2 years later.

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Johnny Carson

The iconic host of “The Tonight Show” began smoking cigarettes while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He never kicked the habit. After the war, Carson landed a job as a writer for Red Skelton in Hollywood. When Jack Paar vacated his late-night TV show in 1962, Carson took over and dominated the ratings for three decades until his retirement in 1992. He died in 2005 from respiratory failure due to emphysema.

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Leonard Nimoy

Nimoy knew as a teen that he wanted to become an actor. To follow those dreams, he spent time in the Army, sold vacuum cleaners and worked at an ice cream shop. His big break came in 1966, when he landed the role of Spock in “Star Trek.” Even though the series lasted just three seasons, Nimoy went on to play Spock in movies and television sequels for more than four decades. In 2014, Nimoy revealed he had COPD. He died a year later at age 83.

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Leonard Bernstein

He's most famous for his score for West Side Story. A graduate of Harvard’s music school, Bernstein was just 27 when he first conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He became musical director of the New York City Symphony 2 years later. His “Young People’s Concerts” on CBS in the '50s were critically acclaimed. A heavy smoker, Bernstein had emphysema for more than three decades. He announced his retirement in October of 1990 and died 5 days later.

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Barbara Stanwyck

Notable for her role as the head of the wealthy Barkley family from the TV show The Big Valley, Stanwyck made 85 films during a 38-year career. She earned four Academy Award nominations and won an honorary Oscar in 1982. She's a three-time Emmy winner, and the American Film Institute presented Stanwyck with a Life Achievement Award in 1987. A smoker since she was 9, she died of heart failure and COPD in 1990 at the age of 82.

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Chris Schenkel

After attending Purdue and serving in World War II, this Indiana-born sportscaster did play-by-play for Harvard University, then went to work for CBS Television in 1952 as the voice of the New York Giants football team. In 1965, Schenkel began a long-standing relationship with ABC Sports. He called the first live broadcast of The Masters, and served as studio host at the '68 and '72 Olympics. You might know him best from his 36-year run as the voice of ABC's coverage of professional bowling. Schenkel died of emphysema in 2005. 

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Don Imus

A high school dropout and former Marine Corps bugler, Imus gained fame hosting the morning show at WNBC Radio in New York. However, despite his overwhelming popularity, Imus' erratic behavior -- much of it from excessive drinking -- and controversial statements as a “shock jock” landed him in hot water with management. A 1989 inductee into the National Radio Hall of Fame, Imus died of complications from lung disease in 2019.

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Pat Nixon

Thelma “Pat” Ryan was teaching high school in Whittier, CA, when she met aspiring lawyer Richard Nixon and married him in 1940. When her husband decided to enter politics, Pat was a tireless campaigner and supporter. As first lady, several Gallup polls named her the “world’s most admired woman.” Nixon was a heavy smoker, though she never lit up in public. COPD put her in the hospital in 1993. She died of lung cancer during the same year.

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Norman Rockwell

America’s most famous illustrator painted more than 300 covers for “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine during a 47-year career. His reflections of small-town American life are some of the most enduring images of the 20th century. Rockwell also took on serious subjects like war, civil rights, poverty, and the space program in more than 4,000 original works. Rockwell died in 1978 of emphysema.

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Robert Mitchum

Whether playing the part of a cowboy, soldier, private detective, or bad guy, Robert Mitchum was the personification of cool during Hollywood’s golden era. His only Academy Award nomination came from The Story of G.I. Joe in 1946. Mitchum was as also an excellent singer, with two well-received albums to his credit. A lifelong smoker, he died from lung cancer and emphysema 5 weeks shy of his 80th birthday.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/09/2020 Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 09, 2020

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Mayo Clinic: “COPD: Symptoms and Causes.”
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “COPD.”
Everyday Health: “Seven Celebrities Affected by COPD.”
ABC News: “Turlington Diagnosed with Emphysema.”
Los Angeles Times: “As Amy Winehouse shows, signs of emphysema can begin early.”
Lung Health Institute: “Are There Any Celebrities With COPD?” “Leonard Nimoy’s Deadly Disease Focus of New Documentary Trailer.”
New York Times: “The Last Days of Leonard Bernstein.” “Do You Know These Ten Things About COPD?”
Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame: "Chris Schenkel." "About Vincent Price."
Norman Rockwell Museum: "About Norman Rockwell."
The Independent: “Robert Mitchum takes his last big sleep.”

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 09, 2020

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.