Eight Famous People Who Had Mesothelioma

by | Mar 20, 2017 | Mesothelioma |

Merlin Olsen (athlete, announcer, actor)

Merlin Olsen was an American football player and actor. He played as a defensive tackle with the Los Angeles Rams for 15 years and made the Pro Bowl every year except his last. From the late 1970s to the early 90s, Olsen worked as a sports commentator. He also had a successful career as an actor and is mostly known for playing Jonathan Garvey (Charles Ingalls sidekick) in Little House on the Prairie and the lead in the early 1980s drama Father Murphy.

Olsen was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2009. That same year, he filed a lawsuit for alleged exposure to asbestos. The defendants included NBC Studios, NBC Universal, and 20th Century Fox, Georgia Pacific, Sherwin-Williams, Lennox Corp. and more. He died on March 11, 2010 at the age of 69.

Paul Gleason (actor, athlete, poet)

Paul Gleason is an American actor who appeared in over 60 films but is most known for his roles in Die Hard and The Breakfast Club. You probably remember his iconic lines as Principal Richard Vernon, “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.” He also made many appearances on various TV shows and became quite well-known as Dr. David Thornton on All My Children. Prior to his acting career, Gleason was a professional baseball player. He only played for two minor league seasons with the Cleveland Indians.

Gleason died on May 29, 2006 at the age of 67. He had been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma just three weeks prior to his death. Although many actors have been exposed to asbestos on set, it’s suspected that Gleason was exposed to it while working on building sites with his father as a teenager.

Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen (marine, actor)

Photo by Steve Avery.
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“The King of Cool” was one of the best-known film stars of the 1960s. But McQueen had quite a journey on the way to becoming an actor. Needing to escape a dark childhood, he ran away from home at a young age, but he joined the Marines in the late 1940s. McQueen exhibited a lot of rebellious behavior while he served but managed to save the lives of five other Marines by pulling them from a tank just before it sank. In 1950, McQueen was honorably discharged, and just two years later he used money provided by the G.I. Bill to study acting in New York. He eventually went on to star in films such as The Great Escape, Wanted: Dead or Alive, and Papillon.

In 1978, McQueen had developed a persistent cough and shortness of breath with no signs of improvement. The following year he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. McQueen believed he had been most likely been exposed to asbestos during his time in the Marines working with pipes on a troop ship. In 1980, McQueen traveled to Mexico to undergo an unconventional and controversial treatment that led to his death in 1980. He was 50 years old.

Warren Zevon (singer-songwriter)

Warren Zevon was an American rock singer, songwriter, and musician. He is most known for his 3rd album, Excitable Boy, which included hits like “Werewolves of London”, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” His songs were often witty but controversial in content, discussing things such as outlaws, mercenaries and sociopaths.

Like many others with mesothelioma, Zevon began experiencing a persistent cough and shortness of breath. Those who knew him well claim that Zevon had a strong distrust of doctors, but in the fall of 2002 he consulted a physician and was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. He was very open to the public about his condition and even appeared on David Letterman’s show a few months later. He died on September 7, 2003 at the age of 56. His son Jordan Zevon has followed in his father’s footsteps and is also an award-winning musician. He is also a spokesman for the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) and speaks openly about his dad’s death to help raise awareness.

Hamilton Jordan (White House Chief of Staff)

Hamilton Jordan was a well-known politically because of his work with Jimmy Carter’s campaigns. In the 1976 presidential campaign, Jordan was a key advisor and strategist. After Carter took office the following year, Jordan began serving as the White House Chief of Staff. He had a bit of a reputation, and there were many rumors about drug use and sexual allegations but nothing was ever confirmed. After Carter’s presidency ended, he continued his work in politics, including running for one of Georgia’s Senate seats. However, Jordan lost in the primary.

On March 20, 2008, Jordan died from peritoneal mesothelioma at the age of 63. In 1967, he had joined the International Voluntary Services as part of an effort to help with the Vietnam War. The group provided community development and agricultural assistance in Vietnam. Jordan believed that he was exposed to asbestos while volunteering with this group in Vietnam.

Joe Sample (jazz musician)

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Joe Sample was an American pianist and composer who was well known in the jazz world. His interest in music started at the early age of five when he began playing the piano. During the 1950s, as a high school student, he and other classmates formed a group called the Swingsters. The group continued to build and eventually, the sextet changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders. In the 1970s the band started to experiment with new sounds because the jazz audience seemed to be declining. They incorporated more funk and changed the group name once more to the Crusaders. Joe Sample also achieved success working as a studio musician. His keyboard work can be heard on tracks from Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, Steely Dan, and B.B. King.

Sample passed away on September 12, 2014. His family did not speak openly about his diagnosis. They only confirmed that he died of mesothelioma.

Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt (Chief of Naval Operations)

Elmo Zumwalt was a decorated war veteran and also the youngest man to serve as Chief of Naval Operations. Both of Zumwalt’s parents were doctors, and he had originally planned to continue with tradition and become a doctor. But in 1939 he was accepted into the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. That was the start to an incredibly accomplished military career. Zumwalt was assigned his first ship in 1942 as World War II was making its way across the Pacific. After WWII, Zumwalt went on to serve at a variety of commands and eventually became an expert in surface warfare. In the summer of 1970, after being recognized for his efforts in the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon nominated him to become Chief of Naval Operations. Zumwalt pushed to reshape the Navy by attempting to reduce discrimination against women and racial minorities, which was met with heavy resistance from retired admirals. In 1974, Zumwalt retired from his position but remained in the public eye. He ran for the Senate in Virginia two years later but was defeated by independent Senator Harry Byrd.

Zumwalt’s asbestos exposure mostly likely happened during his naval career. Asbestos was widely used on naval vessels until it was banned in the 1980s. He died at the age of 79 on January 2, 2000.

Ed Lauter (actor)

You probably know Ed Lauter from various TV and movie appearances, such as The Longest Yard, The Artist, King Kong, Charlies Angels, Magnum P.I., Miami Vice and more! Lauter got his acting career started on Broadway but quickly made it to the screen where he had his first debut in a 1971 episode of the TV series Mannix. His film career went on for over four decades.

Lauter was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in May of 2013. Only five months later on October 16, he passed away in his home at the age of 74. Shortly after his death, Lauter’s family filed a lawsuit against the broadcasting, automotive, and manufacturing companies that he worked with throughout his career for exposing him to asbestos.