In 1964, John Wayne developed lung cancer and had some ribs removed, which left him with health problems for the rest of his life. Duke would stubbornly struggle through physical scenes in his films, secretly relying on an oxygen mask he was desperate to keep from the public, so as not to tarnish his powerful cinematic image. He went on to make a string of films over the next decade, including winning an Academy Award for True Grit, the final film for the Western legend, The Shootist, which hit theaters in 1976, just three years before his death.
It is commonly believed that Wayne was living with stomach cancer that killed him in 1979, when he played a cowboy stricken with the disease in The Shootist. However, that wasn’t the case, as Duke had been cancer-free since 1969. According to Scott Ryman’s John Wayne: The Life and Legend, the star was diagnosed with cancer again in 1975, but recovered before he began filming on his latest movie. Movie. However, the actor’s other health problems were bothering him, which nearly resulted in him losing the role.
Wayne was ill for most of 1974, having developed a severe bout of viral pneumonia after filming the sequel to True Grit, Rooster Cogburn, with Katharine Hepburn. She caused Duke to cough so violently that he damaged a heart valve which caused more problems when he eventually filmed The Shootist, which is showing on ITV4 today.
Initially, his poor health and stamina on Rooster Cogburn meant he was not initially considered for what would be his final film. The role was offered to the likes of Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, George C. Scott, Paul Newman, and Gene Hackman, but they passed on it.
The Shootist’s producers thought Wayne was too old at 69 to be believable as a fighter. However, producer Dino De Laurentiis insisted on casting him even though JB Books’ character was only 50 in the novel on which the film was based. Filming with co-stars Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, and Ron Howard took place in Carson City. With an altitude of 4,600 feet, Duke’s single lung capacity was compromised the whole time while he struggled with mobility.
Eventually, production of The Shootist was halted as Wayne was hospitalized for two weeks with the flu. The star was also suffering from an enlarged prostate during filming, which wouldn’t play out until late 1976. At one point, it was actually uncertain if the movie would ever finish because Duke was so ill his doctors were closing in on it. prevented him from finishing his production work.
Given his significant health issues in the movie, it’s unlikely he would have succeeded in securing the project had the full scope been known. Of course, in the end, Wayne did the full shoot, but his stomach cancer returned and he made another public appearance at the Academy Awards on April 9, 1979. Here he used a secret trick to hide how remarkably thin he was. Become.
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It is later discovered that Wayne was wearing a wetsuit under a tuxedo to stretch himself out that night. The Western star was greeted with a standing ovation as The Deer Hunter was declared Best Picture. He died just two months later on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72 with his family around him. His daughter, Issa, took his hand and asked him if he knew who she was, and he replied with his last words.
“Of course,” said the Duke gently, “I know who you are. You are my girl. I love you.” Shortly before his death, the 72-year-old converted to Roman Catholicism and asked that his tombstone read, “Feo, Fuerte y Formal,” a Spanish inscription meaning “ugly, vigorous, and dignified.”
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