Health Diaries > Celebrity Health

June 2, 2008

Bo Diddley Dead at 79

Legendary musician Bo Diddley has died of heart failure at the age of 79.

He had suffered a stroke and heart attack in August and was at home in Florida undergoing speech rehabilitation.

Diddley sang, played guitar, and wrote songs. He was known for his rectangular guitar and the "Bo Diddley beat." He was an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1999 he received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award.

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May 31, 2008

Remembering Lorenzo Odone

Maybe of you may not recognize the name Lorenzo Odone or know why he would be on this celebrity health website. Lorenzo was the unfortunate boy depicted in the Hollywood film "Lorenzo's Oil," which starred Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon.

Lorenzo was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a severe and usually fatal neurological disorder, in 1983 at the age of 5. Lorenzo's parents, Augusto and Michaela Odone, left no stone unturned in their efforts to find a cure for their son's ALD. They ultimately developed a mixture of two cooking oils, later known as Lorenzo's Oil, and began feeding it to Lorenzo. While he had already become uncommunicative and bedbound, it helped stabilize his condition and enabled him to survive for decades beyond expectations. We now know that the oil actually prevents onset of ALD in susceptible boys, thus saving their lives, although it does not cure those who already have the disease. It was a tremendous achievement that left medical researchers in awe.

Lorenzo died early this morning at the age of 30. Even though he never knew it, he was a celebrity patient because his story educated millions of people about ALD. His father, Augusto, is still active in trying to find a cure for ALD and other related leukodystrophies. Please check out his webiste at

I had the great privilege of telling Lorenzo's story in my book, "When Illness Goes Public," in a chapter entitled "The Last Angry Man and Woman: Lorenzo Odone's Parents Fight the Medical Establishment."

Barron H. Lerner, MD, PhD
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Author of "When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients
and How We Look at Medicine" (Johns Hopkins, 2007)

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May 20, 2008

Ted Kennedy Diagnosed with Malignant Glioma

On Saturday, Sen. Edward Kennedy was taken to the hospital after suffering a seizure. A biopsy determined that he has a malignant glioma brain tumor in the left parietal lobe.

Kennedy will be undergoing more tests in the next few days to determine the best treatment options for him. There are a few different types of gliomas but under current treatment protocols all of them have a poor prognosis, with only 50% of people being diagnosed living longer than a year after diagnosis.

Traditional treatment usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, though they are usually just used to prolong the patient's life rather than cure the cancer.

However, one promising area of research into the treatment of gliomas is the use of certain compounds in marijuana. Researchers at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Madrid's Complutense University found that cannabinoids induced apoptosis (cell death) in glioma cells and also inhibited the growth of gliomas.

In addition, the cannabinoids did not harm non-cancerous cells in any way, unlike radiation and chemotherapy. (study)

Other clinical studies have also shown cannabinoids to inhibit gliomas as well as other types of cancer.

All of the experts in the media are telling us that Kennedy's prognosis is poor and that his only options are chemo and radiation, when the research clearly shows otherwise. Unfortunately, this treatment is illegal and not approved in the United States or Canada because of the ridiculous stigma associated with marijuana.

With the poor prognosis given to glioma patients who undergo chemo and radiation, isn't it their right to try something that might work better? Isn't it our right as human beings to have access to a natural plant that could save our lives?

Ted Kennedy has been a champion of research into medical marijuana. Now he has the chance to bring this issue to the public eye in a very personal way. I hope for his sake and the sake of all people who are told they have "incurable" cancer that he does.

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April 5, 2008

Charlton Heston Dead at 84

Legendary actor Charlton Heston has died at the age of 84 of undisclosed causes.

Heston starred in films such as Ben-Hur (for which he won the Best Actor Academy Award), The Ten Commandments, El Cid, and Planet of the Apes.

In his later years, he was outspoken about politics and gun rights and served as president of the National Rifle Association from 1998 to 2003.

His family made the following statement:

"Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played. No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family, to his profession, and to his country."

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March 6, 2008

What's the Real Story with Patrick Swayze?

The recent sad news about Patrick Swayze's pancreatic cancer reminds us that it is extremely difficult for the public to learn what is really going on with sick celebrities. Although famous people are now much more likely to reveal their diagnoses, most continue to keep aspects of their illnesses private. This is even more likely when the celebrity has a grave diagnosis like pancreatic cancer.

It is also common for a celebrity's publicist or agent to issue an optimistic report about the prognosis. Such a statement has already been made in Swayze's case. Yet while we hope that it is true, Swayze's diagnosis remains quite severe. The vast majority of people with pancreatic cancer die of the disease because it is not caught in time.

In contrast to breast or prostate cancer, relatively few celebrities become spokespeople for pancreatic cancer. There are simply not enough survivors and most people dying of the disease, like Luciano Pavarotti, gradually become more private as their condition worsens.

Having said all of this, I obviously wish Mr. Swayze luck and hope that he is in the category of patients whose disease is truly caught early enough to cure. And if his case helps others with pancreatic cancer or at risk for the disease, he--like other celebrity patients before him--will have done a huge service by "going public."

Barron H. Lerner, MD, PhD
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Author of "When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients
and How We Look at Medicine" (Johns Hopkins, 2007)

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March 5, 2008

Patrick Swayze Has Pancreatic Cancer

Patrick Swayze, 55, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The National Enquirer broke the story and reported that Swayze only had weeks to live, but Dr. George Fisher, his physician, told US Magazine:

"Patrick has a very limited amount of disease and he appears to be responding well to treatment thus far. All of the reports stating the timeframe of his prognosis and his physical side effects are absolutely untrue. We are considerably more optimistic."

Because pancreatic cancer is very difficult to treat once it has progressed, it's great to know that Swayze's doctor believes his disease is limited and that they are optimistic.

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February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. Dead at 82

Conservative writer and commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. died on Wednesday at the age of 82 while working in his study in Stamford, Connecticut. He had been suffering with emphysema and diabetes.

In 1945 Buckley enrolled at Yale University where he became a member of the infamous secret society, Skull and Bones. A year after graduation, he was recruited into the CIA, in which he reportedly served for less than a year. In 1955, he founded the conservative National Review. From 1966 to 1999 he hosted the PBS show Firing Line. Throughout his career, he published many works of fiction and non-fiction.

His wife Pat Buckley died last year. They had one son, writer and satirist Christopher Buckley.

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February 11, 2008

Jaws Star Roy Scheider Dies at 75

Actor Roy Scheider has died at the age of 75 after a three year battle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma cells.

He went into partial remission in 2005 after a bone marrow transplant. His wife, Brenda Siemer, says he died on Sunday of complications from a staph infection while undergoing treatment at the Myeloma Institute for Reserch and Therapy at the University of Arkansas.

Scheider's most popular role was as police chief Martin Brody in Jaws. He also starred in several other successful films, including All That Jazz, Klute, Marathon Man, and The French Connection, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.

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