13 Celebrities Who Died of Cancer

The brave struggles of famous people who've died of cancer


Patrick Swayze – Aug. 18, 1952 - Sept. 14, 2009

Patrick Swayze
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Best known for his roles in "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing," Patrick Swayze proved himself a true fighter by working full time while undergoing intense chemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer.

Swayze's cancer treatment included an experimental drug called vatalanib, which aims inhibit the enzyme activity that promotes cancer cell growth and proliferation.

Swayze was determined not to let cancer beat or change him. He even continued his lifelong habit of smoking during treatment (something that doctors don't recommend). But somehow he managed to live almost two years with a disease that usually is fatal within months after a diagnosis.


Paul Newman – Jan. 26, 1925 - Sept. 26, 2008

Paul Newman At Gallery Opening
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When pictures began to surface in 2008 of a fragile-looking Paul Newman, the media began to speculate that the Hollywood icon was ill. No public statement was ever made regarding his health, but rumors began to circulate that the star was battling cancer and only had weeks to live. His publicist vehemently squashed the rumors, issuing statements claiming that the actor was in perfectly good health.

Today, we know that Paul Newman had been secretly battling lung cancer. Newman was a private man in life, so it comes as no surprise that he would want to spend his last days away from the glare of the media spotlight. In September 2008, he lost his battle with cancer at his farmhouse in Connecticut with his wife, Joanne Woodward, at his side.


Peter Jennings – July 29, 1938 - Aug. 7, 2005

News Anchor Peter Jennings signs his new book In Search of America
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The public was shocked in 2006 when Peter Jennings, the legendary ABC broadcaster, announced in a prerecorded message that he had lung cancer and would be starting chemotherapy within days. Although he assured his audience that he would still broadcast during treatment, that never happened. Jennings’ videotaped message would ultimately be his last. He died just a few months later.

The news that chemotherapy would be Jennings' first course of treatment was a pretty clear indication that the disease was in an advanced stage. A former smoker who quit in 1988, Jennings briefly relapsed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His decades-old habit began at the age of 13, during a time when the dangers of smoking weren't clear.


Farrah Fawcett – Feb. 2, 1947 - June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett Arrives at the Beverly Hills
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In September 2006, "Charlie's Angel" star Farrah Fawcett began her long journey with anal cancer, a rare disease that affects only around 5,000 people in the U.S. each year. Anal cancer is diagnosed more often in women than in men and is associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Fawcett issued a statement at the time of her diagnosis, asserting: "I am resolutely strong, and I am determined to bite the bullet and fight the fight while going through the next six weeks of cutting-edge, state-of-the-art treatment. I should be able to return to my life as it was before at the end of my treatment."

After completing a six-week treatment course of radiation and chemotherapy, the actress was reportedly in good spirits and optimistic about her future. And then, just five months after her initial diagnosis, Fawcett was declared cancer-free.

The joy was short-lived. During a routine checkup in May 2007, a malignant polyp was reported to have been found, a heartrending revelation given that that only 15 percent of those treated for anal cancer experience a recurrence.

On June 25, 2009, Farrah's long battle with cancer ended. She died at a Santa Monica hospital with her longtime love, Ryan O'Neill, by her side.


Ted Kennedy – Feb. 22, 1932 - Aug. 25, 2009

Ted Kennedy
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In May 2008, we all watched closely as news reports emerged that Senator Ted Kennedy had been rushed to the hospital following a seizure. It was initially believed that the Senator suffered a stroke, but medical tests revealed that he, in fact, had a brain tumor. It was soon disclosed that Kennedy was suffering from a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe of his brain.

Despite initial reports that the tumor was inoperable, Kennedy underwent surgery at Duke University Medical Center, home of a renowned brain tumor center. Aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed but left him vulnerable to seizures.

A year later, Kennedy succumbed to his battle with cancer at his home in Hyannis Port. His memoir, "True Compass," was published just weeks following his passing.


Michael Crichton – Oct. 23, 1942 - Nov. 4, 2008

Micahel Crichton
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Best known for bestselling novels such as "The Andromeda Strain" and "Jurassic Park," Michael Crichton's work successfully transitioned to the silver screen.

Even after Hollywood came calling, snapping up bestseller after bestseller for screen adaptation, Crichton remained a staunchly private person. So much so, in fact, that the public was not aware that the novelist had been battling cancer up until the time of his death.

Details surrounding his diagnosis and treatment have never been released, other than statements that his death was "unexpected." While never confirmed, it had been rumored that he may have been suffering from throat cancer or lymphoma.


Sydney Pollack – July 1, 1934 - May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack
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The tabloids began speculating about the health of Sydney Pollack in 2007, with the National Enquirer brashly announcing that the Academy Award-winning director was suffering from stomach cancer that had begun to metastasize. Like many other celebrities, Pollack did not make an official statement concerning his health. It was only after his death in May 2008 that a representative confirmed the filmmaker had been diagnosed with cancer, the origin of which the doctors couldn't determine.

Pollack is best remembered for directing such films as "Tootsie" and "Out of Africa." He also made on-screen appearances, opposite George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" and in the HBO series "Entourage."


Tony Snow – June 1, 1955 - July 12, 2008

Tony Snow
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Former George W. Bush Press Secretary Tony Snow was no stranger to cancer. Snow had first battled colon cancer in 2005 after years of suffering from ulcerative colitis, a condition that can greatly increase a person's risk of developing colorectal malignancies.

Immediately following Snow's diagnosis, surgery was performed to remove his colon, followed by a six-month course of chemotherapy. Soon after, his cancer was declared to be in remission.

Sadly, in 2007, while serving as White House press secretary, Snow suffered a recurrence of cancer, ultimately leading to his death in 2008 at age 53.

Former President George W. Bush and wife, Laura, issued a statement following Snow's death: "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of our dear friend, Tony Snow. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Jill, and their children, Kendall, Robbie, and Kristi. The Snow family has lost a beloved husband and father. And America has lost a devoted public servant and a man of character."


William Rehnquist – Oct. 1, 1924 - Sept. 3, 2005

William Rehnquist
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U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist was an unflaggingly dedicated public servant, something he proved after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October of 2004. During his yearlong battle with the disease, he received both chemo and radiation therapy while he actively serving as chief justice up until his the time of his death a year later. He had held the post since 1986.

Despite his failing health, Rehnquist administered the oath of office to President Bush in 2004. It was expected that his retirement would be announced soon after, but Rehnquist was adamant about remaining on the bench.

"I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement," he announced in a written statement. "I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits."

William Rehnquist lost his battle to cancer in September of 2005 at his home in Arlington, Virginia.


Eartha Kitt – Jan. 17, 1927 - Dec. 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt
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Legendary actress and singer Eartha Kitt began her journey with colon cancer in 2006, after a visit with the doctor for carpal tunnel revealed she was anemic (a symptom people with cancer often experience). Further testing revealed that she, in fact, had colon cancer.

She was successfully treated but, in 2007, had a recurrence that would ultimately lead to her death. Kitt died from the disease on Christmas Day in 2008 at age 81.

Kitt continued to work up until the time of her passing, having booked an engagement at New York's legendary Cafe Carlyle. Kitt will probably best be remembered for her holiday hit, "Santa Baby," and her role as Catwoman in the hit "Batman" television series.


Bob Denver – Jan. 9, 1935 - Sept. 2, 2005

Bob Denver
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Bob Denver is best remembered for his starring role in the hit 1960s television series, "Gilligan's Island." He played bit parts after the series ended, extending his career to five decades, but to most fans, he will always be remembered as the bumbling and endearing Gilligan.

Few details have been publicly released about Denver's battle with throat cancer, a disease to which he eventually succumbed in 2005. He died surrounded by his wife and children at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.


Jerry Orbach – Oct. 20, 1935 - Dec. 28, 2004

Jerry Orbach
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Hollywood veteran and "Law and Order" star Jerry Orbach had been diagnosed with prostate cancer for 10 years before dying of the disease in 2004. Few details were released, but it was revealed in December 2004 that the star was undergoing treatment at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He died only a few weeks later on December 28 at the age of 69.


Anne Bancroft – Sept. 17, 1931 - June 6, 2005

Ann Bancroft
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Details about actress Anne Bancroft's battle with uterine cancer were largely kept private, but close friends reported that she had suffered from the disease for quite some time. The Oscar-winning star of "The Miracle Worker" and "The Graduate" died from the disease in 2005 at age 73, leaving behind husband Mel Brooks.

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