Famous People With Lung Cancer

Many famous people have died from lung cancer. This isn’t surprising since lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the United States.

This photo gallery is a tribute to some of these famous people with lung cancer—people who have touched our lives with their voices, talents, and philanthropic efforts over the years.

Still, if you are like us, the most famous people with lung cancer that have touched your life aren’t listed here. Let this be a tribute as well to all who have struggled with this disease and, though unnamed here, are not forgotten.


Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Following a lifelong career with ABC, and 2 decades as the anchor of "World News Tonight," Peter Jennings succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 67.

Coined the "center of gravity" by TV Guide for his coverage of the events surrounding 9/11, Canadian-born Jennings began his media career as a youngster. At age 9, he hosted "Peter's Program," a children's radio show on CBC. From the age of 26, as the youngest-ever network news anchor, Jennings became a household figure, bringing coverage of international news to the privacy of our homes.

On April 5, 2005, Peter Jennings announced his diagnosis of lung cancer to the world in a taped message—one that would become the last broadcast of his career. To answer the question I'm sure he anticipated, he stated: "Yes, I was a smoker until about 20 years ago, and I was weak and I smoked over 9/11."

What were his thoughts? Scheduled to begin chemotherapy the next week, he said: "when does the hair go?" Hair loss can be a heartbreaking reality on top of the decisions and rigors of treatment. As far as support, he stated: "Hundreds of you have been my family. It feels good to have such a family right now."

On August 7, 2005, 4 months after his announcement, Peter Jennings passed away surrounded by family at his home in New York.

In memory of Jennings, it's imperative that we give lung cancer the coverage it deserves. Coverage that has lacked due to the stigma of lung cancer.


Dana Reeve

Dana Reeve with husband

Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

Devoted Wife of "Superman" Christopher Reeve, Dana Reeve—a life-long non-smoker—died from lung cancer at the young age of 44.

Dana is perhaps best remembered as the wife of Christopher Reeve, remaining faithfully at his side after a horseback riding accident left him quadriplegic only 3 years into their marriage. Yet, Dana was a star in her own right. As an actress and singer, she was seen on and off-Broadway and guest-starred in TV programs such as Law and Order. Dana graduated from Middlebury College and also attended the California Institute of the Arts.

In October of 2004, her husband passed away, leaving Dana a widow and the surviving parent of their 11-year old son. The following year, she was awarded the American Cancer Society's "Mother of the Year Award" for the devoted care of her son after the loss of her husband.

After seeking medical treatment for a cough that had lasted nearly a year, on August 9, 2005, Dana announced that she had lung cancer. Her tumor was inoperable, but after receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy she was very encouraged that her cancer was shrinking. Her improvement was sadly short-lived, and Dana passed away on March 6, 2006—7 months after her diagnosis.

In a statement to Kathie Lee Gifford, Reeve said, "What I didn't know is that lung cancer is the number one cancer. We're always looking for breast and ovarian and uterine, and I'm a non-smoker, and I live in the country, so I think 'I'm good'...I was completely shocked."

Speculation ran rampant about why a young, never-smoking woman would develop lung cancer. Surely Dana was exposed to secondhand smoke, but we may never know why her cancer struck. Fitting with the words of wisdom she left behind, "life isn't always fair, and you'd better stop expecting it to be."

Dana left behind a 13-year-old son in the hands of family and friends and the foundation that she put so much passion into. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation provides support for those living with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.


Walt Disney

Walt Disney

NASA/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Founder of many a kid's dreams, Walt Disney World, Walt Disney died from lung cancer at the age of 65.

Born in Chicago in 1901, and completing only one year of high school, Walt Disney went on to be awarded 26 Oscars—a record still held today. At the age of 16, Disney joined the Red Cross in France during World War I. He returned home, joining his brother in 1923, to found the Disney Brothers Studio, later to be called the Walt Disney Studio.

From his characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy, to his animated film "Snow White," to the children's dreamworlds of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Walt Disney left behind a legacy. He may be less well-remembered for his contributions during the Great Depression and World War II, producing health and education films for the government.

Walt Disney was a long-term smoker, and he was known for his chronic cough that marked his presence in a room. In November of 1966, he was scheduled to have neck surgery for pain in his neck and back, when a preoperative x-ray revealed a large tumor in his left lung. He underwent a left pneumonectomy (removal of the entire left lung) to remove the tumor, as well as subsequent chemotherapy. Just 5 weeks later, Disney passed away at St. Joseph's Hospital near his studio.

Walt Disney left behind a legacy, but also words of wisdom for each of us:

"That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. They patronize; they treat children as inferiors. I won't do that."


Paul Newman

Paul Newman

Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Actor, producer, philanthropist, and race car driver Paul Newman is next on our list of famous people who died from lung cancer. Newman died from lung cancer at the age of 83 in his home in Westport, Connecticut.

Born in 1926, Newman charmed us with his roles in The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting.

His marriage to Joanne Woodward warmed the hearts of those who follow Hollywood romances. He was also the founder of Newman's Own, a food company now managed by one of his daughters.

We know less about Paul Newman's lung cancer than some other celebrities. Starring in films when smoking was a sign of sophistication, Newman was a heavy smoker prior to quitting. In June of 2008, it was rumored, denied and finally confirmed that Newman was suffering from lung cancer. He passed away on September 26, 2008.

Some of the silence may have been due to his desire for privacy, but the stigma of lung cancer may keep many celebrities from sharing their diagnosis.


Allen Carr

Allen Carr
Courtesy of John Dicey, Allen Carr's Easyway (International) Ltd

Perhaps less well known by name on our list of famous people with lung cancer, but worthy of great admiration for his role in helping perhaps 10 million people kick the smoking habit, Allen Carr is remembered as the quit smoking guru.

Allen Carr began his endeavor to help others after struggling with a 30 year, 2 1/2 pack per day smoking habit himself. He shared the process that helped him quit in his book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking—a book that went on to sell millions of copies worldwide.

In the summer of 2006, Carr was feeling achy all over and was found to have hypercalcemia— an elevated calcium level sometimes found with lung cancer. Subsequent studies revealed that he had squamous cell carcinoma of the lungs that had spread to his ribs and lymph nodes, making it inoperable.

Upon learning of his diagnosis, 23 years after quitting, Carr stated: "Smoking was virtually killing me 20-odd years ago. If I hadn't quit then, I'm certain I would have died long ago. I see those extra years as the marvelous bonus." Allen Carr underwent chemotherapy before passing away November 29, 2006, surrounded by his family at his home in Spain. He was 72 years old.

Allen Carr's Easyway to Stop Smoking center, located in England, reaches out to more than 50,000 smokers in 45 countries with its seminars each year. Its worldwide director, John Dicey, assured me that "Allen's legacy continues to grow and grow, and everyone at Allen Carr's Easyway is working tirelessly to ensure it achieves its full potential." I believe Allen would be proud.


Claude Monet

Monet's Water Lilies

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Though lung cancer was less common in the 1800s, our list of famous people with lung cancer continues with the father of Impressionist painting—Claude Monet—who died from lung cancer at the age of 86.

Born in Paris in 1840, Monet went to live with his aunt when his mother died at the age of 16. Sources indicate he had an interest in the unique early in his career. As he visited the Louvre with other artists who were mimicking the styles of the great painters, Monet sat by the window and painted what he saw. Later, Monet spent time in Algeria with the army. But after developing typhoid fever, his aunt arranged for him to return home—if he would complete an art class.

Monet believed life should be vibrant, and he painted landscapes, seascapes, and his beloved ponds in Giverny, France. The influence of light was very important to Monet, and he created series of paintings capturing the differences in a scene based on time of day and season.

His life was not always easy. A suicide attempt before marriage and the death of his wife from tuberculosis, leaving him with two small children, give a window into the trials of this artist's soul. Monet loved to work outside in nature. Creating then painting his gardens was a source of great passion to him.

Monet passed away from lung cancer on December 5, 1926, in Giverny.

Though volumes have been written describing Monet's style, his own words speak the greatest meaning behind the strokes of his paintings: "Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand as if it were necessary to understand when it is simply necessary to love."


Stephen Ambrose

Author Stephen Ambrose at Home
Macduff Everton/Getty Images

Well-known historian Stephen Ambrose joins our list of famous people with lung cancer.

Stephen Ambrose was born in January of 1936, spending much of his childhood in Whitewater, WI. Anxious to leave small-town life behind, he went on to college planning to study medicine. An animated history professor changed his mind, and after completing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Wisconsin, he taught for over 3 decades at Johns Hopkins University and the University of New Orleans.

During his career, Ambrose published more than 30 books covering issues from the Civil War to Richard Nixon. His second book, written while in graduate school, was inspirational enough in its style to prompt President Dwight Eisenhower to ask Ambrose to be his biographer. A few of his bestsellers included Band of Brothers and Undaunted Courage. To a subject thought to some as boring, Ambrose found a way to bring history alive.

In April of 2002, Stephen Ambrose—a long-term smoker—was diagnosed with lung cancer. His reaction at the time? "I have a spent a good part of my career studying men and women who faced uncertainty about the future. Now I find myself facing a great challenge, and I am focusing on a course of action based on a balance of good sense and cautious optimism."

On October 13, 2002, 6 months later, Stephen Ambrose passed away at the age of 66 at Hancock Medical Center in St. Louis. He was survived by his wife Moira and 5 children. His final book, To America: Personal Reflections of a Historian, was released one month later.


George Harrison

George Harrison

David Hume Kennedy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Born in Liverpool, England in 1943, Beatle George Harrison joins our list of famous people with lung cancer.

Also known as the "the quiet Beatle," George Harrison was the lead guitarist for The Beatles and was responsible for writing a few of the songs that have touched most of our hearts, such as "Here Comes the Sun." He also is remembered for his work as a solo artist. His first solo release. "All Things Must Pass," was followed by many others.

Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as both a solo artist and as a member of The Beatles.

Harrison, a heavy smoker, was first treated for throat cancer after finding a lump in his neck in 1997. He underwent surgery for lung cancer in May 2001 and later was treated for metastases to his brain from the disease. George Harrison passed away on November 29, 2001, in Los Angeles.


Rosemary Clooney

Rosemary Clooney

Archive Photos/Getty Images

America's "girl singer" Rosemary Clooney is next on our list of famous people with lung cancer.

Rosemary Clooney came from humble roots. Left by her mother with an alcoholic father, he subsequently abandoned Rosemary and her sister as well. Facing poverty, the duo won a contest and began singing on the radio. After recording "Come On-a My House," she was instantly launched into stardom. Her role starring with Bing Crosby in "White Christmas" brings her back to many of our homes each holiday season.

But life was not easy for Rosemary Clooney. She had her first manic attack, a manifestation of bipolar disorder, on stage in 1968, following the assassination of her friend Robert Kennedy. Later in her life, she published the book This For Remembrance in which she talked about her illness.

In January of 2002, Clooney, a long-time smoker, underwent a lobectomy for lung cancer. She passed away from a recurrence on June 29, 2002, at the age of 74 in her Beverly Hills home.

To Rosemary Clooney, despite the trials of her life, singing was joy: "I'll keep working as long as I live because singing has taken on the feeling of joy that I had when I started when my only responsibility was to sing."

Final Thoughts

The people we just looked at represent a few of those who have faced lung cancer. Unfortunately, the stigma of the disease appears to have reduced the number of people who have stood up and shared their story. This is fairly obvious when you see the number of celebrities who have shared their journey's with breast cancer, knowing that lung cancer kills nearly twice as many women as breast cancer and a vast number more of men in the United States.

This is beginning to change. The face of lung cancer is changing. No longer is it viewed as a "smoker's disease" and the public is realizing that anyone can get lung cancer. This is extra important as while lung cancer is decreasing in the U.S., it is increasing among young adults, especially young, never-smoking, women. At this time we don't know why. Sadly, the stigma of lung cancer has reduced the number of studies that have been done looking for causes relative to many other cancers.

Lung cancer remains a greatly underfunded and consequently underresearched disease. Looking at people we miss who have struggled with this disease, and hopefully, others who will stand up and tell their story can change this.

If you are a lung cancer patient or advocate, there are some wonderful non-profits that can provide support. If you are instead someone who look to take up a worthy cause and volunteer either your time or money, there are few ways to make much of a difference. Take a moment to check out these leading lung cancer organizations and charities.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for lung cancer. Updated October 1, 2019.

  2. American Lung Association. Addressing the stigma of lung cancer. Updated April, 2014.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States Cancer Statistics.