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John Wayne – "The Duke"
The Duke suffered health problems in 1964, losing his left lung and two ribs to cancer in September of that year. Although rumors spread that he contracted the disease while filming in Utah, where the US government tested a nuclear bomb, he denied it was true. It is true that from the early 1930s until his surgery in 1964, he smoked three to five packs of cigarettes a day.
Film industry promoters and insurers were hesitant to cast sick actors, so his agents and consultants wanted to hide hospitalizations and illnesses. Supporting a terminally ill person was “bad business”. But 3½ months after the operation, Mr. Wayne held a press conference at his ranch in Encino, Calif., to announce that he had no intention of going quietly. Through her openness and honesty, cancer victims from all over the world have found new hope and courage in the strength she has shown and offered them.
Despite his illness and complications, Mr. Wayne continued to perform many of his solo shows. In 1969, he fell off a horse and broke three ribs while filming The Undefeated. After almost two weeks of recovery, when he returned to work, the ligaments in one of his shoulders were torn and he was unable to use his arms at all. In order to complete the film in time, the remaining shots of him were angled to hide the fact that he was not using the keyboard. He completed the shoot, showing remarkable composure despite the immense pain.
Mr. Wayne’s last film, The Shootist (1976), portrayed him as an aging gunfighter diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time, he was battling lung cancer again and was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Her co-star, the legendary Lauren Bacall, watched as her real-life husband Humphrey Bogart battled lung cancer and his struggles. Ms. Bacall and Duke’s relationship came to life on set, making for a truly poignant, real-life take on the final product.
Mr. Wayne was unable to work every day, so the filming schedule was extended to accommodate him. As his health deteriorated, there were questions as to whether or not he would be able to complete the film, so he made it his personal goal to accomplish just that, and succeeded in his endeavours.
After the film was completed, Mr. Wayne underwent surgery for an enlarged prostate in December 1976. After that, his public visibility dropped dramatically. But he continued to make regular appearances, depending on his health, until he lost his battle with cancer on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72 years and 16 days. He left behind an impressive legacy that has survived to this day.
He received many honors and respects both during his lifetime and after his death. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater nominated him for the 1979 Congressional Medal of Honor, in addition to the Oscar he won for “True Rough.” After his death, it was handed over to his family. On the day of his death, he was honored with the lighting of the Olympic torch at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. The torch was lit until the burial four days later.
Other notable honors and recognitions include:
1970 – Received the Legion of Honor from DeMolay
1973 – Awarded a Gold Medal by the National Football Foundation honoring his time at both Glendale High and USA.
1974 – Inducted into the Great Western Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
1974 – The Harvard Lampoon invited Mr. Wayne to present the “Brass Ball Award” at the Harvard Square Theater for his “outstanding machismo and love of punching people.” He was received and arrived on an armored personnel carrier manned by regular military personnel. He appeared on the stage of the theater and quickly and intelligently answered the insulting questions. Despite his ill feelings toward college students who expressed anti-war views about Vietnam, he completely won them over.
1976 – People’s Choice Award for Most Popular Movie Actor.
1980 – Posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter
1986 – Inducted into the DeMoline Hall of Fame as the first class member
1990 – Image on a 25-cent stamp issued by the United States Postal Service for the 1939 movies. He played The Ringo Kid in Stagecoach.
1997 – Number 16 in Empire (UK) magazine’s “100 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time”.
2001 – Gallup pollsters voted John Wayne their favorite movie star of all time
2003 – He is in the “Top Ten” of the annual Harris Poll, which asks Americans to name their favorite movie stars of all time. No other deceased actor has held this status since the poll was conducted in 1993.
2004 – Commemorated on a 37-cent stamp in the “Legends of Hollywood” series issued by the United States Postal Service.
Other notable undated honors and accolades include: 4th Greatest Movie Star of All Time by Premiere Magazine, 13th Greatest Actor on the American Film Institute’s 50 Greatest Screen Legends, and 5th Greatest Movie Star of All Time. Entertainment Weekly Magazine and Mr. Wayne was a lifetime member of Sigma Chi Fraternity, Mason, DeMolay and USC Trojan Knights.
Furthermore, John “Duke” Wayne holds the record for most starring roles – 142. He starred in all but 11 of these movies.
He has been impersonated countless times by comedians and actors in film and television. He has been mentioned in lyrics for the past forty years, and in 2004 he was mentioned in the song by the country music duo Big and Rich. He has an airport named after him in Orange County, California, and a 100-mile road named after him in Iron Mountain State Park in Washington.
Even today, Western film “fans” can be seen trying to imitate the roll walk, the slow pull, and the term “pilgrim.”
The John Wayne Cancer Institute continues to treat and cure several forms of the terrible disease that took this great man from our physical world. Almost 30 years after his death, his influence continues in our lives. As long as there are people to carry on his legacy and pass on his memories and films to future generations, he will be remembered.
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