Celebrity Cancer Deaths - From Patrick Swayze to Eartha Kitt

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

Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze
Aug. 18, 1952 - Sept. 14, 2009. Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Cancer is an equal opportunity disease, as this list of celebrity cancer deaths reveals. Cancer doesn't discriminate between the rich and the famous and the poor and unknown. Dozens of celebrities have had to contend with the disease and many unsuccessfully so.

Learn more about 13 celebrities who died of cancer-related complications with this photo gallery.

Best known for his roles in "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing," Patrick Swayze proved himself a true fighter until the end by working while undergoing intense chemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer. Swayze's cancer treatment regimen included an experimental drug called vatalanib, a drug that inhibits 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 doctors definitely do not recommend). But somehow, he managed to live almost two years with a disease that usually is fatal just months after a diagnosis.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman At Gallery Opening
Jan. 26, 1925 - Sept. 26, 2008. Rose Hartman/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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 squashed the rumors through statements claiming that the actor was in 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 privately as well. In September 2008, he lost his battle with cancer at his farmhouse in Connecticut.

According to several news reports, Newman was given only weeks to live and chose to die at his home.

Peter Jennings

News Anchor Peter Jennings signs his new book In Search of America
July 29, 1938 - Aug. 7, 2005. Lawrence Lucier/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The public was shocked when Peter Jennings, legendary ABC broadcaster, announced in April 2006 through a pre-recorded 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, it never happened. Jennings’ videotaped message telling of his diagnosis would be his last broadcast. He died just a few months later.

The news that chemotherapy would be the first course of treatment indicated that the disease was likely in an advanced stage. A former smoker who quit in 1988, he 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 evident.

Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett Arrives at the Beverly Hills
Feb. 2, 1947 - June 25, 2009. Todd Williamson Archive/FilmMagic/Getty Images

In September 2006, Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett began her long journey with anal cancer, a rare disease that affects only 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 immediately began radiation treatment and chemotherapy, which are standard treatments for anal cancer. She issued this statement at the time of her diagnosis: "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 the six-week treatment course, the actress was reportedly in good spirits and optimistic about her future. Five months after Farrah was diagnosed with cancer, she was declared cancer-free. Unfortunately, during a routine checkup in May 2007, a malignant polyp was discovered, indicating that cancer had returned.

Only 15 percent of people treated for anal cancer experience a recurrence like Farrah did. It is commonly a curable disease.

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

Ted Kennedy
Feb. 22, 1932 - Aug. 25, 2009. J. Redmond/WireImage/Getty Images

In May 2008, we all nervously watched the news closely as Senator Ted Kennedy was rushed to the hospital after suffering from a seizure. It was initially thought the Senator suffered a stroke, but medical tests revealed that he had a brain tumor. Specifically, Ted Kennedy was suffering from a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe of his brain.

Despite initial reports that his tumor was inoperable, Kennedy under went 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 brain cancer at his home in Hyannis Port. His memoir "True Compass," was published just weeks after his passing.

Bob Denver

Bob Denver
Jan. 9, 1935 - Sept. 2, 2005. SGranitz/WireImage/Getty Images

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, managing to expand his career to five decades.

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

Michael Crichton

Micahel Crichton
Oct. 23, 1942 - Nov. 4, 2008. SGranitz/WireImage/Getty Images

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

Even though Hollywood came calling, Crichton remained a private person, battling cancer out of the public eye. The public was not aware that the novelist had been battling cancer until the time of his death.

Details surrounding his diagnosis and treatment have never been released, only that his death was unexpected. It has been rumored that he may have suffered from throat cancer or lymphoma.

Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack
July 1, 1934 - May 26, 2008. Fred Duval/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The tabloids began speculating about the health of Academy Award winner Sydney Pollack in 2007, with the National Enquirer saying that Pollack was suffering from stomach cancer that had begun to metastasize. But like other celebrities, Pollack did not make an official statement concerning his health. After his death in May 2008, his spokesman said the filmmaker suffered from cancer, but doctors couldn't determine the originating site.

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

Tony Snow

Tony Snow
June 1, 1955 - July 12, 2008. Marcel Thomas/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Former George W. Bush administration Press Secretary Tony Snow succumbed to his battle with cancer in 2008. Unfortunately, Snow was no stranger to the disease. Snow 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 colon cancer.

Colon cancer treatment included surgery to remove his colon, followed by six months of further therapy. His cancer was declared to be in remission.

In 2007, while serving as White House press secretary, Snow suffered a recurrence of colon cancer that had metastasized, ultimately leading to his death at age 53. Former President George W. Bush and wife, Laura, issued this 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

William Rehnquist
Oct. 1, 1924 - Sept. 3, 2005. CNP/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist was the epitome of dedication to public service despite being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October of 2004. He received both chemotherapy and radiation treatments on an outpatient basis and continued to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court until his death a year later. He'd 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 in the few months before his death, however, 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 thyroid cancer in September of 2005, at his home in Arlington, Va.

Anne Bancroft

Ann Bancroft
Sept. 17, 1931 - June 6, 2005. Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Details about actress Anne Bancroft's battle with uterine cancer were largely kept private, but close friends have reportedly said that she suffered from the disease for quite some time. Bancroft died from the disease in 2005 at age 73, leaving behind husband Mel Brooks.

Jerry Orbach

Jerry Orbach
Oct. 20, 1935 - Dec. 28, 2004. Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Hollywood veteran 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 for the disease. He died only a few weeks after the announcement on Dec. 28 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt
Jan. 17, 1927 - Dec. 25, 2008. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

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 some people with colon cancer experience. Further testing revealed colon cancer.

She was successfully treated, but in 2007 she had a colon cancer recurrence. Kitt died from the disease on Christmas Day in 2008 at age 81. She will always be remembered for her holiday hit "Santa Baby" and her Catwoman role in the "Batman" television series.

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