Famous Tobacco Victim Jazz Singer Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole, circa January 1, 1955. Archive Photos/Getty Images

Nat King Cole, beloved jazz singer, died of lung cancer on Feb. 15, 1965, at the still young age of 45.

A KOOL menthol cigarette smoker, he would often smoke several cigarettes in a row before recording his songs. He believed they helped keep his deep, crooning voice low. He smoked approximately three packs of cigarettes a day.

In September of 1964, Mr. Cole began experiencing weight loss and severe back pain, harbingers of the lung cancer that had not yet been diagnosed.

Following a performance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada during this period, he collapsed from pain and had to cut the engagement short.

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer

Friends urged him to seek medical help a couple of months later while he was working in San Francisco. He had a chest x-ray done at that time and a cancerous tumor was found on his left lung. Doctors gave him months to live and urged him to stop working.  He refused and kept working until he was unable to any longer.

He entered St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica on December 9th and began cobalt (radiation) therapy on the 10th.  He then had surgery to remove his left lung on January 25, 1965.  Three weeks later, however, he lost the battle and succumbed to lung cancer on Feb 15, 1965.  Just the day before, he and his wife Maria left the hospital for a ride to the ocean.  It would be his last one.

According to an article published after his death in the Los Angeles Times, Maria knew for several days that her husband was dying, but kept it a secret from the media so that Nat, who watched a lot of television wouldn't see a bad news report.

He did not realize he was dying.  Right up until the end, he thought he was recovering.

Nat King Cole recorded his last album L-O-V-E days before admission to the hospital for lung cancer treatment. The album was released just before his death.

Unfortunately, most people who get lung cancer don't know it's there until the disease is in an advanced state.

Lung cancer symptoms can be subtle or missing altogether, so it is important to pay close attention to the signals your body sends you and know what the signs of lung cancer are. It is a treatable form of cancer if it is caught soon enough.

Interesting facts about Nat King Cole:

Nat King Cole was nominated just once for a Grammy during his lifetime, which he did not win. However, a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to him in 1989, 24 years after his death.

He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993, 28 years after his death.

He was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  One was for television and the other, recording.

Mr. Cole was attacked on stage in 1956 in Birmingham Alabama by members of a white racist group that called themselves the White Citizen's Council while giving a concert.  His back was injured during the attack.  

Nat King Cole earned just $5000 for an acting role in the movie China Gate but made $75,000 for his recording of  "Three Coins in the Fountain" that played during the opening credits.

He is interred in the Freedom Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Heritage at Forest Lawn, Glendale, California, USA.  His resting place is on the right-hand side of the corridor, at the very top.

"I just want to sing and make people happy." ~ Nat King Cole

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