Famous Smokers Who Died of Heart Disease or Stroke

stethoscope on electrocardiogram chart
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Death by tobacco is a horrific tragedy that goes on day in and day out, stealing our friends and family members at a rate of a precious, irreplaceable life every 8 seconds worldwide. They suffer through heart disease, a wide variety of cancers and respiratory disease. Tobacco tears our families apart and breaks our hearts.

We often think that the health risks associated with tobacco use don't apply to the larger than life celebrity figures we admire, but the fact is, no one is immune to the diseases that follow tobacco use.

Let's take a look at some of the famous people we've lost to tobacco-related heart disease and stroke over the years.

Smoking and Heart Disease

The leading cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death from smoking, cardiovascular disease accounts for 17 million deaths annually worldwide. Most come from heart attacks and strokes.

The toxins in cigarette smoke cause plaques to form in the arteries of smokers, leading to atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. Smoking can also cause sudden heart attacks, even in people who have never had a cardiac event before. Smokers have two to three times the risk of nonsmokers of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Famous Tobacco Victims: Tobacco-Related Heart Disease

Clark Gable - Cause of Death: Heart Attack
The handsome actor perhaps best known for his role at Rhett Butler in the film classic Gone with the Wind was a popular actor in the 1930's.

A lifestyle of drinking and smoking upwards of three packs a day, along with pipe smoking eventually caught up with him when he suffered a severe heart attack in November of 1960 that put him in the hospital.  Ten days later on November 16, 1960, he had what was to be his fourth and final heart attack.

He was dead within seconds of when it began. He was 59 years old.

John Candy - Cause of Death: Heart Attack
A well loved Canadian character actor, Candy had just finished filming Wagons East in Durango Mexico when he died of a heart attack in his sleep on March 4th, 1994. He was just 43 years old. He may have been genetically predisposed to heart disease, considering his father and grandfather also died of a heart attack young - his dad was 35 when he passed away.  

John Candy was a heavy smoker and overweight for much of of his adult life, both of which put stress on the heart and can cause hardening of the arteries. According to the IMDb (Internet Movie Database), Candy had quit smoking a few months before his death.

Noel Coward - Cause of Death: Heart Attack
Noel Coward was a multi-talented Englishman, known for his talents at playwriting, composing, acting and singing.  He was also known for his lively quick wit. A heavy smoker, he often sported a long holder for his cigarettes. He was a kind-hearted man, often helping those who had come upon hard times.

Noel Coward developed atherosclerosis from his years of smoking, and heart disease was the cause of his death at the age of 74.

Rod Serling - Cause of Death: Heart Attack
Known by most people as the host of the television series The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling was a prolific writer for the majority of his career.

 In fact, he wrote 92 of The Twilight Zone episodes.  

Serling was a heavy smoker, and suffered two serious heart attacks in 1975 at the age of 50.  After the second heart attack, he had bypass surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York.  Unfortunately he suffered a third heart attack during the surgery and died the following day.

Errol Flynn - Cause of Death: Heart Attack
Errol Flynn was a famous actor in the 1930's, known for pictures such as Captain's Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. He lived life big, drinking heavily and chain-smoking for much of his adult years.  In the 1940's he became an opium addict after experimenting with the drug.


The physical abuse of his body took its toll over the years and he eventually developed numerous diseases, including atherosclerosis and acute thrombosis of the arms and legs.  He suffered acute liver failure in 1952 and was tested for throat cancer during the last year of his life.  When he died of a heart attack on October 14th, 1959 at age 50, his doctor said he had the body of a 75 year old man.

Smoking and Stroke

Because smoking can clog the veins and arteries in our bodies, it is also a risk factor for stroke. Stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked.  This causes a lack of oxygen, which kills brain cells.  Stroke can result in slurred speech, paralysis in parts of the body and even death. Stroke is the fourth cause of death in the United States today.  It is a common reason for disability in adults.

Famous People Who Have Died from Smoking-Related Strokes

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) - Cause of Death:  Stroke
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States, was a heavy smoker, smoking about two packs per day.  On April 12th, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, he sat for an artist who was painting his portrait.  At approximately 1 p.m. he complained of a terrible pain in the back of his head and then collapsed, unconscious from a massive cerebral hemorrhage, a type of stroke.  By 3:30 that afternoon, he had passed away.

Winston Churchill - Cause of Death: Stroke
From the age of 15 on, Winston Churchill was an avid cigar smoker.  He didn't die until he was 90 years old, however, his health began to suffer from the years of smoking when he was in his 60s, suffering his first heart attack at 67. He had another at 69 while sick with pneumonia, and in June of 1953 he had a series of strokes while at his office. He retired as Britain's Prime Minister in 1955.  

On January 15, 1965 he had what was his final and very severe stroke.  He passed away 9 days later at his home in London, on January 24, 1965.  

People often think that cigars are less hazardous to one's health than cigarettes, but the fact is, they are just as dangerous, if not worse than cigarettes in some respects. A single cigar for instance, can contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of 20 cigarettes.

Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret, sister to Queen Elizabeth II, was a heavy smoker for most of her life.  It has been reported that she started smoking in her teens and continued even after having a partial lobectomy of the left lung in 1985. 

She quit smoking for good in 1991, but her health declined regardless.  She had pneumonia in 1993 and suffered a stroke in 1998.  Early in 2001 more strokes were diagnosed, these leaving her with partial vision loss and paralysis on the left side.  In 2002 she was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London, after having another stroke.  She died there on February 9, 2002 at the age of 71.

Richard Burton
Actor Richard Burton was a heavy drinker and smoker for much of his adult life, and these addictions affected his health for many years before his death. Many of the ailments he suffered were related to alcohol, but it was a smoking-related stroke that finally took his life on August 5 1984 when he was just 58 years old. It's been reported that he smoked 3 to 5 packs a day.

Tobacco Victims: Our Loved Ones

If we live long enough, just about all of us will be touched in some way by the destruction that follows tobacco. The story below was written by a member of our Smoking Cessation Support Forum community who suffered from smoking-related heart disease.

A Message to Those Who "Can't" Quit Smoking - Walt's Story

One in ten deaths worldwide is due to tobacco use, causing nearly six million deaths each and every year. If trends continue unchecked, that number could rise to eight million lives lost annually by the year 2030.

If you're still smoking, quit now.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and Tobacco Use - Fast Facts. Updated: December 11, 2015. Reviewed: February 17, 2016.

World Health Organization. The Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke.

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