David Soul and COPD


David Soul was the sad-eyed, blond actor who portrayed Detective Ken Hutchinson in the television series “Starsky & Hutch” from 1975 to 1979. He followed this by singing “Don’t Give Up on Us”, the number one single on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1977, another top single, “Silver Lady” and four more top-10 entries. In 1995, he moved to England where he continued as a very successful actor on stage and television. He became a British citizen in 2004. In 2002, he met his fifth wife, Helen Snell, and they married in 2010. She was 31 years younger than him, and she supported him physically and emotionally through his horrific final years.

On January 4, 2024 at age 80, he died of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a life-shortening lung condition caused by his 50 years of smoking up to three packs a day, probably made worse by constant use of alcohol. He had stopped smoking ten years before his death, after he had a cancer removed from his left lung.

Rise to Stardom
David Richard Solberg was born in 1943 in Chicago, Illinois. His father was a Lutheran minister, a professor of history and political science, and Director of Higher Education for the Lutheran Church in America. Both of Soul’s grandfathers were evangelists and his brother became a Lutheran pastor.

Soul learned how to play the guitar as a child and decided he wanted to be a singer when he was a teenager. He started his career by singing in a club at the University of Minnesota. In high school and college he performed regularly as an actor, and in his mid-twenties, he was appearing regularly on television and in movies. Starring in “Starsky & Hutch” established him as a television personality and he went on to star in many television and movie roles. He used his fame and his own money to support social issues such as:

  • decline of the US steel industry
  • ending the Vietnam War
  • animal welfare
  • world hunger
  • HIV education

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?
You need oxygen to stay alive. Oxygen goes into your lungs through your bronchial tubes and passes through air sac membranes called alveoli into your bloodstream. COPD means that your bronchial tubes are thickened and scarred so you have difficulty bringing oxygen into your lungs, and your alveoli are damaged so that oxygen cannot pass readily into, and carbon dioxide cannot pass out from, your bloodstream.

COPD affects 32 million people and is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer. Smoking is the most common cause. You get COPD from breathing in smoke, fumes from fuel for cooking or heating, air pollution, workplace exposure to dust, smoke or fumes, and so forth. It is also caused by certain conditions that interfere with bringing oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of your lungs, such as Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, cystic fibrosis, uncontrolled asthma or any chronic lung infection. Symptoms of COPD include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath, especially during activities that you used to be able to do
  • Heavy phlegm (mucus) production
  • Wheezing when you breathe
  • Feeling like you can’t take a deep breath
  • Tightness in the chest

His Other Health Issues
In addition to lung cancer and COPD, Soul suffered from:

  • more than 30 years of crippling back pain
  • paralysis of his arm that stopped him from playing the guitar. The paralysis developed after decompression surgery on his spine and prosthetic discs grafted into his neck.
  • severe hip damage for more than 30 years that resulted in him having both hips replaced. He couldn’t walk so he had to use a wheelchair.
  • A tracheostomy that ended his singing career

During hip replacement surgery in 2017, he stopped breathing twice and had to be placed on a ventilator and have a breathing tube inserted into his throat that damaged his vocal chords. He lay in intensive care for 72 days.

Smoking: the Greatest Risk Factor for COPD
The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater the risk. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers, marijuana smokers and all other smokers are also at high risk for COPD. Smokers who have a chronic airway disease, such as asthma, are at very high risk for permanent lung damage. People exposed to large amounts of second-hand smoke also are at risk. Living or working with a smoker increases risk for COPD as well as for heart attacks and certain cancers.

If you live in a home that was inhabited previously by a smoker, realize that you cannot rid your home of toxic chemicals just by cleaning, airing out rooms, opening windows or using fans or air conditioners. You should also repaint walls, remove old carpeting and padding, replace window coverings and clean out ventilation ducts.

Lessons from David Soul’s Death
The American Cancer Society strongly recommends that smokers stop smoking immediately. Quitting smoking immediately begins to lower your risk for cancers, and coughing and shortness of breath will begin to decrease. One to two years after quitting, your risk of heart attack drops dramatically. Five to 10 years after quitting, your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and voice box (larynx) is cut in half. Ten years after quitting, your risk of lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. Fifteen years after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is close to that of a non-smoker.

David Soul
August 28, 1943 – January 4, 2024