Harry Belafonte – Singer, Actor and Humanitarian


Harry Belafonte was a Jamaican-American singer, actor and activist who won three Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award and starred in several Hollywood films. Above all, he was a humanitarian who took the sides of the downtrodden and advocated the most good for the most people. At age 94, he hosted a star-studded party to raise money for “The Gathering for Justice,” a social justice organization he founded in 2005.

On April 25, 2023 at age 96, he died from congestive heart failure at his Manhattan home.

Early Life and Ground-Breaking Career
Belafonte was born on March 1, 1927 in Harlem of Jamaican-born parents. From 1932 to 1940, Belafonte lived in Jamaica with one of his grandmothers. He returned to New York City where he went to high school and then served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Back in New York City, he became involved with the American Negro Theater and took acting classes at The New School. His singing career began when he sang in clubs to help pay for his acting classes. He signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1953, and had his first popular single that year with “Matilda.” In 1956, his album “Calypso” became the first LP in the world to sell more than one million copies in a year.

Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement
In 1953, when Martin Luther King was 24 years old and Belafonte was 26, Belafonte began to raise money for King. During the 1963 Birmingham marches, Belafonte bailed King out of the Birmingham City Jail and raised $50,000 to release other civil rights protesters. He contributed to the 1961 Freedom Rides, supported voter registration drives, and helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington. During the “Mississippi Freedom Summer” of 1964, Belafonte and his close friend, Sydney Poitier, flew to rallies in Mississippi and spent more than $60,000 to support the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  When Belafonte was in his early twenties, he met and worked with his idol and mentor, Paul Robeson, the world-famous concert singer, stage and film actor, professional football player, and an incredibly courageous political activist.

A Lifetime of Humanism
• From 1987 until his death, Belafonte was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
• He was the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice.
• In 1985, he helped organize the Grammy Award-winning song “We Are the World”, to
raise funds for Africa.
• In 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador and travelled to Dakar, Senegal, where he served as chairman of the International Symposium of Artists and Intellectuals for African Children.
• In 2001, he worked in South Africa to support the campaign against HIV/AIDS.
• In 2004, he went to Kenya to help educate children

Health Issues
In 1990, at age 63, Belafonte had to cancel a show because of chest pain. In 1996, at age 69, he had surgery to remove a prostate cancer. I have never seen his medical records, but up to 50 percent of North American men will develop prostate cancer if they live long enough (Curr Oncol, Feb 2015;22(1):1012).

Shared Risk Factors for Heart Failure and Prostate Cancer
Men who get prostate cancer usually die from something else rather than from the cancer — most often a heart attack or heart failure. In one large study, more than half of prostate cancer patients suffered from uncontrolled risk factors for heart attacks (JAMA Netw Open, Feb 24, 2021;4(2):e210070). Common laboratory indicators of both heart attack and prostate cancer risk include:
• blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg
• LDL cholesterol higher than 130 mg/dL
• hemoglobin A1c (an indicator of diabetes) over 5.7
• alcohol use
• high blood homocysteine
• excess fat in the liver
• lack of exercise
• unhealthful diet
The 10-year risk for people developing cancer or heart attacks with an unhealthful lifestyle was 40 percent for men and 25 percent for women, compared to 30 percent for the men and 18 percent for the women with healthful lifestyles (BMC Medicine, Jan 15, 2020;18(5)). The risks are even higher for black men.  In 2022, Belafonte lost his life-long friend Sidney Poitier, who had both heart failure and prostate cancer.

All men should be told that the American Cancer Society and the American Urologic Association recommend that anyone with prostate cancer should be checked for heart attack risk factors (Circulation, 2010;121(6):833-840) and be put on a lifestyle heart attack prevention program (Circulation, 2016;133(5):537-541). This will save lots of lives because prostate cancer is usually a slowly progressive disease and men are more likely to die from heart disease. Ten years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, the vast majority of men will survive whether they were treated with surgery, radiation, or “active surveillance” where they were followed and not treated unless their cancer progressed (New England Journal of Medicine, September 14, 2016).

An Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle Helps to Prevent or Treat Prostate Cancer and Heart Disease
Inflammation means that your immune system is active all the time. Your immune system is supposed to be good for you because it prevents germs from getting into your bloodstream, and it seeks out and destroys the millions of defective cells (cancer cells) that everybody produces every day. However, an overactive immune system (too much inflammation) can use its cells and proteins to attack and destroy the DNA in healthy cells, altering them so they may become cancer cells that can overgrow, invade healthy tissue and kill you.

Live As Healthfully as Belafonte Did
You can help to prevent and treat heart disease and cancer with an anti-inflammatory lifestyle that should be followed for your entire life. The anti-inflammatory lifestyle rules include:
• try to exercise every day,
• avoid red meat, processed meat, sugar-added foods, sugared drinks including fruit juices, and fried foods
• eat large amounts of fruits, vegetables and seeds
• lose excess body fat, particularly in the belly
• keep blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D above 30 ng/dL
• restrict or avoid alcohol
• avoid smoking and second-hand smoke
• avoid chronic exposure to excess sunlight
• avoid exposure to X rays and other sources of radiation
• avoid exposure to harmful chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides and industrial chemicals
• treat chronic infections anywhere in the body.

Harry Belafonte
March 1, 1927 – April 25, 2023