Jack Lemmon was an actor who starred in more than 60 films, won two Academy Awards and was nominated eight times. He was born into a wealthy but abusive family and died at age 76 from complications of colon cancer that had spread to his bladder.
From birth on, Lemmon was exposed to a very rich lifestyle because he was the only child of the president of a successful doughnut company. He was sick during most of his childhood. His recurrent ear infections had been treated with three surgeries, and he had to miss a year of school. His parents were constantly fighting and headed for divorce. At age nine, he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. At the last minute, he was asked to replace another boy in a school play at Rivers Country Day School. "The kids laughed at me because I kept forgetting my lines, but I loved the attention. What it really had to do with was being accepted by my peers, and every kid wants that."
He started to run when he was twelve, and won several races. At the elite private high school, Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he was the top cross-country runner. This opened the door for him to be accepted at Harvard College in 1943, even though he was a terrible student. At Harvard he hobnobbed with other wealthy students as a member of the Delphic Club for Gentlemen (I never knew it existed when I was at Harvard), was a member of several drama clubs, and was president of the most prestigious acting club, Hasty Pudding. He didn't study much there either, and didn't even try out for the track or cross-country teams. He was in Navy ROTC, received a degree in “War Service Sciences”, and went directly into the Navy. After that, he took acting lessons from Uta Hagen and learned to play the piano, harmonica, guitar, organ, and double bass.
A Brilliant Actor
He starred in movies with just about every famous female actress of his time: Judy Holliday, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Betty Grable, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine, Lee Remick, Romy Schneider, Doris Day, Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth, June Allyson, Virna Lisi, Ann-Margret, Sophia Loren and many others. He was a brilliant actor because he had the extraordinary ability to develop the persona and mind of characters he would portray. He was quoted as saying, "I am particularly susceptible to the parts I play . . . if my character was having a nervous breakdown, I started to have one also." In 1958, he played the piano and recorded an album while filming Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe.
Personal Life and Death
In 1950, he married his first wife, actress Cynthia Stone, while doing an Off-Broadway play. Four years later while he was teamed with Judy Holliday in his first big movie, It Should Happen to You, his wife gave birth to their son, Chris, who never lived much with his father because his parents divorced when he was two. Lemmon claimed that his marriage wasn't damaged by his success in the movies; he said, "We really had more of a brother-and-sister relationship than a good, solid marriage." He met his second wife, actress Felicia Farr, on the Columbia Pictures parking lot in the mid-50s. They married in 1962 and stayed together for the rest of his life.
At age 74, he was diagnosed with with colon cancer that had spread to his bladder (J Soc Colon Rectal Surgeon (Taiwan), 2009;20:39-43). He was in and out of the University of Southern California/Norris Cancer Clinic in Boyle Heights during the last months of his life. He had his gall bladder removed but died at age 76, with the cause of death reported as complications from cancer.
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
Lemmon had just about every risk factor for colon cancer. He smoked cigars, was an admitted alcoholic, ate red meat virtually every day, took a lot of sugary drinks and foods, did not exercise and gained weight in later life. I would guess that his protruding belly in later life indicated that he was also diabetic, a major risk factor for many different cancers. Red meat, sugared drinks and sugar-added foods are associated with increased colon cancer risk (Nutr J, 2015 Jan 15;14(1):8). See my report on Prevention and Treatment of Colon Cancer. Colon cancer is associated with:
• polyps in the colon
• inflammatory intestinal conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome
• family history of colon cancer and polyps
• a low-fiber diet
• red meat and processed meats
• sugared drinks and sugar-added foods
• lack of exercise
• alcohol in any amount
• radiation therapy for other cancers
Not only are former smokers at increased risk for developing colon cancer, they are also twice as likely as nonsmokers to die after being diagnosed with that disease (Clinical Oncology, Feb. 2, 2015).
Other Notable People who had Colon Cancer
Milton Berle, comedian
Claude Debussy, composer
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Olympic athlete
Jackie Gleason, actor and comedian
Audrey Hepburn, actress
Pope John Paul II
Eartha Kitt, singer and actress
Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers
Walter Matthau, actor and Lemmon's co-star in The Odd Couple
Tammy Faye Messner, evangelist
Elizabeth Montgomery, actress
Ronald Reagan, U.S. President
Charles Schulz, cartoonist
February 8, 1925 – June 27, 2001