I just finished reading a biography of Eva Cassidy, who probably had the most astronishing rise to stardom ever achieved by a deceased person. Eva was a singer and musician who during her life was known locally in the Washington DC area. She played the local clubs and whatnot. But, she never could support herself as a musical performer; she worked a day job at a plant nursery. And at the age of 33, she died of malignant melanoma which had spread to her bones. It was only after that that she rose to worldwide fame.
First know that she had an extraordinary voice. Some say that among singers of popular song of her generation that hers was the best. Some say that hers was the best ever. But, she was more than a singer. She was also an excellent guitarist, and she was also an extraordinary musical arranger and stylist. She took classic, beloved songs and infused them with even more feeling and emotion than anybody thought they had.
For instance, take Over the Rainbow. I'm a big Judy Garland fan, and I read her biography too and wrote about it. But, once you've heard Eva Cassidy sing Over the Rainbow, you don't want to hear anyone else sing it, including Judy Garland. For many people the world over, Eva's version has become the ultimate rendition of Over the Rainbow. Here it is:
I'm also a big fan of Irving Berlin, and Eva's versions of Cheek to Cheek and Blue Skies soar above all others. And even Sting admitted after he heard Eva's vesrion of Fields of Gold that it's better than his. And nobody ever thought they'd want to hear anyone except Louie Armstrong sing Wonderful World- until Eva sang it.
Where did her talent come from? Well, her father Hugh was a semi-professional musician, and he instilled all his children with a love of music. Hugh played the guitar, and he gave Eva her first guitar lessons. Hugh was a real Rennaisance Man because besides music, he was involved in sculpting, teaching, landscaping, and he was also an athlete. In 1971, weighing 300 pounds, he won the world title in Super Heavyweight Powerlifting. This was an actual strength contest- not posing. He squated with 865 pounds and benched 570.
Eva was unusual because growing up, music and also art (she painted) were her passions, and she didn't care a bit about clothes or fasihions or trying to be popular. She wasn't one to chase boys either. She went on to have brief romantic relationships, but she swore she would never marry, and she was romanticaly unattached much of the time, including the last 3 years of her life.
In 1993, Eva had a malignant melanoma removed from her back. Not much thought was given to it after that. But three years later, she started having pain in her hip. X-rays showed that the bone was completely eroded from cancer. She underwent surgery, including a total hip replacement. She also had cancer in her lungs. She underwent aggressive treatment, including chemotherapy, but it was to no avail. She died at her parents' hoome on November 2, 1996.
Her rise to international fame started after that, and it began in the UK. Then it spread to Europe. And only after that did it reach the United States. A total of 11 albums have been released, some of which went gold and platinum.
Here is an Eva Cassidy website run by her cousin Laura which features all her work : http://evacassidy.org/eva/
But since this is a health blog, I want to hone in on what happened to her health-wise. The book I read is called Behind the Rainbow: The Tragic Life of Eva Cassidy by Johan Bakker. It was good, but I don't think the author ever met her, so it may not be the best one to read. But, the only thing he said about why she got sick is the usual refrain about excess sun. But, did she really get more sun exposure than most? I doubt it. It doesn't sound like she did. I bet you I've gotten more; a lot more. And the back isn't a part of the body that gets regular sun exposure just from being out and about. That would be the arms and the face and even the shoulders. But, this was down on her back. It never said that she was one to be out sunbathing in skimpy swim attire.
So, I have to think that there had to be more involved than just sun exposure, and the first place my mind goes is to food. What did she eat? And I think about her father during the time he was a power lifter who pushed his weight up from 175 to 300 pounds. I know very well that weightlifters tend to do that by loading up on animal food- lots and lots of protein. So, if he was doing that while she was growing up, don't you think that it influenced the way the whole family ate?
There wasn't much said about her diet in this book, but I recall two things. It said that during the bref time that she lived with bassist Chris Biondo that they didn't have much time for cooking so they lived on hot dogs, burgers, and pizza. Then it said that after her death, the actress Meg Ryan pursued the idea of developing Eva's life into a movie (others have as well, and it may well happen) and during that time Ms. Ryan made a statement that it would be about a gifted musician and performer who had a sad childhood which led to depression and a junk food addiction. That jumped out at me.
The bottom line for me is that there had to be more involved in the genesis of Eva's cancer than sun exposure, and it makes it all the more tragic because it probably could have been prevented with better nutrition. I hope that doesn't come across as cruel. I certainly don't mean it that way. I own several of Eva's albums which I listen to often, and I really think she was exceptionally gifted. Her music affects me emotionally, and consequently, so does her death.