I just finished reading King of the Night by Laurence Leamer, a biography of Johnny Carson. I had personal reasons for wanting to read about Johnny Carson which I won’t go into except to say that I got to meet him once.
And as always, I shall build my review around the health aspects of his life. First, he lived 79 years and died of emphysema. That, of course, is a smoking-related disease, and he was a heavy smoker for most of his life. So, I have to think that if he hadn’t smoked, he would not have gotten emphysema, and he would have lived a lot longer.
And he did try to quit smoking at times, repeatedly, but he always went back to it, although I can’t say he was smoking at the time of his death. But, I think he was lucky to have lasted as long as he did considering.
I believe the secret of his success was his brains. He was smart. You have to be smart to be funny. It's all about seeing associations that others don't see, and the delight is in the surprise of it. It takes brains to be funny, and that's why they call it wit. As a boy, he got involved with card tricks and expanded it to a whole magic show. After high school, he joined the Navy, and he caught the end of World War II in the Pacific. And even in the Navy, he was involved doing magic and being involved with entertainment. Once, he even put on a magic show for the Secretary of the Navy.
And it was only natural for him to work comedy into his magic show. It may not be true of all magicians, but it was true of him. After the war, he attended the University of Nebraska, majoring in radio and communications, and with a minor in physics. That’s right: he had a minor in physics. And he graduated with a minor in physics. As I said, Johnny Carson was a smart guy, and he would have excelled at anything he put his mind to.
After college, he went to work in radio and that quickly segued into television. But, his career did not take off until he went to California 1951, which was the year I was born.
But getting back to his health, it sounds like he had a good constitution. The book I read, which was written long before his death, said nothing about any health crises impacting his life or his career. He was slender by nature, particularly when he was young. Not being fat is a big advantage.
My impression is that Johnny Carson was not a food person. He wasn’t a foodie. He ate to live; he didn’t live to eat. His taste in food was very conventional, not high-brow by any measure. Steak was mentioned as a favorite food, but, he wasn’t a big eater. But, he wasn’t the least bit drawn to health food ideas, even though there were people in his life who tried to get him into it, such as his second wife Joanne and his youngest son Cory.
Then, alcohol was a big element in his life. He had periods when he was frankly alcoholic. And it was emphasized that he did not handle alcohol well at all. He got inebriated quicker than most people do. He couldn’t hold his booze. I recall that it was when he was doing the Tonight Show from New York that he had his worst time with alcohol, and Ed McMahon was his drinking buddy. There were a lot of drunken times.
So, the heavy smoking was bad enough, but the heavy drinking was another huge burden. That’s why I say that he made out like a bandit making it to 79.
Then there was stress, and he had a lot of it in his life. He lived an amazing life but not an enviable one, in my opinion. For instance, I think he made a big mistake trying to become a business mogul. What did he need it for? He was paid a vast amount of money, more than he could ever spend, and he had no need to buy banks and tv stations and other businesses which were more than investments- they were enterprises which had to be run. And as fate would have it, many of them didn’t turn out well, and he lost money. But, the greatest cost was all the time involved and all the stress that it imposed on him. Frankly, he should have just bought regular passive investments and not tried to build a business empire.
He was married 4X, and when three of the marriages ended, they ended badly, it was very stressful. He got off easy financially speaking the first time since he hadn’t hit it big yet. But the second and particularly the third divorce were very expensive and very stressful. You might wonder why he didn’t just give up on marriage. The answer is that he didn’t like being alone. That was emphasized repeatedly.
Even his 4th marriage which lasted until the end wasn’t without its problems, and It’s fair to say that his relationship with his three sons was difficult and stressful throughout. And then his middle son Richie died tragically in a car accident at the age of 39. So, there was lots of stress and pain on the fathering side of his life too.
I realize that in everyone’s family there are joys and sorrows, but I got the distinct impression that for Johnny, there was a lot more sorrow than joy.
And then the other irony was that even though he was beloved by millions, Johnny Carson had few friends, and the friendships he had often ended. Especially by the end of his life, he had very few friends.
But, what were the positives health-wise? As I said, he tended to be thin, and he stayed thin. He didn’t get fat. It was automatic when he was young, but as he got older, he worked at staying fit and trim. He had a full Universal gym in his home which he used religiously. He was also an avid tennis player. He was diligent about exercise.
And the Tonight Show was an outlet for him. He had his problems, but he knew that people were turning him on at night to escape from their problems. He felt a responsibility to them. He wanted to make them feel good in the hour before they went to bed. His commitment to his audience was absolute. I believe it superseded everything and anything else. His devotion to his audience was unwavering.
Was he a nice guy? Well, he gave away a lot of money, both during and after his life. He helped people in need, and he often did it anonymously. But, he wasn’t by nature sunny. He had a dark side. And there was a big difference between his public persona and the real Johnny Carson.
He had such an unusual life. If you said he was one in a million, you’d be way off. He was much rarer than that. He was an American institution. He was very, very American, and Americans were proud that he was American because he was class act, and he made the whole country look classy. Johnny Carson was as American as apple pie and the 4th of July, and not because he wore patriotism on his sleeve, but because he embodied the American spirit without doing that.
I think it’s fair to say that Johnny Carson was one of the most beloved entertainers of all time, and people felt that they knew him. He was Johnny- one of those people for whom a first name was enough. Had he never smoked, he surely would have lived a lot longer, but it wasn’t remotely possible. Like most people, he was a product of his time and circumstances. It's true of the rich just as it is of the poor. And it’s very possible, even likely, that no one will ever match what he did, which was to become the late-night viewing habit of this entire country. Who is going to be the next Johnny Carson? Nobody.
I just finished reading Natasha by Suzanne Finstad, a biography of Natalie Wood. I am drawn to reading the biographies of people with incredible life arcs, which was certainly true of her. By rights, she should have been born in Russia because both of her parents were Russian immigrants who spoke little or no English upon arriving here. Natalie Wood was bilingual; she spoke Russian. And not too many of her fans know that.
As usual, I am going to review her life from the health standpoint, since this is a health blog. Natasha was extremely petite; she was short, and she was small. She only reached a height of 5'0", and that was often hidden in her films, not just by her wearing heels but through other tricks. She was small-boned, small-chested; everything about her was small, and it enabled her to play teenagers well into her 20s. It seems her diet growing up was a combination of standard American fare with the addition of special Russian dishes that her mother made. Poverty may have been a factor in compromsing her nutrition in the early years, that is, until she hit in big in 1946 in Tomorrow is Forever at the age of 8. From that point, she was the breadwinner of the family, and lack of money would never again prevent her from eating well. However, there is a lot that is already set in stone by the age of 8, including her dietary habits.
Natasha's education went through high school, and it was a combination of studios schools, in which they brought tutors to the set to teach child stars, and regular public school. It seems like it was about half and half. And when she went to public school, she tried to fit in and be a regular kid. It so happens that she attended the same junior high school that I did: Sutler Jr. High in Canoga Park, California. And then she went to Van Nuys High, which was close to where I went. And it mentioned her doing typical high school things like going to Bob's Big Boy on the weekend nights to get burgers and fries, and that was the cool thing to do during my time attending high school in the San Fernando Valley. It said that she could eat a lot of that kind of food without gaining weight. In fact, if anything, her tendency was to be too thin. All references to food in the book were to unhealthy, junky stuff. Never was a fruit or vegetable mentioned. Yet, she stayed thin. Typically, she weighed 93 to 95 pounds in her younger years. But later on, her weight became a problem, and she would have to diet before she started filming. She lost that waifish look.
Natasha did not exercise. For one thing, her mother discouraged it. And for two, she just had no jock tendencies whatsoever. But one thing she did take up as a teenager was smoking; and she was a heavy smoker. She became a chain smoker. Of course, that's bad for anybody at any age, but to start it as a teenager is especially bad because you haven't even finished growing and developing yet.
She also took up drinking. As a teenager, she was just as rebellious as any teenager you might know. Her drinking fluctuated; if she was with someone who was a big drinker, then she would drink heavily too. It's important to realize that females do not metabolize alcohol as well as men do. They are more adversely affected by the same amount of alcohol as are men. But then, in addition, being a small 93 pound person, the same amount of alchol affected her more than a 160 pound person. So, because of her gender and her diminutive size, she really couldn't handle alcohol. And it had a lot to do with her death.
There was no mention of her taking any street drugs, however, it was also in her teen years that she started taking sleeping pills. And I don't mean once in a while but every night. She would joke that when it was time for bed, she would wash her face, brush her teeth, and take a sleeping pill. Back then, the sleeping pills available were very harsh: barbituates, such as Seconal. She was taking it every night as a teenager, and it continued until the night she died.
The first movie in which she got to play someone other than a little girl was Rebel Without A Cause in 1955. And that cast, consisting of Jimmy Dean, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo and Natalie, they were rebels alright. Smoking, drinking, and wild driving in which Natalie almost got killed. (Note: she had several near-fatal car accidents in her life). But if that wasn't enough, she was also having an affair with the 43 year old diretor, Nicholas Ray. She was 16. And then, if that wasn't enough, she got brutally raped by a leading Hollywood actor. The author didn't name him directly, but the strong implication was that it was Kirk Douglas, and that seems to be the unanimous conclusion in cyberspace that Kirk Douglas raped Natalie Wood. Google it if you don't believe me.
Natalie's love life was filled with pain and disappointment. Her first marriage to Robert Wagner ended when she caught him in bed with a man (according to the author). Then, she took up with Warren Beatty, her co-star from Splendour in the Grass, where, ironically, they didn't even like each other during the making of the movie. All of the passion they had to show each other onscreen was pure acting. But, they became a couple after her divorce, and it flew high for a while only to crash and burn. She had numerous other men, but then met British producer Richard Gregson. She married him with high hopes, but just months after the birth of her daughter Courtney, she caught him in bed with another person, but at least it was a woman this time- her own secretary. So, that marriage ended, and Gregson went back to England. He pretty much forfeited his daughter too. Then, she married Robert Wagner a second time (which is amazing when you consider how the first marriage ended). But, they had a baby together right away, and they both strove hard to make it work.
Natalie's career in the last decade of her life was mostly disappointments. She usually received praise, but most of the movies were considered second-rate. It seems that Rebel Without a Cause, Splendour in the Grass, and West Side Story will always be considered her greatest movies, with Miracle on 34th Street as her best childhood movie. I can tell you, unfortunately, that her very last movie, Brainstorm, was a dud. It wasn't her fault, and she only had a supporting role in it.
I've mentioned her heavy smoking, her drinking, her drug use, and the fact that her diet was far from optimal. And all of that took a toll, more than the public realizes. She developed dark circles under her eyes, which they would cover with make-up. But, some days, it was so bad that they couldn't make her look good. They would just have to stop shooting, tell her to go home and sleep and come back when she was refreshed.
Natalie Wood died in 1981 at the age of 43. The cause of death was drowning. Somehow, late at night, she wound up in the cold water off the coast of Catalina where their boat, the Splendour, was moored. The irony, which the author emphasized repeatedly throughout the book, is that her lifelong fear was of drowning in dark water. And that is exactly how she died. I won't attempt to piece together the events of that night, which are still shrouded in mystery and controversy. But, I will point out that the amount of alcohol that she and Robert Wagner, and their guest Christopher Walken, and their hired skipper Dennis Davern, consumed was staggering. It was a prodigious amount of alcohol.
It was an incredible life, one that no one could envision or imagine except her obsessed and driven mother Maria, who was apparently the ultimate Hollywood mother. Was Natalie's life happy? At times, I suppose, but overall, I would say no. She had so much pain and disappointment and anguish in her life, which led to at least two suicide attempts. What can we learn from it? For one thing, celebrity is a mixed bag, and there is a lot to be said for anonymity. For two, even celebrities often succumb to the same destructive practices that destroy regular people. Smoking, drinking, drugging- it wrecks the beautiful people just as surely as the Average Joes and Average Janes. And note also that Natalie Wood didn't get her Seconal from a street vendor; doctors prescribed it. Just as with Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and other tragic figures, doctors were complicit in Natalie Wood's downfall. Celebrity doesn't save people from medical stupidity either. Hooking a teenager on Seconal should be considered a crime- regardless of who the teenage is and who the doctor is.
I just finished reading the autobiography of Michael J. Fox entitled Lucky Man. The theme of the book is that even though he came down with Parkinson's disease at the age of 30, he considers himself a lucky man because of how he dealt with it and found meaning and purpose in his life.
First, I always thought he was a very talented actor. If you've never seen Back to the Future, it is a very fun movie, and it all revolves around him. And although he has done a lot of comedy, he is presently playing a cutthroat corporate lawyer on The Good Wife, and he is really carrying the role. In it, his character has tardive dyskinesia which are involuntary movements, and I assume it is his Parkinson's disease and the effect of all the medications he has had to take.
He came from a working class family in British Columbia, Canada. In school, he did poorly in the academic subjects, but he soared in the artistic ones, including music (he is an accomplished guitarist) art (he is an accomplished cartoonist) and, of course, drama. His involvement in school plays led to small roles on Canadian television and also some work doing commercials. But, he dropped out of high school to pursue an acting career in Hollywood.
So, his father drove him down from Vancouver to Los Angeles and helped him get settled. Then, for two years, Michael struggled. He got work, but nothing major, and between paying his agent and his coach, and others, including the tax man, he could barely squeak by. In fact, he almost gave up to return to B.C. to resume a more normal and ordinary life.
But, his big break came with his audition to be on the show Family Ties, and the rest, as they say is history. It was a huge success, and he became the star. That wasn't intended. His was supposed to be a supporting role. But, he simply upstaged everyone else.
And it was while he was doing Family Ties that he was approached by Steven Spielberg and others to play the lead in Back to the Future. But, he was making Family Ties at the time, and the producer would not release him to do the other. So, what it came down to was that he made Family Ties during the day, and he made Back to the Future at night, and he simply didn't sleep much at all for 4 months or more.
That was not a healthy situation, and it was not the only thing that was unhealthy. It sounds like his diet was never very good. His father got to be obese, and I mean over 300 pounds. That should tell you something about the quality of the diet in the Fox household. (By the way, Michael Fox is his real name, but he added the middle initial “J”.) And when he talked about the food he lived on, especially when he was struggling, it was all fast-food.
Then, he smoked. And his father was a big smoker, so he was around it even as a child. I don't believe it stated whether his mother smoked. But, Michael J. Fox became a heavy smoker, and I mean from when he was a teenager.
And he liked to drink alcohol. He drank a lot. He got soused- often. He didn't drink while he worked, but when he got done working, he starting drinking and drinking heavy. That was his habit.
He didn't say anything in the book about indulging in illegal drugs, such as: marijuana, cocaine, etc. Does it mean he didn't use them at all or that he didn't use them much? I don't know.
But at the age of 30, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease, which started with a twitching in one of his pinkies.
No one in his family ever had Parkinson's disease, and he didn't have any other risk factor, such as working around pesticides. So, why did he get it? My impression is that nobody claimed to know.
I can't tell you either, but I do know that smoking, drinking, eating a terrible diet, and incurring a monstrous sleep deficit are very damaging to health, including the health of the brain.
What if Michael J. Fox had never abused himself the way he did with substance abuse, sleep deprivation, and bad food? Would he still have developed Parkinson's disease at the age of 30? Neither I nor anyone else can answer that definitively, but I suspect that the outcome would have been quite different.
And I should add that the drug treatments were only palliative, meaning that they didn't cure the condition, nor did the stop the further progression of it. However, they did effectively suppress the manifestations, and he got to being very good at using the drugs to his best advantage so that he could work.
By the way, the book is very well written and very thoughtfully written. He may be uneducated, but he is a very bright man, and I respect him.
At one point, he submitted to a very high-tech brain surgery to destroy certain cell clusters with laser in the hope it would lessen his symptoms. It actually helped with his shakiness on his left side, but shortly after the surgery, he started shaking on his right side, which had never shook before.
After making a string of movies- some successful and some not- he went back into television to do Spin City where he played the right-hand man and chief strategist of the mayor of New York. It was another big success, and it was funny. And that's when he was really dosing himself heavily to keep his symptoms at bay during taping. But, they never went away completely, and it was really a challenge to pull it off, calling for some very creative tactics on his part. And, it was after that that he finally went public with his diagnosis and started to devoting himself to Parkinson's research and fund-raising.
And through it all he got married and had 4 children, 2 of whom are twins. At the time he found out he had Parkinson's disease, he had just one child, a son, Sam. It took a lot of courage for him to continue having children after that. But, he wasn't going to let the disease dictate the course of his life.
It's nice to see Michael J. Fox back to acting again because he is awfully good at it. But, here is what I think:
Medicine knows very little about the cause or causes of Parkinson's disease.
Medical treatment is palliative at best, and it may come at a high price since the drugs do have adverse effects. If it were me, I doubt I would take any of the Parkinson's drugs that are in common usage.
3. Michael's very destructive and abusive lifestyle had to play a major role in his contracting the disease.
And my guess is that the thing that played the single largest role in activating this disease in him was severe chronic sleep deprivation.
I, like everyone else, was shocked by the suicide death of actor and comedien Robin Williams, and I have to wonder why he did it. It obviously wasn't because of financial hardship or ruin- which is a leading cause of suicide worldwide. It wasn't because of any particular tragedy in his personal life that we know of.
Was it because of lost love? He was married, although I don't know what his relationship with his wife was like. But, even if he was having martial problems, millions go through it without committing suicide. Besides, he had three children, and I don't presume he was on the outs with them. He also had many close friends, and he had countless fans and admirers all over the world. So, it can't be that. His life definitely wasn't devoid of love.
Intractable health problems are a leading cause of suicide. I know he underwent coronary bypass surgery, so he had heart disease. But, in a recent interview, he said he was riding his bike a lot. and he was looking good. And, he was working at a feverish pace, so he obviously wasn't physically incapacitated.
His wife said he was diagnosed with an early stage of Parkinson's disease. I sure hope he didn't kill himself over that. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 8 years ago, and it has barely worsened at all. And now she is 93.
Robin Williams abused alcohol and drugs for much of his life, although reportedly, it was under control of late.
However, it was also reported that Robin Williams suffered with clinical depression, and that is obviously a leading cause of suicide. But, another leading cause of suicide are the drugs that given to treat depression and other mental illnesses.
I imagine there were a lot of drugs going into Robin Williams. They must have had him on heart drugs for his heart disease, including a statin drug. Statins have been associated with clinical depression, both as a direct effect of the drugs and as an indirect effect of lowering cholesterol. Did they have him on high blood pressure drugs? Both beta blockers and calcium channel blockers have been linked to depression, and sometimes they prescribe both to heart patients. Between those drugs and the psych drugs and whatever other drugs he may have been taking on his own initiative which may have included alcohol which is a known depressant, it was very likely that the combined effect of all the drugs is what pushed him over the edge to suicide. That is my best guess at this time.
It is ironic that a commedien should be so depressed, but then again, they have been writing songs and operas about clowns who are in tears for a very long time.
Robin Willliams seemed to be a very nice guy, a really warm person. I think he was loved for that reason- as much as for his talent. Of course, I didn't know him, but if I had to say what probably drove him to suicide, my answer would be: the drugs.
It's mid-May, so you may want to cut back on your VItamin D3 supplement if you get a lot of summer sun. I get quite a bit, and what I do is reduce my supplementary intake from 5000 IUs to 2000 IUs. However, I realize that there are many people who aren't out biking and swimming like I am, and they may get little more sun in the summer than they do in the winter. And if that's the case for you, you should continue taking 5000 IUs.
There is now available a vegetarian Vitamin D3, which is made from a certain kind of marine moss. We don't offer it, but it's available from several different companies, which you can easily find online. So, just do a search for "vegan Vitamin D3" and you'll find it. The standard Vitamin D3 is made from sheep's lanolin.
The news continues to be good about the health benefits of Vitamin D. Here are a few examples from the Vitamin D Council. The benefit of Vitamin D3 to tuberculosis patients was demonstrated in a study, but that's hardly surprising since 100 years ago there were TB sanitariums in which sunlight exposure was a central part of the regimen to help these patients. In another study, liver cancer patients who were given Vitamin D had significantly longer survival. Another found that cigarette smoking erodes the body's Vitamin D reserves, but I presume everyone reading this is well past being a cigarette smoker. Another study found that Vitamin D3 contributed to weight loss. A study among the elderly found that the seniors with higher Vitamin D blood levels reported a higher quality of life. Another study found that among lupus patients, those with higher Vitamin D levels reported longer sleep and better sleep quality. And among college students, those with higher Vitamin D levels were found to have greater cardiovascular fitness.
But, there was one negative study. Among rheumatoid arthritis patients, those taking Vitamin D2 reported no improvement and may have experienced a worsening of their condition. I have been saying for a long time that you shouldn't take Vitamin D2, and now that this vegan Vitamin D3 is available, there is no longer any justification for anybody to be taking Vitamin D2. It is not Vitamin D; it is really just a Vitamin D-like drug, an analogue of Vitamin D. It has no normal relationship to human life, and I say avoid it like the plague.
Unfortunately, millions of Americans continue to be grossly deficient in Vitamin D, and thousands of American doctors continue to be ignorant of how much Vitamin D their patients really need. Getting everyone in the country up to speed on Vitamin D would be relatively inexpensive, and what it's likely to save in medical expenses is at least many tens of billions of dollars. And that's being very conservative. It could easily be over $100 billion. And that's every year. The inhibitory effect that Vitamin D has on cancer and heart disease would do that alone, and at least. It really is a tragedy that so many people are literally in the dark about this- metaphor intended.
So, if you know about the importance of Vitamin D to your general health (not just your bones) and if you realize that the proper dosing is in the thousands of IUs not the hundreds, then consider yourself lucky. And spread the word.