If you’re young, and you’re not a fan of classic movies, you may not know about Gene Tierney, but she was one of the great screen sirens of Hollywood’s Golden Age, meaning the 1940s.   She was chosen to play the irresistible Laura in the 1944 movie of that name.  But, Gene Tierney is also remembered as the star who suffered from severe mental illness- and recovered.

 

Though she lived to 71, she wrote her autobiography, entitled Self-Portrait, at age 58, which I just finished reading.

 

She was born into a well-to-do New England family, which meant private schools, country clubs, horses, boating, tennis lessons, and even a debutante ball when she was 16.  She spent two years in Switzerland attending a posh boarding school where she became fluent in French.  She was discovered in Hollywood when she was 17. Her family was on a vacation to California, and a friend had arranged for them to visit a movie set. The movie was being directed by the famed Russian director Anatole Litvak who was struck by Gene’s beauty. He invited her to submit to a screen test, which she did, and that resulted immediately in a contract offer.

 

Gene had never thought about acting before, but she eagerly wanted to do it. However, her parents would not allow her. But, her father offered her a compromise that he would help her pursue a career in theater in New York instead. That way, she would be close to home.

 

So, Gene pursued a career in live theater on Broadway for several years until her star rose high enough there that she was again offered a Hollywood contract which she accepted.   

 

To understand Gene’s plight with mental illness, you have to understand that she suffered a lot of traumas in her life, and I don’t mean physical ones. Some very bad stresses happened to her, including the following:

 

-a complete falling out with her father after he abandoned her mother- and the whole family really – to marry another woman. He even wound up suing Gene for money relating to his having managed her career early-on, which resulted in Gene finding out that her father had been stealing from her all along.   

 

-her marriage to fashion designer Oleg Cassini, whom she met in the movie business where he designed costumes, was turbulent throughout. Her family and loved ones had pressured her not to marry him, but she did anyway, and their worst fears materialized.

 

-worst of all was that her first child, a daughter Daria, was born deaf and nearly blind and also severely retarded mentally, all the result of Gene having contracted German measles at a war bond rally from an afflicted female soldier. After two years, Gene gave up trying to care for Daria herself and allowed her to be institutionalized, which she was for the remainder of her 66 years. Daria had the mind of a 1 and 1/2 year old.  But, Gene visited Daria and supported her, and it was the utmost tragedy of her life.

 

-her relationship with John F. Kennedy, who never mistreated her, but when he decided not to marry her, it was devastating for her. She had such high hopes that they were going to have a life together.

 

-after that, she reconciled briefly with Oleg, and they conceived their second child, Christina, who was born healthy.  It’s interesting that although they lived in America, they decided to speak only French at home so that Tina would learn that language first. At the time she started school, Tina spoke very little English. But again, Gene’s relationship with Oleg tumbled, and they split up again for good, and she became a single mother raising a daughter.  

 

In addition to all that, she had all the usual stresses of being an actress, the competition, the pressure, etc. Plus, there were other turbulent relationships with men, such as with the Pakistani jet setting playboy, Ali Khan, which she never felt right about.

 

Her mental illness surfaced, as it often does, as depression. She’d wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed.  But, the second thing was an inability to concentrate, to focus. She couldn’t remember her lines. And it wasn’t just that she couldn’t remember them; she couldn’t learn them in the first place. She would read the lines out-loud several times, or even many times, but then when she put the paper down, she couldn't remember a thing.  That occurred first during the making of A Private Affair in England.  She got through it, but the problem only worsened.  By the time she went to California to film The Left Hand of God with Humphrey Bogart, she was a mess; she fell apart completely. She couldn’t remember anything. She got through the movie, but only because Bogart fed her her lines, reciting them before she did so she could repeat them, which required a lot of editing at the end to conceal. Bogie had a sister who was severely ill mentally whom he supported, and he recognized the signs in Gene. He urged her to get help. So, after the completion of that movie, Gene returned to Connecticut and sought medical help. She wound up at a prominent residential psychiatric clinic called the Hartford Retreat.

 

That began years of institutionalized treatment for Gene, and I’ll say first that I am not sure that any of it was beneficial or played any role in her recovery.  It included 32 shock treatments: electro-convulsive therapy, like Jack Nicholson’s character received in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In later years, Gene became an ardent and outspoken critic of shock treatments. She came to feel that they did nothing but destroy her memory and harm her otherwise.

 

She also received drugs, and she said that at one point, she was the most heavily drugged patient there.  She never named any of the drugs she was given. I don’t know what they were, but I think it’s likely that they have all fallen out of use in Medicine.

 

And she received some psychoanalysis and talk therapy as well, although she sounded critical of that too, from what I could gather.  She complained that they kept trying to plumb the depths of her unhappy childhood, but she kept telling them that her childhood was happy.

 

So, what did she speak of positively about all the treatment? It was the general caring and compassion that she received from the doctors and nurses. That she appreciated, and that she felt really helped her. Perhaps it is the only thing that really helped her.

 

She got out after about a year, and she resumed living with her mother and her daughter Tina, who was now in school. But then, she started deteriorating again, to where she wanted to spend the whole day in bed and would have if her mother had let her. One day, she had a close brush with suicide when she walked out on the ledge of their high-rise apartment building.

 

And that resulted in her being re-institutionalized at the famed Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. She was there for over a year and received the same kind of treatment as before. When she got out, the first thing she did was accompany her mother and daughter on a skiing trip to Aspen, Colorado. There she met the man who would become her second husband, Texas Oilman W. Howard Lee.  He was 11 years older, and he fell head over heels in love for her. That was in 1958, and they may have gotten married sooner, but she was planning her movie comeback, and as she got involved in it, she started deteriorating again mentally and behaviorally.  She became rambling and incoherent, and even Howard noticed.  Willingly, she re-entered the Menninger Clinic and stayed there another full year.  But, that was the last time she was to be institutionalized. She and Howard Lee got married in July 1960, and they lived together happily until his death in 1981, so over 20 years.  She never needed to be hospitalized again, but she did continue to see a psychiatrist and take medication.  And she did achieve a remarkable comeback as a movie actress- not as a leading lady but in supporting roles in several movies for which she received wide acclaim.    Her last movie was The Pleasure Seekers in 1964, but she did several television projects after that, all the way until 1980.

 

She and Howard lived in Houston, where she got very involved in charitable work there. He died in 1981, and she lived 10 more years until 1991, but never remarried.  The cause of her death was given as emphysema.

 

And that brings us to Gene Tierney’s habits. Since she died of emphysema at age 71, you might suspect that she smoked, and you would be right. But, she didn’t start smoking until she got into movies, and it’s a darn shame what happened. She was encouraged to start smoking because she had a high, girlish voice which they wanted to lower. So, she took up smoking, and she got hooked. She became a heavy smoker, and at times a chain smoker.

 

It seems strange that a woman whose whole career was launched by her fabulous looks would take up such a beauty-destroying habit as smoking. But, of course, she wasn’t the only one. Back then, they didn’t recognize the age-accelerating and uglifying effects that smoking has.

 

 

Regarding her food, she was a conventional eater. Things like steaks and barbecue were mentioned. Also eggs; she was very fond of eggs and enjoyed having laying hens at home to get fresh eggs. A fondness for desserts was also mentioned. But, she said that during filming she would watch her weight closely and stick to vegetables and lean meats.  

 

But, she was not a big drinker. She drank socially, but it wasn’t a problem for her. And she said nothing about indulging in illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, etc.

 

She was quite active physically, playing tennis from a young age. And, her first husband Oleg was an outstanding tennis player who apparently could have gone pro if he wanted to. He played Davis Cup tennis for Italy as a young man. So, that was something they had in common.

 

Apparently, her psychiatric diagnosis was manic depression. And, undoubtedly, it was triggered by the traumas that she experienced, particularly the tragedy of her first daughter Daria. Today, they treat manic depression, now called bipolar disorder, with various drugs, none of which were around in her time. And, the use of lithium got established in 1970, which was also after her worst time with it. But, I have to wonder if she started to take lithium after it became available in the 1970s, and perhaps she did.

Lithium is a naturally occurring mineral, and it does have a stabilizing effect on mood and on nerves. And, it occurs in trace amounts in food. We actually sell a low-dose version of lithium called lithium orotate. It provides 4.5 milligrams of lithium per tablet. It is much weaker than the lithium compounds used in Medicine, but for some people, it seems to suffice. It’s also much safer to take than the prescription forms of lithium.

 

But, I am left with unanswered questions about Gene Tierney. Would she ever have gotten sick if not for all the stresses in her life, particularly her impaired daughter?  I mentioned that she lauded the caring and compassion that she received from the medical staff, but I don’t think it’s right to consider that therapeutic. So, to what extent was she helped by the specific treatments she received? And to what extent was she harmed by them?

 

I suspect that her signature movie will always be considered Laura, which I have seen more than once. Recently, I watched her in The Mating Season from 1951, which was a comedy, and it’s very good.  I recommend it. I liked it better than Heaven Can Wait which is more of a farce. But, I intend to watch her in The Left Hand of God which she made in the throes of mental illness, but only with the generous and compassionate support of Humphrey Bogart. I'd like to see how it came out.  

 

Gene Tierney. What a life.  It was an incredible mixture of vaunted highs and desperate lows, neither of which she could ever have imagined or anticipated as a girl. I’m sure she’ll always be remembered as one of the great film stars and great beauties of all time.  However, she is no one to envy.  They say that money can't buy happiness, but, apparently, neither can beauty.  

 

 

I decided to read a biography of JD Salinger partly because of The Catcher in the Rye, which I read in high school, and partly because of his reputation for being so reclusive and hermetic and eccentric.  He was known to say that he was in this world but not of it. That was very aptly put, but then again, he was a writer.

 

To this day, Catcher in the Rye which was published in 1951, the year of my birth, is considered the ultimate novel of teenage angst and rebellion.  The character of 17 year old Holden Caulfield was based to a great extent on Salinger himself.   The theme is that Holden is on the threshold of adulthood, but he sees so much hypocrisy and so much phoniness in the adult world that he’s not sure he wants to be part of it.  Holden is considered one of the most enduring and influential characters in 20th Century American literature, and the only reason why you haven’t seen him on the silver screen is because Salinger wouldn’t allow it.

 


And that’s another strange thing about Salinger: he apparently didn’t care much for money. He turned down offers that would have made him an Ungodly fortune.  His last published work came out in 1965, and after that he retired, not from writing, but from publishing. He continued writing, working like a fiend, and reportedly putting out novels and short stories galore which the world has never seen.

 

Jerome David Salinger was born in 1919, the son of Solomon and Miriam Salinger. They were Jewish, but Miriam was actually Irish, and she converted to Judaism.  Her given name was Mary, and she changed it to Miriam. Salinger grew up thinking that he was 100% Jewish when he was really only half Jewish.  I’m pointing it out because his identity as a Jew played a major role in the direction that his life took, which I will explain.

 

His father was an importer of specialty meats and cheeses from Europe, and his business did well, even during the Great Depression. So, they got to live on Park Avenue, and Jerome (who was called Sonny at home) got to attend posh schools.  But, he was a poor student, and he flunked out several times. And it was no different at college; he flunked out of several, including Columbia University. He never did complete a college degree.

 

His father sent him to Europe for a year to learn the family business.  Salinger would later say that his father made him work in a pig slaughterhouse for a year.  He spent the time in Poland and Austria, and he saw and experienced the rising tide of anti-Semitism.  And when WW2 broke out, he knew right away that he wanted to fight the Nazis- and it was from what he had seen in Europe.

 

But, the US Army turned him down initially because of a heart defect. It didn’t say what it was, but it probably was a heart murmur. But after a while, they needed more boots on the ground, so they relaxed their medical standards, and Salinger got in.

 

Now, at that point, he was already semi-successful as a writer. During his time at Columbia, he had a Creative Writing teacher named Whit Burnett, who was the Editor of Story magazine.  Whit saw Salinger’s potential and encouraged him to write, and eventually, he published his first story, which was widely praised. And that led to other published stories, including one that was published in The New Yorker magazine, which brought very wide acclaim.  So, by the time Salinger entered the US Army, he was already accomplished as a writer.

 

And, as with other famous people with unique talents, the Army really didn’t want to use him as a fighting man. They wanted to use him as a writer. And he did write for them. He wrote a short story that was meant to stir up passions to join the war effort.  And it worked.  It was considered excellent.  However, Salinger never considered it anything but a fluff piece.

 

However, like Jimmy Stewart who insisted on getting in the thick of the action, Salinger did the same. So, he was indeed sent into battle. On D-Day, he landed on Utah Beach in the thick of it and then fought in the Battle of the Hedgerows and other fierce battles.  Then, he was part of the first American unit to enter Paris. And in Paris, he got to meet Ernest Hemingway who was working as a war correspondent for Collier’s magazine. And Hemingway had heard of him and read some of his stories and had a lot of respect for him. They got to talk shop about writing for hours. Salinger and Hemmingway got to be good friends and stayed so for the duration, but it's interesting that Salinger did not include Hemmingway among his favorite authors.   

 

Then, Salinger was part of the first American unit to enter Germany territory. Then, after months of hard fighting, his unit, the 12th Infantry Regiment, was sent to Luxembourg for some R&R.  But there, they got slammed by the strongest battalion left in the German Army.  And that developed into the Battle of the Bulge, which was the costliest military conflict in US military history.  The death toll was staggering. The 12th started with about 4000 men, but by war’s end, there were only about 1000 left.

 

And it wasn’t just the fighting that killed them, but also, the elements.  The American Brass was so confident that the D-Day Invasion was going to bring the war to a speedy end, that they didn’t bother to provision for the next winter.  Well, military progress was swift, but it wasn’t that swift.  Indeed, they were fighting through the winter, and the winter of 1944/1945 was one of the most severe on record.  You recall how at Valley Forge, it was so cold that men were dying of frostbite, and the same thing happened to Napoleon’s Army, which lost more men to the Russian winter than to Russian bullets.  Well, believe it or not, it was the same way during WW2. Salinger spent many nights shivering in foxholes.

 

But, he was a linguistic genius. He was an intelligence officer and also a spokesman. For instance, when they liberated a town, they would have him stand up on a truck and speak to the locals about what was going to happen next. Why him? Because, with very little academic training, he could speak both French and German fluently.

 

But, when the war finally ended, he had to enter a mental hospital- for months. He was diagnosed with what today we call post-traumatic stress disorder. And when he got out, he surprised everyone by deciding to remain in Germany to work for the Army as an interrogator. In fact, he was stationed at Nuremberg, and he was involved in interrogating Nazis. And he was doing it now as a civilian. But, the main reason he decided to stay is because he fell in love with a German woman, Sylvia Welter, although he told his family and friends that she was French.  They spent one relatively blissful year together (in the marital sense) in Nuremberg. But then, when his contract with the Army expired, the two of them set sail for New York and moved in with his parents on Park Avenue.  That was a bad idea. Sylvia and Miriam did NOT get along. And after a few months, Sylvia returned to Germany alone. Ironically though, she wound up coming back here as the wife of another American, and she spent her life here and had a career as an ophthalmologist.  She spent her final years as a widow living in a nursing home- writing about her year and a half with JD Salinger.

 

Salinger was thrown by the marital breakup, but only for a short while. And as usual, his relief, his escape from uncomfortable reality, was found in writing. He kept putting out short stories, most of which were published in The New Yorker.  And incidentally, he continued writing all through the war, even from the foxholes. His story: To Esme’- With Love and Squalor, written during the war, is considered one of the finest literary pieces to come out of the 2nd World War.

 

It took him years to write Catcher in the Rye. You just have no idea how hard he worked on it. But when it came out in 1951, it made him a literary superstar.

 

But, he didn’t like the fame. He didn’t want any spotlights on him. So, he ran away to rural New Hampshire, buying 90 acres with a cabin near the town of Cornish. It didn’t even have running water, and he lived that way for a while.  But eventually, he converted it into a comfortable, fully equipped residence.

 

Salinger met a 16 year old girl named Claire Douglass, the daughter of an acquaintance of his. And they instantly felt a connection, even though he was a little over 30. The book emphasized that he had no inappropriate physical contact with her when she was a minor.  And when she was 22, they got married.  They had two children, Margaret (Peggy) and Matthew.  Salinger loved his wife, and he adored his kids. And when he was with them, he was with them. But, nothing and no one took precedence over his writing. He built himself a bunker- a writing bunker- on his property, and he spent 12 hours a day there, and sometimes more. And he did not like being disturbed when he was working.  It was a major strain on Claire, and after some years (less than 10) she left the marriage.

 

His life changed after that. At one point, he got romantically involved with an 18 year old girl. She was of legal age, so there were no legal issues, but many considered it sordid. Late in life, he got married for the third time to a local woman from Cornish, Colleen Zakreski, who was 35 years his junior.

 

He continued writing short stories for The New Yorker, and he wrote several novellas, but it all ended in 1965 with the publication of Hapworth 16, 1924.  He said that would be the last work he would publish, and he stuck to it. But he lived to 2010! And he claimed to be writing furiously between 1965 and 2010! There is actually a chance that at some point in the future, more Salinger stories are going to see daylight.

 

But now, let’s talk about his health because this is a health blog.

 

He lived 91 years, which is well beyond average.  And it’s surprising for one reason in particular: he was a heavy smoker.  The book I read is entitled J.D. Salinger, A Life by Kenneth Slawenski, and Ken said that even by the time he was a young man, Salinger’s fingers were stained yellow from all the nicotine. And, it never said anything about him quitting.  A lot of smokers, even heavy smokers, do eventually quit.  But, I have found no references to him quitting. It doesn’t mean he didn’t, but we can’t assume that he did. And even if he did, he smoked for most of his life, and I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that.  

 

Salinger drank alcohol regularly, and I mean hard liquor. The book didn’t say anything about him getting intoxicated, but he liked to drink. And people have pointed out that there is a lot of drinking in his stories; his characters tend to be drinkers, even his admirable characters.  Alcohol is incorporated into most of his stories. To me, it shows a lot of appreciation for alcohol. I am reminded of Ayn Rand who made all her characters bigtime smokers who celebrated the joy of smoking. Why? Because that’s how she was.  And I, for one, do not consider alcohol a health positive.  I definitely put it on the negative side of the health ledger.

 

So, what did he have going for him on the positive side? First, Salinger was thin his whole life: thin as a boy, thin as a man, and thin in maturity. He never got fat.  And that counts for a lot. Caloric undernutrition is the most proven life-extending modality that we know of, and it’s been proven in many different species.  Second, in a big, committed way, Salinger got into eating fresh food. And not just eating it, but growing it. When he got up to New Hampshire, he got into organic gardening, and that was before people even talked about organic gardening.  He really wanted fresh uncontaminated, uncompromised food.  He grew all he could, and he bought locally otherwise.  He was quite active physically. He was no big sportsman, but he played sports with his kids.  And he was a homesteader who did work around his spread. I don’t think his health suffered from lack of exercise.

 

But, here’s another thing: he shied away from medical doctors most all his life. He much preferred natural methods; he was wary of medical drugs.  He became very spiritual but unconventionally. He got into Eastern religion and Easter mysticism. He got directly involved in the Self-Realization Foundation and the Yogananda.  He practiced yoga.  He meditated.  He avoided Western Medicine as much as possible. I regard that as a major positive- not that there aren’t exceptions where you need Western Medicine.  But, you’ll often find that very long-lived peoples have had little involvement with Medicine, where they have steered clear of it for most or all of their lives.

 

But, admittedly, another big factor is that both his parents reached their 90s, dying within a month of each other.  There’s no denying that genes play a major role in longevity.

 

Though I think 91 isn’t bad as a lifespan, I think we should try to do better. Why not? I’ll never forget something my father said to me once.  It was when he was in his early 70s.  We were talking about someone who was very long-lived, and I asked him if he would like to live that long. And his answer was: “As long as I’m feeling good.”

 

And I agree that quality of life is more important than quantity.  So, how was Salinger’s quality of life? It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either.  He was subject to painful bouts of Shingles.  He developed a major hand tremor, which had to make it difficult for him to write. (He did his writing on an old mechanical typewriter, and he hunted and pecked with two fingers. He never learned touch-typing).  And shortly before he died, he broke his hip. In fact, that may have been the catalyst that caused him to die. That’s how it often goes when an elderly person breaks a hip.  Both the book I read, and every other source I’ve seen, have it listed that Salinger died of “natural causes.”  Period. And I have no doubt whatsoever that that was HIS doing, that he arranged it that way. He took his privacy very seriously.   

 

 

 

I have written on sleep before, but it's been some time, so I thought I would do an update. Millions upon millions of people develop sleep problems, especially as they get older. The fact is that the biological switch that toggles us back and forth between wakefulness and sleep doesn't work as well when we get older. Even people who live healthfully can face this problem, and it's challenging because it is so chronic and intractable.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is not to do the wrong thing. And that would be to start taking pharmaceutical drugs for sleep. Sleeping pills, such as Ambien, are among the most prescribed drugs in the world, with annual sales in the billions. And besides the standard sleep drugs, there are still a lot of doctors who prescribe benzodiazepine tranquilizers for sleep, even though they are highly habit-forming and addictive. And there is a push in Medicine to go back to certain sedating antidepressants for sleep, such as Trazadone.

I am not in favor of any of these drugs, and I think it is a big mistake to get started on them- any of them. None of them deliver real, natural sleep, and that's what you want. Just because a drug "knocks you out" doesn't mean that you are experiencing healthy sleep. I say don't bother with any of them. If you have to struggle with your sleep, then struggle with it, but don't start taking drugs because you are never going to get a good result that way.

So, what can you take? There is always melatonin. People report different results from taking melatonin, but it's bound to improve your sleep some- if only a little. The melatonin product that I use and recommend is not available on this site. It is Dr. Walter Pierpaoli's MZS Melatonin. It is manufactured in Switzerland and wasn't available here until recently. I used to have to order it from England, but now you can find it on Amazon.com. So, do a search for it there. And the good news is that it is not expensive. Dr. Pierpaoli designed his product so that it would produce a nighttime peak in melatonin between 1 and 3 AM. He believes it is VERY important to achieve that. He also adds small amounts of zinc and selenium to the product for their synergistic roles in melatonin metabolism. And remember that melatonin has many health benefits besides sleep enhancement. It is truly an anti-aging hormone.

I still think that sedative herbs can be useful, and my favorite is Lemon Balm. The problem with taking a combination herbal product (and there are many) is that you don't know what's working and what's not. So, I prefer to take one at a time, and I would start with Lemon Balm because I think it's the best.

Theanine is an amino acid from green tea with calming effects. It also increases alpha brain waves, which support relaxation, and it increases the brain's production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma amino butyric acid, also known as GABA. I like the Sun Theanine from the Japan, and I think it is an excellent product to take to aid with sleep. Keep in mind that it is not directly sedating. You could take it during the day and not feel sleepy at all. But, it does induce relaxation and calmness which are conducive to falling to sleep. That's what you want: to fall asleep.

The minerals magnesium and calcium both have relaxing effects, and you could take those at night to aid sleep. And of the two, I particularly value magnesium.

 

Finally, the amino acid Taurine has a relaxing effect on the brain, and it does all kinds of good things for your body. Millions are getting insufficient Taurine anyway. The only way to get a lot from from food is to eat a lot of organ meats (such as cow heart) and fish. Vegetarians don't get any taurine at all. So, how do they get by? The body can convert another sulfur-containing amino acid, methionine, which is abundant in food, into taurine. But again, it's a conversion that slacks off with age. I'm all for getting some pre-formed taurine, and I think it's a good idea in general. Taking 500 to 1500 mgs of Taurine a day can be a very good thing to do. 

 

Those are my main recommendations for sleep aids, and again, it's all about supporting sleep indirectly so that you can fall asleep; not be knocked out. 

 

But in addition, do as many other things right as possible to enhance sleep. Eat healthy and nutritious foods, and avoid junk. Get sunlight in your eyes, especially in the morning. Exercise every day, and the more the better as far as sleep is concerned. You've got to earn your sleep through exercise. And finally, if you have other issues interfering with your sleep, such as an anxiety disorder or depression, then you should seek help for that. But again, I prefer non-pharmacological solutions. 

It's possible, even likely, that no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try, you are NEVER going to sleep like a baby again. And you may have to wrestle with your sleep- to some extent- for the rest of your life. Well, join the club because millions are in that boat. But, don't panic; don't get desperate; and don't do the wrong thing. Work on your sleep, and doctor it sensibly, but don't follow the masses into drug dependency on this important issue. Sleep is a physiological process, and it cannot be forced.  

 

 

 

Cynthia Lennon, the first wife of John Lennon, died today of cancer at the age of 75. Her son and only child, Julian, wrote a beautiful song to her, which you can find on Youtube.

 

And it so happens that I just finished reading her memoir about her life with John Lennon and after John Lennon called John

 

And I can tell you that it is well-written and an excellent read. It is candid; honest; and it is very revealing. She didn't hold back. She was just a normal girl with normal ambitions and normal expectations who happened to meet John Lennon at art college. He was the bad boy, and she was the good girl, and their union was not instant. But, once it started, it had all the intensity of young love- a very passionate connection.

 

But, they broke up once- after he hit her hard, in the face. It was because he thought she had flirted with another boy, which she hadn’t. But, he saw it that way, and he lost control of himself.  But, after some weeks, he apologized to her for that and told her that he would NEVER strike her again. And that's one promise that he kept. 

 

Such a thing is never defensible for any reason, and one should never make excuses for it or make light of it. However, I don't think it would be fair to characterize him- the person that he was, at the core of his being- based on that one incident. 

 

The actual circumstance of their wedding was the unplanned conception of their son Julian. It was after the Beatles were going but before they made it big. But, it wasn't a forced marriage. They sincerely loved each other, and it was something they both very much wanted.  And the marriage lasted for 10 years.

 

So, how did such a strong passion (which they undoubtedly had) go wrong? The incredible success of the Beatles had a lot to do with it. It would have been an awful lot for anyone to adjust to. And, it didn’t help that he was gone an awful lot- on world tours, making movies, etc. She traveled with him sometimes, but not always and not usually.

She heard rumors of infidelities, but she didn't provoke him about it. And when he finally came clean in admitting it, he said that it was just sex, that the one he loved was her, only her. I guess that was supposed to be a comfort. But, my impression from reading the book is that his trysts on the road were not the cardinal reason for their break-up. In many ways, she was very tolerant of him; you might say too tolerant.   

 

Of course, the one tryst that mattered a whole lot and changed everything was the one he had with Yoko Ono. But, Yoko Ono was really more the last straw than the cause of his break-up with Cynthia because their marriage was already on the rocks and crumbling at the time John and Yoko met. So, what was the cause? It was mainly drugs; his use of drugs.

 

John Lennon got started early on drugs. He had an affinity for them. He was a heavy smoker from a young age. And tobacco is a drug, right? He got into alcohol early too. And the culture for him, as it was and is for many, is that getting drunk, getting wasted is a good thing, that it's something to aspire to. And on the Beatles' first tour of the US, they met Bob Dylan, and Dylan introduced them to marijuana, which the Beatles took to heavily. Did they love marijuana? From that point on, they had employees repack cigarettes with marijuana so that they could travel with it freely all over the world. It worked most of the time, but occasionally it didn't, such as in Japan.  

 

But, "Cyn" could tolerate all that; it was the LSD she couldn't stand. And John was one of those guys who, when he got into something, he got into it big-time. And, he got into LSD big-time. And, he wanted her to trip-out with him, which she did, several times, at his insistence. But, she never liked it. It was always a horrible experience for her. She never had a good trip. And finally, she refused to do it with him at all. So, he did it with others or by himself. Obviously, that was not good for the marriage.  

 

And when he met Yoko, she introduced him to the joys of heroin. And pretty soon after that, it was all over for him and Cyn, and pretty soon after that, it was all over for the Beatles as well.

 

Previously, I read a long biography of John Lennon. I am most intrigued with musical genius, so I like to read the biographies of musical geniuses, which I think John Lennon was. But, from reading Cynthia's memoir, I definitely came away with the feeling that he was a very troubled, and in many ways, very dysfunctional person. Despite all the “awareness” one is supposed to get from taking LSD, he became increasingly unaware- of the hurt he was causing her and others- others who loved him very much.

 

Cyn tried very hard to save the marriage- for her son’s sake and even for her own sake because she continued to love John.  And even after Yoko came along, if John had agreed to straighten out and curtail further involvement with her, Cyn would have forgiven him. That’s the impression I got. But, it was just the opposite. Although he was the offending party, he acted as though Cyn had betrayed him.  

 

From the health perspective, it is interesting that Cyn reported that the heavy drug use, particularly the LSD, suppressed his appetite, and the result was that he started losing weight. And then when he met Yoko, she right away got him started on a Macrobiotic diet, consisting mainly of brown rice and vegetables. Of course, that is healthy food- don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of people who would benefit greatly from eating more brown rice and vegetables.  But if that’s all you eat is brown rice and vegetables, and if your system is used to eating chipped beef, Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, and whatever else the British eat over there, you are going to lose weight. Of course, the weight loss is a good thing if you happen to be overweight, but he was never overweight; that wasn't his nature. John Lennon was a classic "ectomorph": long and lean and thin by nature. So, the radical and extreme change in diet was simply too much for him, and it resulted in undesired weight loss. And his weight loss continued and worsened.  Eventually, he was nearly emaciated.  

 

The bottom line is that John Lennon was very much inclined towards: obsession, and Yoko Ono became his latest obsession.  Most painful of all to Cyn was that John’s obsession with Yoko very much hurt his relationship with his son, Julian.  Inexplicably, John went long periods without seeing Julian- for years.  And, it may have been longer if left entirely to himself. But, I don’t doubt that he loved his son. It's just that he kept waiting for things to settle down, but they never did.


And he loved his other son too, whom he had with Yoko, Sean.  But, he would get moody and snappy with his kids, especially with Julian. He just did not have the patience to be around kids.  

 

And let’s face it: children require a lot of patience. But, that’s something that John Lennon did not have. For example, he reacted badly to the way Julian laughed. And I don’t mean just to make fun of him for the way he laughed, which would have been bad enough, but rather, he got seriously irritated with him about it. “Don’t you ever let me hear you laugh like that again” he would scream. Who does that to a child?

 

But eventually, John started having Julian make visits from England to his famous residence at the Dakota Apartments in New York, across from Central Park. So, it was him and Yoko and Julian and Sean and whatever servants they had.  There was no mention of him doing sports with the boy, but he did get him started in music, teaching him the guitar, etc. And, you know that Julian Lennon went on to become a successful musician in his own right.  The song he wrote as a tribute to his mother really is lovely.

 

 

But, for the most part, it is a very tragic story with far more lows and than highs. (I don't mean in the drug sense.) It’s tragic because of the way John Lennon died, but it’s also tragic because of the way he lived. And, it is tragic because of what he didn’t get to do. He never really reached the level of friendship and accord with Julian to make up for all  the years of neglect. And that’s according to both Cynthia and Julian. And he never really came around to apologizing to Cynthia and acknowledging the fact that she was OK: as a wife, as a friend, and as his partner in life. It was him; it wasn't her. She was true-blue.      

She was as devoted to him as any woman could be to any man. And, I think it was her nature to be that way; very loyal and devoted and faithful. But, his drug-laden mind would play tricks on him and make him see things that weren't real. Such as: if she was just friendly and warm to someone, a man, John took it as a sign that she was pining for the guy and scheming to bed him. It was ridiculous. And, it seems that to a great extent it was his way of rationalizing his own infidelities- by seeing the same fault in her, which did not exist.  

 

He wasn't good at being a husband or a father, and it was partly because his own parental experience was so bad. His father had walked out at the beginning- so he really had no father. The man, Alfred Lennon, did show up after John had become wealthy and famous, but mainly to put his hand out. Did John help him? Yes, he did, but it never led to anything good.

 

And there was a problem with his mother too. She was living with a man who was not her husband, and the whole situation was deemed sordid, and John was placed in the custody of his Aunt Mimi, who became his mother figure. He did see his mother, Julia, who was Mimi’s sister, but it was more like visiting his aunt. So basically, his aunt became his mother; and his mother became his aunt; their roles were reversed.  And then, his mother Julia died suddenly in an auto accident when he was only 12.  And, by the way, his tribute song to his mother, entitled Julia, is very beautiful. Hey, John Lennon was a musical genius; an immense talent- talented enough to write so many beautiful and enduring songs. If he had only written Imagine, it would have been enough to make him worthy of permanent recognition, in my opinion. But, all this musical creativity went on despite his chronic drug abuse. But, I don’t think for one second that the drugs were the source of his creativity. That is ridiculous. The creativity came from him, not the drugs. And, I think he oscillated between being high and coming down from being high, and both states were very destabilizing. I think it came down to the “Law of Dual Effects” that Herbert Shelton used to talk about, where the high that people get from drugs, whether LSD or cocaine or heroin or whatever, is followed by a low when the initial effect of the drug wears off.  It leaves you depressed- very depressed. And that, I suspect, was the primary cause of his erratic behavior, which included angry outbursts, mood swings, sullen withdrawn periods, and a whole lot of insensitivity and callousness. He was ping-ponging back and forth between various drug states and the effects of drug withdrawal, and that went on for years; decades.

 

And the irony is that once he realized that he had a lot of influence on people, he tried to use it for good, such as joining and even leading the Anti-War movement.  So, he cared about people; he cared about humankind. But, he never developed the ability to relate well to people one-on-one, especially to the people he was closest to, and particularly his own family.  

 

At the very end of the book, Cynthia Lennon summed it up, and she did not mince words. She wrote this:

 

“I never stopped loving John, but the cost of that love has been enormous. Someone asked me recently whether, if I’d known at the beginning what lay ahead, I would have gone through with it. I had to say no. Of course, I could never regret having my wonderful son, Julian. But the truth is that if I had known as a teenager what falling for John Lennon would lead to, I would have turned around right then and walked away.”

As I said, it is a tragic story, and really, it is heart-wrenching. Oh, but what music. If you were going to list the top songwriters of the rock and roll era, it's hard to Imagine John Lennon not making everyone's short list.

 

 

 

 

I just finished reading the biography Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon by Marshall Terrill, and it is one of the most interesting bios I have ever read.  Terrence Steven McQueen (he always went by Steve) certainly had one of the most amazing life arcs of anyone who ever lived. By “life arc” I mean how far he went from how he started out to what he became.  And that meant going from being a poor kid, nearly an orphan, and definitely a juvenile delinquent, to becoming not only the biggest movie star in the world, but the most celebrated and widely recognized person on the face of the Earth.

 

But, he started out poor, being born in rural Indiana in 1930, the son of a man who abandoned him at birth and whom he never met, (though as an adult, he did look for him and located him three months after he died)  and whose mother was an alcoholic prostitute who was incapable of taking care of him. So, she left him with her parents in Missouri, but they both died forthwith, so he was sent back to Indiana to live with his great uncle Claude, who was a hog farmer.

 

 

 And, Uncle Claude was good to Steve and was the closest thing to a father-figure that he ever had. But, he was also strict with him, and he made him work on the hog farm.  And that was just the first of many grunt labor jobs that Steve McQueen had in his life before he became an actor. As he liked to say, he shoveled a lot of shit in his life.

 

 

 At the age of 13, his mother (whose name was Julia Ann which got contracted into one word: Julian) summoned him to California to live with her and her new husband. Unfortunately, her new husband, like her, was an alcoholic, and he was a mean drunk. That became the worst period in Steve’s life because the man would beat him- severely.  Eventually, Steve ran away and just lived on the streets, joining a gang and surviving mainly through petty crime, such as stealing hub caps.  He wound up getting in trouble with the law and was sent to a reform school in California called Boys Republic.

 

 That turned out to be a blessing for Steve because he was treated well there. And, it became a lifelong passion of his.  When he made it big, he became a major financial supporter of Boys Republic, and through his estate, he still is. Here is their website:

 

https://www.boysrepublic.org/

 

 

And he did more than just support them financially. He also made regular visits there to talk to the boys and encourage them. And he is still supporting them because Steve McQueen is one of the most successful dead people there ever was. Only Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe have raked in more money in death than he has.  

 

At the age of 17, Steve joined the Marines, which came about mainly because some of his buddies at Boys Republic were doing that, so he joined them.  He did 3 years in the Marines, and he got through it with an honorable discharge.  But, it was a rough go. He got into trouble; he got into fights; and he spent some time in the brig.  However, he was commended for being good at handling weapons.

 

When he got out of the Marines at the age of 20, you might say he became a drifter. But, he was not a bum because a bum doesn’t work, and he did- at all kinds of hard physical labor. He wasn't lazy. He was not afraid of hard work. But eventually, he wound up in New York City and for only one reason: his mother Julian was there. And this time, she wasn’t married, but she was living with a man, Victor Lukens, who was an artist and film maker.  And Victor was a good man.  He was good to Julian, and he was good to Steve when he joined them.  And he offered Steve a job as a helper on his film sets.  Steve, who was mechanically inclined, would help by building sets and props, running errands, and if necessary, he would be available as bit actor to fill out a scene. These were very minor parts, with little or no speaking.  But, it seemed he had a knack for it, and the camera liked him.  And that’s how he got started in acting.  It was nothing that he ever dreamt of doing or thought that he had any talent for. If his mother hadn’t taken up with this minor film producer, it most likely never would have happened, and who knows what he would have done with his life.  

 

And for Steve, it was not as though he discovered that he loved acting. Rather, it was that he realized that, being uneducated, his prospects were dim. Acting was a way out of poverty for him; that’s all.

 

But, he took the craft very seriously. He joined the Actors Studio, which schooled such luminaries as Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Paul Newman.  In fact, he met Paul Newman there, which began an intense lifelong rivalry. They starred together in adversarial roles in The Towering Inferno in 1974, and they wanted it to be McQueen and Newman in Butch Cassidy, but Steve wasn't satisfied with the terms. He felt that Newman was getting top billing, which was probably true at the time.

 

Few people know this, but Steve McQueen’s career began as a stage actor. He worked on Broadway and off-Broadway, and that lasted several years. It was there that he met the woman who became his wife, Neile Adams.  Neile, who was Filipina, was a little pixie, as cute as a button, and she had already found success as an actress and dancer.  And then, she was invited to go to Hollywood to make a movie, and Steve followed her out there. And shortly after that, they got married.

 

Steve McQueen was a ladies man.  He attracted women because he was good-looking and because he was cool.  He rode motorcycles, etc. And when he became a star, his attractiveness to women increased exponentially.  But, there was simply no chance that he was going to be faithful to just one woman. He was rather like John F. Kennedy that way.

 

I am saying this because it's like he had a split personality. On the one hand, he adored family life, hanging out with the wife and kids and doing family stuff. But, at other times, it's like he became another person, this swinging single guy. It's like there was a switch in his brain that would switch back and forth.   Sexual fidelity was not in the cards for him, and of course, it did cause stress in his marriage.

 

 Once they had kids and his star began to rise, Neile had to retire and just be a wife, mother and homemaker because that's how he wanted it.  His first significant film was in 1958, The Blob, which they say is a cult classic.  He also did television, including a successful Western called Wanted Dead or Alive.  His first really big blockbuster hit was The Magnificent Seven where he reportedly upstaged the star, Yul Brenner. And that was followed by The Great Escape, where again, he stole the show, and he soared right to the top from that. And by the way, in the story, the Germans kept throwing his character into solitary confinement, but he complained that he had nothing to do. He didn't think it looked good for him to be wallowing in a cell doing nothing. It wasn't good for his image. So, he came up with the idea of his character having a baseball mitt and a baseball with which to play catch with himself against the wall.

 

I am not going to review his entire movie career because that you can find elsewhere, and I really want to focus on his health, since this is a health blog. But, there is no denying that his string of blockbusters is still unrivaled, culminating in three from the 1970s: The Getaway, Papillion, and The Towering Inferno. It’s incomparable the extent to which he dominated Hollywood for about a 10 year period. He was the biggest and highest paid movie star in the world.

 

Now, as to his health, he apparently was born with a good constitution. The only significant health problem mentioned during his childhood was an ear infection which left him partially deaf in one ear. He was lean and athletic by nature, a natural mesomorph as they say, and by working out with weights, he acquired a wiry muscularity which served him well, on and off camera.  For most of his life, he could eat whatever he wanted and as much as he wanted without getting fat.  In fact, back in New York in the early days, his girlfriends would envy him for being able to eat a lot of food without gaining an ounce, which was something they couldn’t do. Only in his last decade did that catch up with him. I learned that during the making of Papillion, they had to do things with camera angles and with his clothing to hide his slightly paunchy condition.

 

As for his eating habits, they were totally conventional. All the citings about food in the book were just the standard fare, such as hamburgers, barbecue, birthday cakes, etc. During the making of The Great Escape, he complained about the German food and said that he missed California hamburgers.  And when he was in France, he complained about the food there. They tried to serve him eel once, and he got mad and stormed out. He liked good old American food. In Taiwan, during the making of The Sand Pebbles, which won him his only Academy Award nomination, he complained about the food there as well.

 

What’s interesting is that even though he went from rags to riches, his eating habits didn’t change. He didn’t eat any better or any differently even when money was no obstacle.  And it goes to show that eating habits are formed early in life, and they tend to persist regardless of changes in income or circumstances.

 

 

Steve McQueen had a lot of bad habits, and that's putting it mildly. He smoked and smoked heavily. He smoked cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Only late in his life did he try to quit smoking, and only with partial success. He cut out cigarettes, but he never quit smoking cigars- even when he was dying of lung cancer.  He also chewed tobacco and used snuff. He also adored marijuana; he was a big pot smoker.

 

He also developed a serious cocaine habit, which was quite common in Hollywood. He made several movies with Sam Peckinpah who was a major, super-addicted cokehead, and they did coke together.

 

He also used LSD but mainly as a sexual enhancer. He went through a phase where he was spending his nights on the Sunset Strip at the Whiskey A  Go-Go. It was like he was a fixture at the place, and I'm sure it was good for business.  And it involved a lot of sex and a lot of acid.

 

He also liked to drink alcohol, but mainly just beer. And he had a favorite: Old Milwaukee. He drank it religiously.  He even had it for breakfast sometimes. It was like a sacrament to him.

Besides being an actor, Steve McQueen was heavily involved in both car racing and motorcycle racing.  It inspired him to make the movie Le Mans, although it was a commercial failure that cost him dearly.  But, at one point, he actually considered giving up acting and becoming a full-time racer. Wisely, he decided not to do that.

 

But, he was very mechanically inclined, and he loved not just the speed but the mechanics of it all.  They say he was an ace mechanic, and he loved getting his hands dirty.  Like my father who loved working on cars, Steve McQueen got the black soot in the cracks of his fingers which stayed there for years at a time, and it was a problem during film shoots.  In his later years, he also learned to fly airplanes and besides being a pilot, he learned to service the planes that he owned.

 

So, even though he was uneducated (he never finished high school), he was very intelligent, and he excelled at a lot of things.

 

But, in discussing his health, there is also the issue of his mental health, and he had problems with it. I’m quite sure that today, Steve McQueen would be diagnosed as manic/depressive or bipolar. He had severe mood swings, and when his mood turned bad, it was frighteningly bad, and he could be violent. There were times that his wives, Neile Adams and Ali McGraw, feared for their lives, but not his last wife, Barbara Minty.  It seems that he mellowed quite a bit by the time she came along. Of course, she was young enough to be his daughter.  But, his mental instability and volatility also created problems on the movie sets. There were many actors and directors who despised him and refused to work with him because of his belligerence and incorrigibleness.  He was like a dictator. It was either his way or the highway.  But, as far as I know, he was only self-medicated for his mental health problems- with alcohol, marijuana, etc.

 

You probably realize that Steve McQueen died young, at the age of 50.  He died of mesothelioma which started in his lungs. That’s the cancer that is usually associated with asbestos exposure, and Steve McQueen had asbestos exposure. Some of the grunt labor jobs he did as a young man before he became an actor involved asbestos exposure, such as tearing down old houses. It was said that he had asbestos exposure in the Marines.  Also, it said that with the car racing, he had asbestos exposure, that the fire-resistant suits that they wear when they race contain asbestos. Or at least they did. So, apparently, he had a lot of asbestos exposure.  But, I have to think that his legion of bad habits had something to do with it as well.  

 

I would have to say from watching his movies that Steve McQueen aged rapidly and prematurely.  He certainly did very well with his hair, retaining a full, thick head of hair until the end.  But, that I attribute entirely to genetics.  But, if you look at his skin and the aging in his face, you see that he definitely aged prematurely.  And I attribute that to his bad habits.

 

It’s baffling in a way because the truth is that his good looks were a big part of his appeal. He was talented, for sure- but, for the kind of roles he played, he had to be good-looking as well.  So, why do anything to destroy such a valuable asset?   

 

But then again, part of his whole charisma was that he was a “tough guy” and when you get lines in your face and a leathery skin, it does make you look tougher- I guess. So, maybe that's why he let himself go.  

 

And I should add that part of it was due to photo-aging, meaning from excess sun exposure, and I am sure he was not the kind of man to slap on sun screen every time he went out in the sun (although it is actually a good practice).

 

They say that for most of his life he was a very high energy person, but I have to wonder to what extent that was due to his mania. He was hyper.

 

But, his physical decline came on quite rapidly. It started during the making of his final movie, The Hunter. It was noticed that he was out of breath a lot, that during the chase scenes, where as a bounty hunter he was chasing somebody, that he couldn’t keep up. He struggled to do it. He also developed a chronic cough that wouldn't go away. So, when he returned to California from Chicago, he saw a doctor, and x-rays revealed the cancer in his right lung, the mesothelioma.

 

He did not undergo too much conventional treatment because they held little hope for him. They never thought that surgery or chemo would do him any good, but they did try radiation briefly.  But, that was soon stopped as well.  From that point on, he sought alternative treatment, particularly with this Dr. Kelly, who was the rage at the time. But, my impression is that nothing he did helped the least bit. It was an unrelenting downward spiral towards death.

 

But, it was very touching to read about his final year because he knew he was dying, and he wanted to make the most of his remaining time and do the things he needed to do before he died, including apologizing to the people he had wronged, including both of his ex-wives.  He also found religion in quite a serious way and even did some counseling with Billy Graham. 

The way he died is that he went to Mexico in order to have an operation just to relieve pressure on his abdomen. It wasn't meant to be a cure. He had terrible ascites at the end, which is where the abdomen swells up, and the pressure from it was causing him a lot of pain. So, he flew to El Paso (where he had made The Getaway years before) and was driven to Juarez where he had the surgery. He survived the operation, and they thought it was successful, but then he had a heart attack which killed him. That was on November 7, 1980. He was just 50 years old.

 

It’s reasonable to assume that he had heart disease because you really can’t have a heart attack unless your arteries are diseased. And, the clogging of his arteries with plaque was no doubt something that built up over time, over many years, even when he was looking good and feeling good and acting vigorous.

I think the main message is that Steve McQueen was dying even when he seemed to be thriving.  It was all an illusion.

 What an amalgam Steve McQueen was, with exceptional talents and strengths, but also deep flaws and weaknesses. He showed great compassion and generosity at times, and that's many times.  But, he also had a dark side that lashed out at people, sometimes to a scary and startling degree, including to people he loved. He could be extremely selfish and also extremely unselfish.  But, he also underwent an amazing transformation in his life where he really seemed to have conquered his demons before he left the world. He was human, which is to say that he was flawed; but it's also fair to say, as people do, that he was one-of-a-kind- a phenomenon.

 

I think probably his most signature movie was The Getaway because in it he plays a bank robber; so, he was bad; a criminal; yet somehow, he never really strikes you as bad. The other criminals in the story, they strike you as bad- really evil and wicked to the core.  But not him.  And as he and Ali MacGraw make their escape into Mexico in an old pickup truck, and with all the loot, you really get the feeling that they are going to live happily ever after and be just fine. It's too bad life can't be as sanguine as the movies.  

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new study in the journal Atherosclerosis found that patients taking statin drugs developed increased coronary calcifications, which is the gold standard for diagnosing heart disease, compared to non-users.

 

When we think of heart disease, we think of cholesterol, which is soft.  But, the word “arteriosclerosis” literally means “hardening of the arteries.” And what do they harden with? Calcium.

 

Coronary calcium is not a test that I recommend routinely because there is a lot of radiation involved with it. But, I do not doubt the accuracy of it. So, if statin drugs increase coronary calcium, it is extremely bad. And apparently, they do that despite the fact that they lower serum cholesterol.

 

A second study in the journal Diabetes Care found that diabetics who take statin drugs also have increased coronary calcifications. And, they found a correlation between the frequency and size of the dose of statins and the degree of disease acceleration.  "More frequent statin use is associated with accelerated coronary artery calcification in Type2 diabetic patients with advanced atherosclerosis."

 

These findings are bad news for healthy patients who have been taking statins on a preventative basis just to lower their cholesterol, and it is bad news for those who are known to have heart disease who have been taking statins to slow the progress and reduce the risk of catastrophic events (heart attacks and strokes). Apparently, it doesn’t work either way, and even prior to this, there was never any impressive evidence that it worked. At best, even in the tweaked and finessed studies, there were claims of preventing 1 or 2 heart attacks- among 100 people taking the drugs. The picture was never too rosy for statin drugs.

 

And why should they ever have placed hope in these drugs in the first place? Think about how they work. They work by crippling the liver so that it can’t do what it wants to do and is supposed to do, which is: to make cholesterol. When did good health ever come from crippling the liver?

 

I was visited by a married couple recently who were both taking statins, having been put on them by the same doctor. He also advised them to eat a total 100% plant diet, so no animal foods, and I am not opposed to that. However, in addition, he put them on a statin drug. So, he wanted them to eat a diet that is totally devoid of cholesterol so that they weren’t getting any cholesterol from their food, and then, in addition to that, he was giving them a drug to cripple their cholesterol production by the liver, so that their cholesterol levels could be driven down severely and well below the normal physiological level. That’s how cholesterol-phobic their doctor was and is. And these are older people too, in an age-group for whom low cholesterol has NEVER been found to be beneficial or advantageous or life-prolonging.

 

Here’s the link to the article in Atherosclerosis:

 

http://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(12)00522-9/abstract

 

 

 

My view is that the vast majority of people should not even consider taking statin drugs. I am open to the possibility that those who have congenital hyperlipidemia, where the cholesterol level can rise to 600 or 700 or higher, MAY benefit from taking them. But, I am not certain I would take them even if that were my predicament, which fortunately it isn’t. What I believe strongly is that people should eat a plant-based diet, meaning one high in fruits and vegetables, and not just fruits and vegetables, but also other wholesome plant foods, such as raw nuts and cooked beans. I do not assume that a plant-based diet has to be completely vegan to be effective. If people eat mostly unrefined plant foods (as they should) but include some animal foods on a limited basis, they may do very well. But, in light of everything we know about the human body’s nutritional needs, especially in adulthood when growth has stopped, it makes no sense whatsoever to load up on large quantities of animal foods. And, note that the atherogenic effect of such a diet may be the result of other factors besides cholesterol. There is some evidence that animal protein itself may speed up the atherogenic process. So, it really does make sense to be cautious and restrained about how much animal food you eat. It isn’t filler food.   

 

Taking statin drugs is just a medical fad. Do you think it’s going to be in vogue 100 years from now? I doubt it. I seriously doubt it. And the main thing it does is create huge profits for pharmaceutical companies and the whole medical industry. You don’t have to support those people. And you certainly don’t want to do it at the expense of your health.

 

 

I just read a biography of the great actor Jimmy Stewart, but it honed in on his military career.  It’s called: Jimmy Stewart Bomber Pilot by Starr Smith. Jimmy Stewart had an “other life” as an airman/ soldier which lasted for 30 years.  He was a bomber pilot during World War II, and years later, he even did some bombing runs during the Vietnam War. When he retired from the military in 1969, he was a Brigadier General.  That’s Brigadier General James Stewart.

 

But, as always, we are going to focus on his health. Jimmy Stewart was one of those people who was naturally lanky. He was tall and lean, and he was born to be that way. And not just lean, but at times, downright skinny.  It was a constant struggle for him to maintain his weight.  During the war years, when he was under fire for being too thin, he kept a lot of peanut butter around because he found that it was something that he could get down to help keep his weight from sliding.

 

In fact, when he was first drafted into the Army, he was rejected outright for being underweight. He was 6’3” and weighed 144 pounds. That’s only a few pounds more than I weigh, and I’m only 5’6”.

 

But, Jimmy wouldn’t take no for an answer; he was determined to serve his country in wartime. So, he tried enlisting, but again he was rejected for the same reason. So, he waited 3 months, and then re-enlisted. That time, he got in, but there are rumors that there was some monkey business between him and the scale operator: a wink and a nod- you get the idea.

 

Stewart was already an avid and accomplished aviator. He owned his own plane. He had a commercial license, and he was instrument-rated.  In fact, he was already so accomplished as an aviator,  that he started off being assigned to train other B-52 pilots, including giving them their check rides.  The military brass really did not want to send the beloved Jimmy Stewart into battle, but he was determined to go.  So, he used his influence and that of others he knew in high places to get what he wanted: assigned to the mighty U.S. Eighth Air Force in England, which did the bombing runs over Nazi-occupied Europe.  Again, Jimmy Stewart outdid himself. He not only did the bombing flights, but he became the Squadron Commander, orchestrating, on a daily basis, the flight runs of the other pilots in his unit.  Jimmy Stewart flew in the aerial bombardment of Berlin, which was a pivotal campaign of the war. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross for having led a raid that resulted in perfect accuracy of the drops, by him and his men, and without losing a man.  

 

After the war, Jimmy Stewart went back to acting, and the first picture he made was: It’s A Wonderful Life, the Christmas classic. A few years later, he was set up on a date with Gloria Hatrick by his close and good friend Gary Cooper, and a year later, Jimmy and Gloria married. And they stayed married to the end too.  They had twin daughters, but Gloria had two sons from a previous marriage whom Jimmy adopted.

 

But, let’s get back to his health.  I learned that Jimmy Stewart contracted scarlet fever as a child which put him on his back for a while.  I wonder if that had any long-term effects on his health.  Regarding his habits, it seems that he did smoke, but not heavily.  He wasn’t like his pals Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper, both of whom he roomed with for a while before any of them became famous.  Those two were heavy smokers, but Jimmy, apparently, smoked but much less.  In his movies, he is usually seen smoking a pipe or cigar, but I did find one image of him from real life in which he was smoking a cigarette.  I suspect his wife Gloria smoked because she died of lung cancer at age 75- and she was 10 years younger than he was.  I’m sure that when he married her, he never thought that he would outlive her, but he did.

 

Regarding alcohol, it’s the same thing: he drank but not heavily.  And again, the Hollywood stars of that era were all heavy drinkers:  Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Robert Mitchum- all of them were full-blown alcoholics.  But, Jimmy Stewart was like a teetotaler, in comparison.  But, he did drink some, mainly socially. He liked the British beer that they had available during the war.

 

Regarding his diet, I couldn’t find much, but my impression is that he ate the standard American diet.  It sounds like he ate whatever the Army put in front of him- or what anybody put in front of him. But, he wasn’t a food person; he wasn’t a big eater.  He really had a small appetite, and eating wasn’t his obsession at all.  He often complained that he couldn’t eat as much as people wanted him to.

 

I found online that his favorite food was pork chops.  But, it goes to show that some people stay thin no matter what they eat.  Is it a blessing or a curse?  It depends on how severe it is. I imagine it’s a real pain to have to struggle all the time to keep your weight UP.  I think it can be just as challenging as having to struggle all the time to lose weight.  

 

So, why was he so thin all the time? Keep in mind that he was a classic and EXTREME ectomorph. It refers to a body type system developed by a Dr. Goldwait early in the 20th century. And ectomorph referred to a Abraham Lincoln type build where there is usually great height, always natural leanness, a short gut, fast transit of food, a tight rib angle, fast metabolism, and generally weak appetite and inefficient digestion. You realize that no one digests their food perfectly. A lot of nutrients pass into the toilet. But, in ectomorphs, the percentage of undigested food (lost calories) is greater. The opposite of an ectomorph is an endomorph- your Dom Deloise type, who are stocky without being muscular, often short, with an expanded rib angle, slow metabolism, and slow digestion, where they wring out every calorie from food with the greatest of ease. Again, Jimmy Stewart was a classic ectomorph.      

 

But, in Jimmy’s case, he lived long- either in spite of being so thin or because of it.  He lived to 89, and it seems that he could have lived longer.  It said that he had a cardiac pacemaker, for which the battery died.  But, instead of replacing it, he just decided to do without it. Well, that was not a good idea. There are a ton of things I object to in medical practice, but a cardiac pacemaker is not one of them.   If you need one, you need one.   

 

So, as a result of that, apparently, his circulation started failing, and he developed a blood clot in his leg which traveled to his lung and killed him.  If not for that, he probably would have lived to his 90s. They said he was despondent over his wife’s death and wanted to join her.

 

And, I’ll add, without criticism or derision,  that he started slipped mentally in his latter years.  You can tell from his interviews and appearances that he was losing it mentally.  And he was a very bright man; extremely bright.  Besides being a master aviator, he had a degree in architecture, which he earned at Princeton.  That was before his acting career.  And it was at Princeton that he got his first taste of acting. He joined the acting club at Princeton, ostensibly as a way to meet girls, but he found that he liked acting and was rather good at it.  And that’s how it all started for him.

 

I think that very few people would dispute Jimmy Stewart’s willingness and eagerness to fight the Nazis, but what about fighting the Vietnamese?  Did he think at all about the righteousness of that war? I figure he must have because he had to be aware of all the public opposition to it.  Indeed, he was aware of it, but he felt it was just to be fighting in Vietnam.  I think he believed in the moral righteousness of America in whatever war we were fighting.  He went from being a Nazi fighter to a Cold Warrior against international communism- and it felt right to him.

 

And even though my view of the Vietnam War and American militarism in general is very different from his, I have to admit, that, like everybody else, I like Jimmy Stewart.  I can’t help it; he was a great guy.

 

And I think it’s fair to say that Jimmy Stewart is probably one of the most beloved Americans of all time, for his wonderful movies, for his war heroism, and for being such a real person and down-to-earth guy amidst all the glamour and glitz.  I have a feeling that, going forward, there aren’t going to be too many people like him.

 

 

I just finished reading the biography Elizabeth Taylor by David Bret. It came out shortly after her death in 2011, which means that he must have been writing it beforehand. Perhaps he was just waiting for her die to write the final words.

 

But, to explain the question I posed above, I meant: How did Elizabeth Taylor last as long as she did, which was 79 years? Her generation of movie stars was a hard-smoking, hard-drinking lot, and she was no exception.  And like other child starlets, such as Natalie Wood and Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor got started with the drugs at an early age: drugs for sleeping, drugs for staying awake, drugs to calm her nerves, etc.  And Elizabeth Taylor had another eerie parallel with Judy Garland: both of them had fathers named Francis who were both gay. Well, I should say that they were bisexual since they fathered children, but, it seems that their main inclination was to be gay.  And like Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor became a gay icon, and her first and second husbands were both bisexual.

 

Elizabeth was born in England, although both her parents were Americans.  As with Natalie Wood, it was Elizabeth’s mother, Sara Sothern Taylor, who had achieved some success on the stage who drove Elizabeth into acting, and that began as soon as the family relocated to Los Angeles when she was 7. Her first movie role didn’t come until she was 9.

 

I am going to focus on Elizabeth Taylor’s health because her life story is way too long to tell here.  And, she had a tremendous amount of illness in her life, and even as a child, she had more frequent bouts of illness than most children do, including back problems, which is not typical of children.  She had  a total of about 40 surgical operations in her life- maybe more than that- including appendectomy, multiple back surgeries, hysterectomy, double hip replacements, excision of a brain tumor, lung operations, throat operations, and over 70 hospitalizations.  She had so much illness that I can’t imagine why anybody would envy her or want to trade places with her.  I realize that nobody gets through life without having some bad days, but one would hope that the good days would at least outnumber the bad days, but I doubt that that was true for her. I don’t know how many times she got pneumonia, but it was too numerous to count.  And as with Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor’s health problems often caused delays in the production of her movies, and most famously that happened during the making of Cleopatra.

 

As for her food, ET was a very conventional eater who ate the Standard American Diet, and her tendency was to get heavy.  She would balloon up to 180 pounds or more between films.  She was a yo-yo dieter her whole life.  And keep in mind that that is a bad thing in itself; it undermines both health and weight control.

 

So, it was bad food, heavy smoking, heavy drinking, heavy drugging (including several suicide attempts with drugs), an aversion to exercise, and did I mention that she had a tremendous amount of stress in her life? Mainly, it was her tumultuous marriages, but she also had the stress of a lot of untimely, tragic deaths of loved ones, such as James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Rock Hudson.  The sudden death of her third husband Mike Todd in a plane crash also hit her very hard.  But, my impression from reading this book is that the husband with whom she had the closest bond and the deepest connection was definitely Richard Burton.  And just think: he was an extremely heavy smoker and drinker, which surely drove her in that direction.  As I said, it seems that that whole generation of movie stars were alcoholics, but nobody drank more than Richard Burton.  But, here is a medical fact that few people realize: women’s bodies cannot handle alcohol as well as men’s. Women’s livers just cannot metabolize alcohol as fast.  For consuming the same amount of alcohol, women develop higher and more protracted blood levels of alcohol, resulting in more damage to their bodies. Therefore, men who coax women to keep up with them drinking really do them harm.

 

I mentioned that Elizabeth Taylor’s mother Sara Sothern Taylor was an actress as a young woman, and I can tell you that, like Elizabeth Taylor, she was quite a beautiful woman.  I can also report that Sara lived to the age of 99. And I think that that explains how Elizabeth Taylor managed to live to 79 despite a very abusive and destructive lifestyle; she had longevity in her family.  Am I saying that she could have lived to 99 if she had taken care of herself? I wouldn't go that far considering how few people live to 99, but I do think she could have easily made it to her 90s if she had taken better care of herself.

 

I have only seen a few Elizabeth Taylor movies, but if I were going to recommend one it would be Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  She won the Best Actress Academy Award in 1966 for the role of Martha, the disenchanted, childless, alcoholic wife of a cynical, disillusioned history professor, played by her than husband Richard Burton.  They were the fightingest couple in film history, and people joked that it wasn’t that different from their real lives.  But regardless, it was acting, and they really pulled all the stops to make it seem real. Both of their performances are amazing but especially hers.  

 

In the later years, Elizabeth Taylor was mostly involved in her businesses, retailing jewelry and fragrances, and also with her charitable foundation for AIDS research, which became a very big part of her life. And she became very infirmed at the end, having to move around in a wheelchair, reportedly from severe osteoporosis.  It is said that she had Alzheimer's but that is unconfirmed. She definitely had heart failure.

 

Surely, it is true that Elizabeth Taylor lived in a different world, far removed from ordinary life, and her whole personhood and life experience was far and away different from that of regular folks. But, what was NOT different for her was the composition of her flesh and blood.  Despite her wealth and fame, she was subject to the same rules, the same laws, the same results from the things that she did to herself that other people have to face. Her money and celebrity didn’t help her in that way at all. I suppose you could say that having the money to obtain the best medical care for her numerous problems made a difference in keeping her alive.  But, remember that Medicine is a double-edged sword, and that’s putting it nicely. It was doctors who got her in trouble in the first place- with sleeping pills, tranquilizers, etc.  And having vast wealth was apparently of no value to her in getting her to eat better food. So, the plain truth is that Elizabeth Taylor influenced the culture but not nearly as much as the culture influenced her.  

 

   

 

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