Mesothelioma is a cancer most often associated with military service and blue-collar professions, but the asbestos-created disease has touched all walks of life. That includes the rich and the famous.
Professional athletes, Olympic gold medalists, government officials, musicians and world-renowned actors, such as Steve McQueen, all have died from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 Americans each year.
The only common link to all of them is an exposure to asbestos, the naturally occurring mineral that is toxic and potentially fatal when its fibers are released into the air and inhaled or ingested. It can take anywhere from 15 to 50 years after exposure before the symptoms become obvious.
Here is a Who’s Who of the most recognizable people who fought mesothelioma:
10. Steve McQueen, Actor (1930-1980)
Among the hardest hit by deadly exposure to asbestos were those in the military. Legendary actor Steve McQueen was one of those casualties, having been exposed to asbestos as a young man in the construction industry before joining the Marines, where he worked to strip asbestos off pipes on Naval ships. Steve McQueen, nicknamed The King of Cool, was well known for his anti-hero roles in “The Magnificent Seven,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” and “Sand Pebbles.” By the early 1970s, he was one of America’s highest-paid actors.
McQueen believed his exposure to asbestos started in the U.S. Marines Corps, then continued during his days racing motorcycles and cars, his passion, when he wore the flame-retardant driver suits.
He took his fight against mesothelioma to Mexico, where he traveled in search of alternative treatments. He died from a heart attack, shortly after surgery to remove a large tumor. Best known for ultra-cool roles in such iconic films as The Great Escape, Bullitt, and Papillon, McQueen overcame a difficult childhood to become one of the most famous and revered actors of his time. After his mesothelioma diagnosis in 1979, McQueen underwent a series of traditional and unconventional treatment options. He died of cardiac arrest in 1980.