Mesothelioma is a disease we typically associate with skilled blue collar laborers, military members or police and firefighters. But, in fact, asbestos exposure is more common than you think and there are no ethnic, social, age or financial barriers to developing an asbestos-caused disease. In fact, a number of celebrities have lost their lives to mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases.
Six Famous People Killed by Asbestos Exposure
Ed Lauter (1938-2013)
Character actor Ed Lauter most recently starred in the Oscar nominated 2012 film The Artist, but also featured in Born on the Fourth of July, Death Wish 3, The Office and The Rockford Files. Lauter had been diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in May 2013.
He was a prolific actor who was always working and was never employed in a high-risk industry so speculation is that he may have been exposed earlier in life, perhaps when he served in the military in his early 20s.
Donna Summer (1948-2012)
Summer was the unrivaled queen of disco in the 1970s and 80s and was healthy until she was exposed to asbestos in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. Many first responders were exposed to asbestos-contaminated dust as were thousands of New Yorkers who were in or around ground zero.
Catastrophes such as explosions, tornados and hurricanes that destroy older structures can put many lives at risk for asbestos exposure.
Merlin Olsen (1940-2010)
Olsen was a longtime football player for the LA Rams where he played for 15 seasons before jumping into show business. He starred in 1970s and 80s classics such as Father Murphy and Little House on the Prairie.
Beginning when he just 11, Olsen worked construction over the summer for a number of years. This was likely the start of his exposure to asbestos that resulted in the mesothelioma that would take his life decades later.
Paul Gleason (1939-2006)
Probably best known as the uptight principal in the 1980s classic film The Breakfast Club, Gleason played minor league ball before breaking into Hollywood. As a teenager, Gleason worked for his father – a building contractor – on various construction sites and it is believed this is where he came into contact with the asbestos that would eventually cause his mesothelioma. While Lauter was able to work well into his illness, Gleason’s health declined too rapidly to continue accepting acting roles.
Warren Zevon (1947-2003)
Singer Warren Zevon’s biggest hit is the still-popular Werewolves of London. Although he was a lifelong smoker, beyond this, there was no direct link between the singer and asbestos. His illness is assumed to have been caused by second-hand exposure, perhaps from a family member during his early life growing up in the Midwest.
Steve McQueen (1930-1980)
The King of Cool, iconic actor Steve McQueen worked in his late teens and early 20s in Washington DC’s naval yard as a Marine. This is where he was likely exposed to the asbestos that caused his pleural mesothelioma.
He also may have been put in danger by his hobby of car racing where he wore flame retardant suits that were constructed with asbestos, as was common at the time. His widow Barbara McQueen said after his death, “There is no need for asbestos in our world at all.”