Jack Lemmon, American Icon

Jack Lemmon was an actor and musician who starred in more than 40 films. He won two Academy Awards and was nominated eight times. He died at age 76 after a lifetime of habits that increased his risk for metastasized colon cancer.

Early Life and Education From birth on, he was exposed to a very rich lifestyle because he was the only child of the president of a successful doughnut company. He was sick during most of his childhood. His recurrent ear infections had been treated with three surgeries, and he had to miss a year of school. His parents were constantly fighting and headed for divorce.

At age nine, he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. At the last minute, he was asked to replace another boy in a school play at Rivers Country Day School. "The kids laughed at me because I kept forgetting my lines, but I loved the attention. What it really had to do with was being accepted by my peers, and every kid wants that."

He started to run when he was twelve, and won several races. At the elite private high school, Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he was the top cross-country runner. This opened the door for him to be accepted at Harvard College in 1943, even though he was a terrible student. At Harvard he hobnobbed with other wealthy students as a member of the Delphic Club for Gentlemen (I never knew it existed when I was at Harvard), was a member of several drama clubs, and was president of the most prestigious acting club, Hasty Pudding. He didn't study much there either. He was in Navy ROTC, received a degree in “War Service Sciences”, and went directly into the Navy. After that, he took acting lessons from Uta Hagen and learned to play the piano, harmonica, guitar, organ, and double bass.


A Brilliant Actor As an actor, he starred in movies with just about every famous female actress of his time: Judy Holliday, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Betty Grable, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine, Lee Remick, Romy Schneider, Doris Day, Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth, June Allyson, Virna Lisi, Ann-Margret, Sophia Loren and many others. He was a brilliant actor because he had the extraordinary ability to develop the persona and mind of characters he would portray. He was quoted as saying, "I am particularly susceptible to the parts I play . . . if my character was having a nervous breakdown, I started to have one also." In 1958, he played the piano and recorded an album while filming "Some Like It Hot" with Marilyn Monroe.

Personal Life and Death In 1950, he married his first wife, actress Cynthia Stone, while doing an Off-Broadway play. Four years later while he was teamed with Judy Holliday in his first big movie, “It Should Happen to You,” his wife gave birth to their son, Chris who didn't live much with his father because his parents divorced when he was two. Lemmon claims that his marriage wasn't damaged by his success in the movies. "We really had more of a brother-and-sister relationship than a good, solid marriage." He met his second wife, actress Felicia Farr, on the Columbia Pictures parking lot in the mid-50s. They married in 1962 and stayed together for the rest of his life.

At age 74, he was diagnosed with both colon and bladder cancer and was in and out of the University of Southern California/Norris Cancer Clinic in Boyle Heights during the last months of his life. He had his gall bladder removed but died at age 76 from the spread of the cancers.


Unsafe Habits and Colon Cancer Lemmon had just about every risk factor for colon cancer. He smoked cigars, was an admitted alcoholic, ate red meat virtually every day, took a lot of sugary drinks and foods, did not exercise, gained weight in later life and did not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Because of his protruding belly, I would guess that he was also diabetic. Red meat and sugared drinks and sugar-added foods are associated with increased colon cancer risk (Nutr J, 2015 Jan 15;14(1):8). Colon cancer is associated with: * older age * polyps in the colon * inflammatory intestinal conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome * family history of colon cancer and polyps * a low-fiber, high-fat diet * red meat and processed meats * sugared drinks and sugar-added foods * lack of exercise * diabetes * overweight * smoking * alcohol in any amount * radiation therapy for other cancers Not only are former smokers at increased risk for developing colon cancer, they are also twice as likely as nonsmokers to die after being diagnosed with that disease (Clinical Oncology, Feb. 2, 2015).

Other Famous People who had Colon Cancer Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines Milton Berle, comedian Lillian Board, British athlete Dick Dale, surf guitarist Denis D’Amour, guitar player for the band Voivod Claude Debussy, French composer Babe Didrikson Zaharias, American athlete Conrad Furey, Canadian painter Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice Jackie Gleason, actor and comedian Audrey Hepburn, actress Pope John Paul II Carolyn Jones, actress (Morticia in “The Addams Family”) Eartha Kitt, singer and actress Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers H.P. Lovecraft, horror writer Marilyn Martinez, comedian Walter Matthau, American actor Lois Maxwell, Canadian actress (Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond movies) Tammy Faye Messner, singer and evangelist Elizabeth Montgomery, actress Jeff Moss, co-founder of Sesame Street Sharon Osbourne, British reality TV star and talent show judge Ronald Reagan, U.S. President Rod Roddy, announcer for “The Price Is Right” Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist Gary Rowe, Tennessee State Representative Charles Schulz, cartoonist and creator of ‘Peanuts’ Joel Siegel, movie critic and host of “Good Morning America” Tony Snow, White House press secretary under George W. Bush Darryl Strawberry, baseball player

Jack Lemmon February 8, 1925 - June 27, 2001


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