Humphrey Bogart was one of Hollywood’s most famous actors. In 1942, he starred in Casablanca, which won the 1943 Academy Award for Best Picture, got him nominated for Best Actor and made him the highest paid actor up to that time, with an income of more than $460,000 a year. As a high school student he was expelled from the prestigious Phillips Academy (Andover) for smoking and drinking, and he continued these harmful habits for the rest of his life. They are the likely causes of the esophageal and throat cancers that killed him in 1957, at the very young age of 58.
Early Life and Acting Career
He was born on Christmas Day 1899, into a miserable marriage between a narcotic-addicted father who was a heart and lung surgeon, and a mother who was a wealthy heiress and a commercial illustrator who earned more than three times as much as her husband. They lived in a fancy Manhattan apartment and on a 55-acre estate in upstate New York. In 1918, after being expelled from Andover, he enlisted in the Navy. There he acquired his trademark lip scar when he was escorting a Navy prisoner who asked him for a cigarette. As he looked for a match, the prisoner cracked him on the mouth with his handcuffs and ran away. His studio and friends gave other versions of the story, but this was his explanation.
Bogart never took acting lessons but aggressively fought for parts in Broadway plays. By age 21, he was acting in bit parts. He married actress Helen Menken when he was 27, but they divorced the following year. Shortly after that, he married another actress, Mary Philips.
With the stock market crash in 1929, acting jobs were hard to come by and he left Broadway for Hollywood. At that time, his parents lost their vast fortune in the stock market crash and separated. His father died in 1934. At first Bogart had a hard time finding jobs in depression-era Hollywood but by 1935 he was a star and appeared in five to ten movies a year. Meanwhile, his wife Mary had a big hit on Broadway (A Touch of Brimstone, 1935), and would not leave New York for Hollywood. They divorced in 1937 and less than a year later, Bogart married actress Mayo Methot. Bogart and Mayo stayed married for seven years but no one could understand why. Throughout the marriage she repeatedly and accurately accused him of cheating on her. She drank more alcohol and got drunk even more often than he did, threw dishes and pots at him, set the house on fire, stabbed him with a knife, and slashed her wrists. He returned the fire by constantly insulting and hitting her. He belittled her with the nickname "Sluggy" and then gave the same offensive name to his motorboat.
His Only Happy Marriage
At age 44 (1944), he starred in To Have and Have Not, where he met 19-year-old Lauren Bacall. Of course he was still married to Mayo, but he wrote Bacall passionate love letters. In February 1945, he filed for divorce and three months later Bogart and Bacall were married. They starred in several subsequent films together. At 5'8", he was the same height as Bacall, so he wore elevated shoes in all of their movies.
They had a son in 1949 and a daughter in 1952. In 1954, Bacall stayed home while Bogart filmed The Barefoot Contessa and he resumed an affair with Verita Peterson, his long-time studio assistant. Bacall forgave him after arriving and finding them locked in each other's arms.
Cancers Linked to Lifestyle
By the early 1950s, alcohol and cigarettes had destroyed Bogart's health. His two-packs-a-day smoking habit caused him to be severely short of breath at rest and to cough all the time. His endless drinking had damaged his brain to make him forgetful and his liver to make him tired all the time. He refused to check with a doctor until January 1956. In March, surgeons removed his cancerous esophagus, two lymph nodes and a rib in a nine-and-a-half hour operation. Chemotherapy, added to the surgery, did almost nothing and a second painful surgery in November proved to be a waste of effort. After turning 57, he could neither talk nor eat, and weighed only 80 pounds. He was too weak to walk up stairs, coughed continuously and gasped for every breath, in spite of breathing from an oxygen tank. Even then, he did not stop smoking, but he switched from Chesterfields to filtered cigarettes.
On January 14, 1957, he lost consciousness and died the next day. He was buried with the gold whistle from a pre-marriage charm bracelet he gave to Bacall. It was inscribed, "If you want anything, just whistle." In their first movie together, Bacall had said to him, "You know how to whistle don't you? You just put your lips together and blow".
What Bogart Did Wrong
Cancer of the esophagus is associated with drinking alcohol, smoking, and eating red and processed meats (Dig Dis Sci. Mar, 2014;59(3):664-73). Alcohol is converted by the liver into acetaldehyde, a potent carcinogen. Smoking is associated with just about every cancer in the body. Bogart ate red meat and processed meats daily, and both are converted by bacteria in the gut to TMAO, which is a carcinogen. Processed meat contains nitrosamines which are also carcinogens. We do not know whether he ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, but he should have and probably did not. Cancer of the esophagus is associated with a diet low in fruits and vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), green and yellow vegetables and fruits, and fiber from all plants are associated with a decreased risk of esophageal cancer. He also had cancer in his throat and voice box, which are almost always caused by smoking and by the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV). These cancers are linked to the lifetime number of sexual partners, and he had lots of them.
Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
• food getting stuck in the esophagus
• pain with swallowing
• chest and back pain
• weight loss
• a hoarse voice
Treatment of these cancers has not improved markedly since the 1950's. The five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer in the United States is only 15 percent, and most people die in the first year after diagnosis. The ten-year survival rate is 10 percent.
The Love of his Life
Lauren Bacall was famous for her deep, husky voice and cat-like green eyes. She was the only child of a divorced, dirt-poor Romanian Jewish immigrant mother. At age 18, she was featured on the cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine where her beauty caught the eye of the wife of director Howard Hawks. He gave her a screen test and cast her in To Have and Have Not. She was so outstanding that she was offered the lead role opposite Humphrey Bogart.
She was the only Academy Award winner to have been married to two other winners, Bogart and Jason Robards. Shortly after Bogart's death in 1957, she became engaged to Frank Sinatra, but when she announced their engagement to the press, Sinatra backed out of it. She married Jason Robards in 1961 and divorced him in 1969. Both of her husbands were alcoholics.
Evidently Bogart’s death from smoking-related disease didn’t faze her very much. She did not give up smoking herself until the mid-1980s, when she was 60. On August 12, 2014, a month before her 90th birthday, she died in New York City after suffering a massive stroke. Her estate was worth $26.6 million.
December 25, 1899 – January 14, 1957
December 25, 1899 – January 14, 1957