The findings were presented at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference (ISC) in Los Angeles on Feb. 10.
“Since this is the first time the ISC is being held in Los Angeles, we thought it was an appropriate occasion to investigate the frequency and impact of stroke among leading Hollywood actors,” said Hannah Smith, a staff research associate at the UCLA Stroke Center. “By documenting the toll that stroke and myocardial infarction have exacted on stars like Kirk Douglas and Grace Kelly, we hope to illustrate the damage that cardiovascular disease can cause.”
The team investigated the frequency and impact of stroke among best actor and best actress Oscar nominees from 1927 through 2009. They identified lifetime reports of non-fatal and fatal strokes and heart attacks through public records and prior studies of deaths from all causes among nominees. They also examined the impact of strokes and heart attacks on these performers’ careers.
Of the 409 actors and actresses nominated over the 82-year period:
- 30 (7.3 percent) suffered strokes and 39 (9.5 percent) suffered heart attacks.
- The average age of nominees at their first stroke was 67.
- More women suffered strokes than men, accounting for 18 of the 30 stroke victims, or 60 percent. Six of them (20 percent of the total) suffered fatal strokes.
- Performers’ annual movie/television appearances declined an average of 73 percent during the three years following a stroke or heart attack, compared with a similar period before being stricken.
Notable Oscar nominees and winners who suffered strokes include:
- Mary Pickford (winner, 1929)
- Bette Davis (nominee, 1934; winner, 1935)
- James Cagney (nominee, 1938; winner 1942)
- Cary Grant (nominee, 1942)
- Kirk Douglas (nominee, 1950)
- Richard Burton (nominee, 1954)
- Grace Kelly (winner, 1954)
- Elizabeth Taylor (nominee, 1957, winner 1960)
- Patricia Neal (winner, 1963)
- Dudley Moore (nominee, 1982)
- James Garner (nominee, 1985)
- Sharon Stone (nominee, 1995)
According to the AHA/ASA, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of serious, long-term disability. On average, someone suffers a stroke every 45 seconds, someone dies of a stroke every three minutes and 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.
“Stroke and cardiovascular disease can affect one’s career productivity and even result in death,” UCLA’s Smith said. “However, stroke is a highly preventable disease. Key prevention steps include controlling high blood pressure, controlling high cholesterol, not smoking, exercising regularly and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats.”
Additional research authors included Rana Fiaz and Dr. Jeffrey L. Saver of UCLA. The study was not funded, and the authors have no financial ties to disclose.
The UCLA Stroke Center, recognized as one of the world’s leading centers for the management of cerebral vascular disease, treats simple and complex vascular disorders by incorporating recent developments in emergency medicine, stroke neurology, microneurosurgery, interventional neuroradiology, stereotactic radiology, neurointensive care, neuroanesthesiology and rehabilitation neurology. The program is unique in its ability to integrate clinical and research activities across multiple disciplines and departments. Founded in 1994, the UCLA Stroke Center is designated as a certified Primary Stroke Center by the national Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.