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Remembering Legendary Western Actor John Wayne, Who Passed of Stomach Cancer Over 40 Years Ago: The Importance of Clinical Trials

Understanding the Value of Clinical Trials

Legendary Western actor John Wayne dominated the genre before passing away from stomach cancer at age 72 in 1979.
Before his death, Wayne participated in a study of a new treatment option. These studies are called clinical trials, and they help doctors better understand cancer and discover more effective ways to treat it.
They also give patients a chance to try a treatment before it’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that can potentially be life-changing for patients.
Despite the great benefits that come from clinical trials, they also come with risks (like potential side effects that are not fully understood yet). People interested in participating in clinical trials must first talk with their doctor to see if they would be a good fit.
For help finding a clinical trial that’s right for you, try our easy-to use Clinical Trial Finder.

When you think of Westerns, iconic actor John Wayne likely comes to mind, wearing an eye-catching cowboy hat atop a horse. During the Golden Age of television, westerns reigned supreme, and leading the helm was Wayne. Amid his success as an actor, privately he dealt with several health conditions before his passing from stomach cancer at the age of 72 in 1979.
“I enjoy life to the extremities of my capabilities,” Wayne, or “Duke” as he was nicknamed after his dog, once said in an interview, according to the Washington Post.

TUCSON, AZ – 1959: Actor John Wayne poses for a portrait on the set of the movie ‘Rio Bravo in 1959 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Wayne’s award-winning acting career began in the mid-1920s and spanned five decades. Wayne’s most memorable performances include his starring role in the 1939 film “Stagecoach.” 
In the Oscar-winning film, Wayne portrayed Ringo Kid. The plot focused on a “group of people traveling on a stagecoach [who] find their journey complicated by the threat of Geronimo and learn something about each other in the process,” film and television resource outlet IMDB describes. 
“True Grit” is another one of Wayne’s iconic films produced in 1969. In the film, “a drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger help a stubborn teenager track down her father’s murderer in Indian Territory,” according to IMDB. 
DURANGO, MEXICO – 1967: John Wayne on the set of ‘The War Wagon’ in 1967 in Durango, Mexico. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Wayne received an Oscar in 1970 for his role in “True Grit” and was nominated for an Oscar in “The Alamo” and “Sands of Iwo Jima”.
Off-screen, the beloved actor was a father to seven children and dealt with health challenges, including cancer.
Wayne’s bouts with cancer spanned 15 years before he died in 1979. He first had his left lung removed after doctors discovered a tumor in 1965.
Headshot studio portrait of American actor John Wayne in front of a red background, dressed in a sport coat, lighting a cigarette with an already lit cigarette. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
According to Variety, Wayne went for a “routine gall bladder removal” in 1979 but doctors managed to find “malignant cancer and removed his stomach” in an hours-long operation.
Wayne died on June 11, 1979, at UCLA Medical Center about six months later, after the cancer metastasized, or spread, throughout his body. He was 72  and surrounded by family.
His family later established the John Wayne Cancer Institute, which helps others fight their cancer battles.
“Duke’s” Treatment Included a Study
Although John Wayne battled cancer for more than a decade, he was just as brave in real-life as fans knew him on-screen. As part of his treatment, Wayne participated in study that tried out a new kind of treatment (at the time).
“My dad told the doctors, ‘If this is helpful, I’m going to help you afterward,’ John Wayne’s son Patrick said according to CR Magazine.
Studies of new treatment options are called clinical trials, and they are an important part of medicine for two reasons:
Clinical trials help doctors better understand cancer and discover more effective ways to treat it.
They also give patients a chance to try a treatment before it’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that can potentially be life-changing for patients.

WATCH: Clinical trials can be life-saving.
Dr. Beth Karlan is a gynecologic oncologist at UCLA Health. She says the goal with clinical trials is to advance cancer research to a point where the disease becomes akin to diabetes – where it becomes a manageable condition.
“Clinical trials hopefully can benefit you, but is also providing very, very vital information to the whole scientific community about the effectiveness of these treatments,” Dr. Karlan said.
“They can be lifesaving. We’ve seen many in the last few years of children and adults who have participated in trials and have had miraculous results,” Dr. Karlan continued.

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John Wayne

John Wayne heartbreak after pleading for one last film before death: ‘Hope to hell I do’

The crowning moment in his acting life came in 1970, when he earned his only Academy Award for Best Actor, as a result of his role in True Grit.

But one project that sadly never made it to life was Beau John, a film Wayne hoped would be his last.
Author Scott Eyman, who wrote ‘John Wayne: The Life and Legend’, discussed what Wayne wanted the project to be like, as well as the confession he made before he sadly passed away.
Eyman noted that Wayne’s wish was made at the end of 1978, just under a year before the western icon died in June.

Wayne reportedly felt directionless without any film work as he’d spent the last years in recovery with health issues as opposed to being behind the camera.
That year, Wayne received the Utah Film Festival’s John Ford Medallion, though he was unable to travel due to his health.
Instead, friend and director Peter Bogdanovich went to accept the award on his behalf, and when the pair were reunited Wayne asked if he’d consider the film he proposed.
Bogdanovich said: “It’s kind of a half-western thing, it’s not cowboys and Indians, you know, it’s — oh, the humour and the wonderful relationship between this grandfather and the son and the son-in-law and the grandson.
JUST IN: John Wayne was buried at unmarked grave with a beautiful message

“Wayne said, ‘I hope to hell I live to do it. Just a wonderful story’.”
His friend reassured Wayne he’d do the project, were he alive long enough to commit to it, and in his later life it became the Oscar winner’s main focus in life.
As he grew even more ill, Wayne then proposed the project to director Ron Howard, though he didn’t want anyone but the dying star to be in it.
According to the book, Wayne told Howard: “I found a book. I think it’s a movie. It’s you and me or it’s nobody.”

John Wayne died in 1979

John Wayne died in 1979 (Image: GETTY)

But sadly for Wayne, he died before anything could be done to start the movie.
Howard added: “It never got past the verbal stage.
“And at that point, he was showing signs of not being well. I was a little doubtful.”
Wayne passed away in 1979 as a result of stomach cancer, and was buried in the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach.
His legacy was secured when the American Film Institute chose him as one of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema.

He was among a select group of stars who managed to negotiate their way from the silent film era of the Twenties, into the talkies that followed.
He had seven children in total, and was married three times.

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John Wayne

John Wayne battled crippling injuries and heartbreaking loss on Rio Lobo set

The sight of The Duke thundering across The West on horseback remains one of cinema’s most indelible images.
Meanwhile, “Get off your horse and drink your milk” has frequently been attributed as one of John Wayne’s most famous ‘quotes.’

Despite some claims that it came from an advert he shot, it is actually almost certainly an urban myth, most likely started by comedians doing drawling impressions of the Hollywood Westerns legend.
Sadly, though, by the time the star came to film 1970’s Rio Lobo (a blatant remake of Rio Bravo) towards the end of his career, he was in so much pain struggled to get on and off his horse.
In fact, the entire film shoot was surrounded by personal tragedies for the actor.
DON’T MISSJohn Wayne revealed his own three favourite films from his career

John Wayne on horseback in Rio Lobo

John Wayne on horseback in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY)

John Wayne starred in Rio Lobo
John Wayne was in agony in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY )

It was director Howard Hawks’ final film and the third film he made with John Wayne about a beleaguered sheriff standing against outlaws.
In a 1971 interview Hawks said of Rio Lobo: “The last picture we made, I called him up and said, ‘Duke, I’ve got a story.’ He said, ‘I can’t make it for a year, I’m all tied up.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s all right, it’ll take me a year to get it finished.’
“He said, ‘Good, I’ll be all ready.’ And he came down on location and he said, ‘What’s this about?’ And I told him the story. He never even read it, he didn’t know anything about it.”

Famously, when Wayne realised it was a remake of Rio Bravo and El Dorado, he quipped: “Yes, he said, ‘Do I get to play the drunk this time?”

Hawks was less jocular after the film bombed and blamed it on 63-year-old Wayne being too old and out of shape for the role.
Critics and audiences agreed and the film took just over $4million against a production budget of $6million plus all the extra promotional costs which are often the same again.
Wayne’s physical difficulties were not due to his age, however. He had piled on weight for 1969’s True Grit and then while filming The Undefeated the same year, The Duke fell from his horse and fractured three ribs, leaving him unable to work for two weeks.
Later in the shoot, he tore a ligament in his shoulder. With no movement in one arm, he had to be filmed only from the other side.

John Wayne with a rifle in Rio Lobo
John Wayne with a rifle in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY)

Wayne came into Rio Lobo in considerable pain, out of shape from True Grit and still suffering from a torn shoulder.
Most of his fight scenes had to be filmed with stand-ins or carefully from restricted angles. Some fights even happened off-camera. And he struggled greatly getting on and off his horse.
He also suffered two devastatimg personal blow when his mother died during filming and then his younger brother Robert E. Morrison lost his battle with lung cancer the month after filming ended.
But there was one shining moment of happiness also.

John Wayne in True Grit
John Wayne in True Grit (Image: GETTY)

Always a dedicated workhorse on set, no matter the physical injuries or personal pains, Wayne took a rare break from filming.
He had a very good reason, since it was to attend the 1970 Academy Awards. After exactly 40 years on screen, The Duke finally won the Best Actor Oscar for True Grit.
Touchingly, when he returned to the Rio Lobo set, he was greeted by the cast and crew all wearing eye patches like True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn.

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John Wayne

Ann-Margret recalls ‘gentle’ and ‘welcoming’ John Wayne who did her a big favour

Legendary actress Ann-Margret turns 80-years-old today on April 28, 2021. The singer, dancer and performer made quite the name for herself in Hollywood in a number of films during the early 1960s, including Bye Bye Birdie and State Fair. She is perhaps best known for her epic performance in 1964 hit Viva Las Vegas alongside Elvis Presley, with whom she shared a passionate love affair. Shortly after working with the King, she joined wild west star John Wayne in his 1973 movie The Train Robbers.

Ann-Margret played the lead in the movie – one of her first lead roles – Mrs Lowe.

The story followed her character after her husband had been killed, leaving her half-million dollars.
Mr Lowe had acquired this money from robbing banks in the wild west, however, she was keen to return it to the government to clear her name. John’s character, Lane, had different ideas. He wanted her to help find the money and claim a reward for it.
Ann-Margret recently gave an interview about her time on the silver screen, where she touched upon working with the legendary John.

Ann-Margret continued: “He was so great with my parents. So absolutely welcoming and gentle with them. And anybody who was great to my parents was on a throne in my eyes.
“I was friends with him forever. He was never [pretentious]. He had so many friends and every single person loved him.”
Ann-Margret also previously praised John for doing her an enormous favour in her time of need.
During the filming of The Train Robbers, Ann-Margret was up for an Oscar alongside her co-star Ben Johnson.
However, considering Ann-Margret was filming in Mexico she was struggling to find a way to attend the ceremony.
Without a second thought, John gave her and Ben his own private plane to allow them both to attend the ceremony.
Ann-Margret said later: “The next day, we were back on the set, and Ben had won and I hadn’t.
“I don’t know what Mr Wayne said to Ben, but he got me in a corner, and he just said some wonderful things to me.”
Ann-Margret also spoke candidly about her relationship with Elvis.
The pair enjoyed a relationship together for just over a year while filming Viva Las Vegas.

Speaking in the same interview, Ann-Margret said: “Just thinking about Viva Las Vegas, or anytime someone mentions it, I smile.
“It was one of the happiest times of my life. George Sidney, who directed Bye Bye Birdie also directed Viva Las Vegas. And believe it or not, I had never seen [Elvis] perform.”

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