From Our 2011 Archives
Stroke Takes a Toll on Hollywood Stars
Suffering a Stroke Links Many Oscar Nominees and Winners
By Charlene Laino
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
Feb. 10, 2011 (Los Angeles) -- Pop quiz: What do Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Sharon Stone have in common, besides being Hollywood stars of course?
Answer: All are Oscar nominees or winners who suffered a stroke, an event that took a tremendous toll on their and other stars' careers.
Of the 409 actors who were nominated for Best Actor/Actress Awards between 1927 and 2009, 30 (7.3%) suffered a stroke and 39 (9.5%) had heart attacks.
The impact: Their movie and TV appearances -- which on average topped 100 in the three years before their stroke or heart attack -- dropped by about 70% in the three years afterward.
Doctors say they hope the experience of the actors will foster greater awareness of the symptoms of cardiovascular disease and the need to seek help quickly.
Stroke and the Oscars
Speaking at an American Stroke Association meeting, Jeffrey Saver, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, said that notable nominees (N) or winners (W) who have had strokes include:
What prompted the study?
"We are at UCLA and this is an industry town. The fact that the stroke meeting is being held in LA this year seemed an appropriate occasion to investigate the frequency and impact of stroke among leading Hollywood actors," Saver tells WebMD.
So the researchers compiled a list of all nominees for the Best Actor/Actress Awards since the Oscar's inception in 1927. Then they looked for public records, newspaper reports, and studies of heart attacks and stroke among the nominees.
"Since we used public data and many stars don't report [health problems], the figures probably underestimate the rate of cardiovascular events among the actors," Saver says. "So we can't really say if the rate is lower or higher than in the general population."
Raising Stroke Awareness
Among other findings in the study:
Robert J. Adams, MD, director of the Medical University of South Carolina Stroke Center in Charleston, agrees that studies like this can help raise awareness of medical disorders.
"Remember when Ronald Reagan had a [colon] polyp in the 1980s?" he says. "That resulted in a big boost in colon cancer awareness and screenings."
SOURCES: American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference 2011, Los Angeles, Feb. 7-11, 2011.Jeffrey Saver, MD, department of neurology, University of California, Los Angeles.Robert J. Adams, MD, director, Medical University of South Carolina Stroke Center, Charleston.