Black History Month: Entertainers I Miss

This is the last week of Black History Month and I’d like to honor that. I’ve previously written about Blacks in the history of nephrology and other paths in life. Being a former actor and just having had a visit from a member of my acting community (a safe visit: double masked, hand sanitized, and social distanced.), I got to thinking about Blacks in entertainment who died of kidney disease.  

But first, this is what I included in the upcoming SlowItDownCKD 2020 to explain what Black History Month actually is: 

“As Andrea Wurtzburger wrote in People Magazine (I knew there was a reason I grabbed this first each time I waited in one medical office or another.) in the February 13, 2020… 

‘Black History Month is an entire month devoted to putting a spotlight on African Americans who have made contributions to our country. Originally, it was seen as a way of teaching students and young people about the contributions of Black and African Americans in school, as they had (and still have) been often forgotten or left out of the narrative of the growth of America. Now, it is seen as a celebration of those who’ve impacted not just the country, but the world with their activism and achievements.’” 

Now keep in mind that the further back we go, the more people there are that died of kidney disease since treatment was non-existent at first and then limited. Nephrology is a relatively young field of medicine. According to NEJM Resident 360, a nephrology journal for medical students, 

“The initial recognition of kidney disease as independent from other medical conditions is widely attributed to Richard Bright’s 1827 book ‘Reports of Medical Cases,’ which detailed the features and consequences of kidney disease. For the next 100 years or so, the term ‘Bright’s disease’ was used to refer to any type of kidney disease. Bright’s findings led to the widespread practice of testing urine for protein — one of the first diagnostic tests in medicine. 

The study of kidney disease was furthered by William Howship Dickinson’s description of acute nephritis in 1875 and Frederick Akbar Mahomed’s discovery of the link between kidney disease and hypertension in the 1870s. Mahomed’s original sphygmograph, created when he was a medical student, was improved in 1896 by Scipione Riva-Rocci, of Italy, with the use of a cuff to encircle the arm….” 

I’m listening to Art Tatum’s (10/13/09 – 11/5/56) music as I write today’s blog. According to National Public Radio (NPR): 

“One of the greatest improvisers in jazz history, Art Tatum also set the standard for technical dexterity with his classic 1933 recording of ‘Tea for Two.’ Nearly blind, Tatum had artistic vision and ability that made him an icon of jazz piano, a musician whose impact will be felt for generations to come…. 

Although his excessive drinking didn’t affect his playing, it did unfortunately affect his health. Tatum began showing evidence of euremia, a toxic blood condition resulting from a severe kidney disease. On Nov. 5, 1956, Tatum died at age 47, and although his career was relatively short, Tatum’s brilliant playing remains unparalleled and highly influential.” 

As far as I can tell, ‘euremia’ is either an alternative or misspelling of uremia. I could not find it despite multiple sources. Each one reverted to ‘uremia’. 

Have you heard of Ivan Dixon? No? How about the tv series ‘Hogan’s Heroes’? Encyclopedia.com organizes their information a bit differently: 

“Career: Stage, television, and screen actor, 1957-91; film and television director, 1970-93. 

Memberships: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Directors Guild of America; Negro Actors for Action; Screen Actors Guild. 

Awards: Emmy Award nomination, 1967, for The Final War of Olly Winter; received four National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Awards; Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame; National Black Theatre Award; Paul Robeson Pioneer Award, Black American Cinema Society. 

For his achievements on the stage and screen, Dixon was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. He was the recipient of four National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Awards, in addition to the National Black Theatre Award and the Paul Robeson Pioneer Award given by the Black American Cinema Society.” 

He died of complications from kidney failure. There seems to be no record of what these complications were, although we can guess. 

Barry White (9/12/44 – 7/4/03), a singer and songwriter whose voice I will always miss, died of a stroke while awaiting a transplant. His kidney disease had been caused by hypertension.  The following is from Biography.com, which has much more information about him. 

“…. Love Unlimited’s success in 1972 can in large part be attributed to White’s throaty vocals in such hits as “Walkin’ In The Rain With The One I Love.” The group’s success rejuvenated White’s own career, receiving acclaim for such songs as “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” and “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” in 1973 and “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” and “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything” in 1974…. 

During the peak of his career, White earned gold and platinum discs for worldwide sales. The UK singer Lisa Stansfield has often publicly supported White’s work and in 1992, she and White re-recorded a version of Stansfield’s hit, “All Around The World.” During the ’90s, a series of commercially successful albums proved White’s status as more than just a cult figure….” 

To be honest, the only way I could have enjoyed writing this blog more is if these talented people were still with us. 

Until next week, 

Keep living your life! 

Dead People

Hmmm, maybe that title should read “Famous People Who Died from Kidney Disease.” Let’s go back a bit to see what I’m talking about. By now you know my youngest married on the 6th of this month. Thank you to everyone who sent their best wishes. She and her husband did a wonderful job of creating the wedding they wanted, just as the new Mr. & Mrs. Nielson are doing a terrific job of creating the life they want together.

Of course, her sister came out from New York to join the festivities. As usual, she stayed with Bear and me. That gave us plenty of time to gab between the pre-wedding potluck at my house and all the preparations for the wedding. At one point, I casually mentioned to her that Jean Harlow died of kidney disease. That fascinated Nima for some reason. As I explained the how and why, she asked me why I hadn’t yet written a blog about famous people who died from kidney disease.

At first, I thought it a bit macabre but then I rethought that. My new thinking ran along the line of, “What a perfect blog for Halloween week.” By the way, that’s my brother’s birthday and there is nothing spooky about him. Oh, our preconceptions.

Back to Jean Harlow. For those of you who don’t know, she was not only an American film actress during the 1930s, but a sex symbol as well.

This is from the official Jean Harlow website at https://www.jeanharlow.com/about/biography/

“While filming Saratoga in 1937, Jean was hospitalized with uremic poisoning and kidney failure, a result of the scarlet fever she had suffered during childhood. In the days before dialysis and kidney transplants, nothing could be done and Jean died on June 7, 1937.”

A couple of reminders:

Uremic poisoning is what we now call uremia. This type of poisoning happens when the kidneys can’t filter your blood.

Kidney failure means your kidneys don’t work anymore. One of their jobs is to filter urea from your blood so that it doesn’t build up resulting in uremia.

As for the scarlet fever, “In general, appropriately diagnosed and treated scarlet fever results in few if any long-term effects. However, if complications develop for whatever reason, problems that include kidney damage, hepatitis, vasculitis, septicemia, congestive heart failure, and even death may occur.“ (Courtesy of MedicineNet at https://www.medicinenet.com/scarlet_fever_scarlatina/article.htm)

Dialysis was invented in 1943 by Dr. Willem Kolff. It wasn’t until the 1950s before it was perfected, but for Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) only. To make matters worse, few machines were available. Dr. Belding Scribner then developed a shunt to make dialysis effective for End Stage Renal Disease patients. In other words, not only those with short term kidney injuries, but also those whose kidneys were shutting down permanently. It wasn’t until 1962 that he opened the first outpatient dialysis unit. Later on, he developed the portable dialysis machines.

Keep those years in mind. Keep in mind also that there was no dialysis or transplantation when these people died of kidney disease.

You may remember the blog I wrote about the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He died of kidney failure back in 1792… way before dialysis or transplantation.

Transplantation? You’re right; I haven’t defined it yet. You cannot live without a functioning kidney unless you are on dialysis OR a new kidney – either from a cadaver or a life donor – is placed in your body. It is not a cure for kidney failure, but a treatment. Transplantees take anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives.

Have you heard of Sarah Bernhardt? She was a French stage actress who died of kidney disease in 1923. She’d also been a silent screen actress, but reportedly didn’t care for film acting. Notice the year.

Emily Dickinson, the celebrated American poet died of Bright’s disease in 1886. (She was still alive during Portal of Time. I wonder if Jesse read her work?) Oh, you forgot what Bright’s disease is? No problem. New-Medical Net at https://www.news-medical.net/health/Brights-Disease-Kidney-Disease.aspx tells us it is “… a historical term that is not currently in use. It referred to a group of kidney diseases – in modern medicine, the condition is described as acute or chronic nephritis.”

It would make sense to define nephritis now. The suffix “itis” means inflammation of and “neph” refers to the kidneys. So, nephritis is an inflammation of the kidneys and can be due to a number of causes.

Let’s not forget the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. He moved to London at 20 years old and became a critic and political activist as well. You’ve heard of the play ‘My Fair Lady’? It was based on his ‘Pygmalion’. He died of kidney disease just before he might have been saved… in 1950.

I think the one who surprised me the most was Buffalo Bill Cody. He was not just the leader of his wild West show, but also a bison hunter, scout (as in finding the way for wagon trains), gold rush participant, possibly a Pony Express rider, and actor. He died in 1917 of kidney failure.

Other famous people who have died of kidney disease include Art Tatum, Color Porter, Douglas MacArthur, Alex Karras, Manute Bol, Ernest Borgnine, Don DeLuise, Art Buchwald, Norman Mailer, Sandra Dee, Barry White, Erma Bombeck, Marlene Dietrich, and Laurence Olivier.

This blog is not meant to scare the wits out of you. Well, maybe it is in a way. Famous people from all walks of life – athletes, writers, actors, musicians, singers, military members, and others – have died of kidney disease. Many before the invention of dialysis and transplantation. Some of kidney disease in combination of other diseases. And some because they didn’t know they had kidney disease.

My point? If you belong to any of the high risk groups for kidney disease, get yourself tested. We’re talking simple blood and urine tests here. The high risk groups are “diabetes, hypertension and a family history of kidney disease. African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Seniors.” Thank you to the National Kidney Center at http://www.nationalkidneycenter.org/chronic-kidney-disease/risk-factors/ for this list.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!