Celebrities Who Had Bladder Cancer

by Sheila M. Eldred Health Writer

Bladder cancer doesn’t care how famous you are: With an estimated 81,190 new cases of bladder cancer in the U.S. this year, it’s not surprising that the disease has afflicted everyone from actors to sports heroes to politicians. As this list reflects, bladder cancer is much more common in men (about 62,380 of those new 81,190 cases are expected to be found in males) and is usually diagnosed after age 55. (Here are some common warning signs.)

Frank Sinatra
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Frank Sinatra had it

The crooner and actor died of a heart attack in 1998, but he also had bladder cancer in his final years. At age 79, he performed for the last time, singing “The Best is Yet to Come,” which is also engraved on his tombstone.

Genetics on electronic tablet.

Cancer geneticist Ruth Sager died of bladder cancer

Although not initially recognized for her significant work in genetics in the 1950s and 1960s, the academic field came around in the 1970s. By then, Sager had started focusing on cancer research. She was a pioneer in identifying tumor suppressor genes and understanding their role. She died of bladder cancer in 1997.

Maurice Lucas restrains Trailblazer coach.
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NBA star Maurice Lucas underwent surgery for bladder cancer

Lucas helped Bill Walton lead the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship; the team retired his No. 20 jersey and Walton called him the “greatest Blazer ever.” Lucas had surgery for bladder cancer in 2009 and died in 2010.

Phil Lesh and Greatful Dead sing anthem at Giants game.
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Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh had bladder cancer, but still touring

The musician revealed he had bladder cancer in 2015, for which he was treated at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. He now appears to be in good health and touring with The Terrapin Family Band.

Fighting cancer sign.

Transgender pioneer Christine Jorgensen had both bladder, lung cancer

Christine Jorgensen traveled to Europe to have male-to-female sex reassignment surgery in 1951, and her story became one of the first widely-known transitions in the U.S. She chose the name Christine after one of the doctors who performed the surgery, and became an early advocate for transgender rights. She died in 1989 following bladder and lung cancer diagnoses.

Hubert Humphrey postage stamp.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey died of advanced bladder cancer

The former vice president was known for being ahead of his time. The Democrat represented Minnesota as senator before and after he served as vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson from 1965-1969. An August 1977 Washington Post article reported that his bladder cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, which his surgeon called "a blow to us all." He died in January 1978.

Woman playing piano.

Jazz musician Mary Lou Williams passed from bladder cancer in early 1980s

A pioneer for female jazz musicians, Williams started her career by playing piano in Pittsburgh for jazz bands that passed through the city. She went on to arrange music for jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. She formed her own band in 1942. She died from bladder cancer in 1981.

Ron Santo speaks to baseball fans.
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Major League Baseball star Ron Santo died of ‘complications from bladder cancer’

The Chicago Cubs third baseman was a National League All-Star nine times. Twice, he led the league in on-base percentage. Santo, who played from 1960 to 1974, was just the second third baseman to hit 300 career home runs. He died in 2010 of bladder cancer.

Dunkin Donuts sign.
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Dunkin’ Donuts founder William Rosenberg succumbed to bladder cancer in 2002

Originally named “Open Kettle,” Rosenberg’s doughnut shop gave rise to the chain that now boasts over 10,000 outlets (and over 70 flavors of doughnuts). Known for his business acumen, he helped establish the International Franchise Association in 1959. He had “survived cancer of the lung, blood, and skin and many years of diabetes,” according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, and died of bladder cancer in his home in 2002.

Sheila M. Eldred
Meet Our Writer
Sheila M. Eldred

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a graduate of Columbia’s School of Journalism and a former newspaper reporter. As a freelance health journalist, she writes about everything from life-threatening diseases to elite athletes. Her stories have appeared in The New York Times, Nature, FiveThirtyEight, Pacific Standard, STAT News, and other publications. In her spare time, she and her family love running, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking in Minneapolis.