John Wayne became one of the biggest film stars in history thanks to his stellar career. The ‘True Grit’ actor began his working life in another industry entirely, but ultimately grew to be the biggest movie star of his generation.
Besides starring in many films, John Wayne was also a well-known family man. He was married three times, and had seven children. And while some actors’ children can recall their mom or dad not being present during their childhood, it turns out that John Wayne was one of the exceptions.
Since his tragic death, several of his kids have spoken publicly about him, revealing the truth for all to read. Here’s all you need to know about the legendary John Wayne – and the tragic ending to his life.
John Wayne was actually not born John Wayne. Instead, the prominent entertainer was born Marion Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. It was at a young age that his first “name change” occurred, all thanks to the Airedale [Terrier] dog named Duke that his parents, Clyde and Mary, owned.
John Wayne – early life, name
“There’s a picture of him in the book, he looked to weigh about 80 pounds — and Marion was Little Duke. He liked the name and for the rest of his life he always insisted that people call him Duke,” biographer Scott Eyman’s told Yahoo.
When Wayne was around nine or ten, his family decided to move to Glendale, California. His father began working there as a pharmacist, but the family faced many challenges along the way. Simply put, it turned out that making it in California wasn’t all that simple. In the end, John Wayne was given the opportunity to see many things that would shape his character and values.
For this reason alone, his time there probably helped him significantly later in life.
“You have this young boy, who has a sickly father, and they move west to the Mojave Desert to try to farm. That’s a rough place to farm, and they fail, and he has a very hard, charging mother,” Wayne’s father Ethan said when recounting his father’s upbringing.
“It’s tough on the father and he’s never satisfied. And they end up in Glendale – which, at that time, was in another small, rural environment, and the father was social, and the mother was kind of a taskmaster. And I think [John] found solace in school and relationships in school.”
John enrolled at Glendale High School, where he first found his passion for acting. Besides playing football and excelling in his classes, among other activities, he also participated in student theatrical productions.
John Wayne – cause of death
In 1976, John Wayne appeared in The Shootist. It was ultimately his last film, and the actor’s health hit a rapid downward spiral in the years after its release. His daughter, Aissa, revealed that she could barely watch it.
Wayne had died several times in previous movies. For Aissa, though, The Shootist was different.
“In this film, he was dying of cancer, and that was extremely unnerving,” Aissa wrote in the book John Wayne: My Father.
“If not quite a family curse, for us the spectre of cancer had never entirely faded. By the time of The Shootist, the disease had killed my Uncle Bob, and I’d lived ever since with the fear that cancer would come again for my dad. Though his cancer would not be diagnosed for two more years, when he made The Shootist I think my father had similar apprehensions.”
By 1978, John Wayne’s voice was failing him and he wasn’t able to work. He tried to hide it the best he could, but his cancer had come back. On June 11, 1979, John Wayne died, aged 79. According to History.com, his official cause of death was stomach cancer.
When the cancer was discovered, doctors concluded that the actor was too weak to begin chemotherapy and experimental treatment.
John Wayne passed away at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was surrounded by family and – according to Outsider – spent his last days in and out of consciousness before passing away.
Though John Wayne is often seen as a big, bad Western figure, and a paragon of masculinity, he also had a sweet side.
His daughter, Aissa, was in his bed when Wayne passed away. When she held his father’s hand and asked him if he knew who she was, he responded with some beautiful last words.
“Of course, I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you,” Aissa recalled her father saying.
Wayne was buried at the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery at Newport Beach, California. It’s located on a beautiful ocean-view hillside, though the exact spot was a secret for decades.
According to a LA Times piece, for years his grave’s location remained a mystery. Guards locked fans out of his funeral service, and his farewell ceremony remained a private affair. His grave was left unmarked for two decades.
John Wayne will never be forgotten. Which one of his films is your favorite?
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