Cowboys may not cry. But every John Wayne fan out there can pour one out and toast the memory of the legendary Duke himself. On this day in 1979, Hollywood lost one of its prominent leading men. The actor lost his battle with stomach cancer.
In his later years, Wayne battled a number of health problems. He had a large portion of his lung removed battling cancer in the 1960s. But the cancer came back several years later. Diagnosed in early 1979, Wayne spent his final months in the hospital at UCLA Medical Center.
Wayne tried to raise his spirits in his final days. He would send telegrams back and forth with actor Kirk Douglas, often poking fun at each other. Frequent collaborator Maureen O’Hara also stopped by for a three-day visit. The duo reflected on the fond times they shared together filming classics like “The Quiet Man” for instance.
Wayne often appeared larger than life on screen. But laying in the hospital bed, he had never seemed more frail and human. On June 11, 1979, his family gathered around his hospital bed. Wayne had slipped in and out of consciousness. But in his final words, he confirmed to his daughter Aissa he was still there.
“Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you,” he said.
John Wayne’s Legacy Continues to Live On
Not many people continue to get talked about over four decades after their deaths. But John Wayne often lived larger than life. Going back to his first film “Stagecoach” in 1939, Wayne made his grand entrance on cinema screens as the Ringo Kid. And a legend was born at that moment. Though he appeared in films prior, Wayne’s turn as the noble anti-hero changed the trajectory of his career.
Film after film built the empire that was John Wayne until it was hard to tell fact from fiction and the myth from the man. But in a town where you’re only good as your last movie, Wayne went out on top. With 1976’s “The Shootist,” Wayne made his cinematic farewell. He played a gunslinger suffering from cancer, who rather go down in a hail of bullets instead.
With the film, Wayne got to live out something that he never did in life. He got the grand heroic death worthy of a cowboy. As they say, the myth lives on even after the man dies. And the myth of John Wayne continues to stand tall in the decades that followed.
They buried John Wayne in Newport Beach with a simple grave. It reads, “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”