Old School Americana & Nostalgia


John Wayne’s Failing Health Nearly Caused His Final Film to be Canceled

John Wayne’s Failing Health Nearly Caused His Final Film to be Canceled

John Wayne’s final film, The Shootist, was nearly canceled due to Wayne’s failing health.

The Classic Western icon suffered multiple health issues during his career, most of which stemmed from his bout with lung cancer in 1964. While he was able to go into remission in 1969, he lost one lung to the disease. Later in his life, his remaining lung began to fail, and the actor struggled through his daily life.

However, the Duke was not willing to give up his career. So he tried his best to keep his health issues hidden from his colleagues. In 1976, he narrowly landed the role of J.B. Brooks in The Shootist. And he found it nearly impossible to get through filming.

According to Scott Ryman’s John Wayne: The Life and Legend, the actor was still cancer-free at the time, despite rumors, but he was secretly relying on an oxygen mask to breathe. Aside from that, John Wayne also had residual heart problems caused by a near-deadly case of viral pneumonia that he caught while filming True Grit. While he was battling the infection, he coughed so hard that he damaged a heart valve.

‘The Shootist’ Shut Down For Two Weeks While John Wayne Was Hospitalized

Because of his age and health issues, The Shootist producers were hesitant to cast the Oscar-winner in The Shootist. The part was first offered to Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, George C. Scott, Charles Bronson, and Clint Eastwood. One producer, Dino De Laurentiis, pushed for Wayne to star in the movie, and he finally got his way when the other stars declined.

But it wasn’t long before Wayne’s health became a serious issue. The movie was filmed at an altitude of 4600ft, which put a lot of strain on Wayne’s heart and remaining lungs. The complications ended up weakening Wayne, which created serious issues when he ultimately caught influenza.

After the actor caught the virus, he deteriorated so quickly and badly that he was hospitalized for two weeks. For some time, doctors weren’t sure he could return to the production at all, which almost shut down the entire movie.

As history points out, John Wayne did manage to finish The Shootist, but he never made it to another film. Wayne’s cancer returned shortly after. His final public appearance was at the Oscars on April 9, 1979. He died just over two months later, on June 11, 1979.