TV Land Loses Two of its Early TV Icons

It wasn’t so long ago that there were only 3 network TV stations. Every evening the family would sit around the set together and watch their favorite TV series. This week, we lost two stars who were icons of those early shows. Peter Graves was best known as Jim Phelps, the leader of the Mission Impossible team (the 24 of its day). Later he did a deadpan performance as the pilot, Captain Clarence Oveur, in big screen satire Airplane! Earlier in the week, Graves was returning from a family brunch to celebrate his upcoming 84th birthday. He collapsed in his driveway of an apparent heart attack. His daughter attempted CPR, but was unsuccessful in reviving him.

Fess Parker, 85, died yesterday in Santa Barbara, California. Parker was probably best known as the coonskin-capped Davy Crockett. He also played a number of Disney studio roles in films such as Old Yeller and in the TV series Daniel Boone. Interesting factoid about the popularity of Davy Crockett: At the peak of the craze, the price of raccoon fur shot from 25 cents a pound to $8. After retiring from acting, Parker became a successful winemaker and real estate developer. He is reported as having died of “natural causes.”

“Natural causes” is a frequently given cause of death – but what specifically does it mean? Specifying a cause of death is required by law in all states. Death certification provides public health statistics and prevents cover-ups of murder. A death certificate requires two things:

  • A cause of death: a disease or injury directly related to the death (such as heart attack, AIDS, kidney failure) or the circumstances of death (gun shot wound, hanging)
  • The manner of death: natural,accidental, suicide, homicide, unknown, pending
Natural causes is a loosely-defined term used by coroners describing death when the cause of death was a naturally occurring disease process, or is not apparent given medical history or circumstances. As long as a physician familiar with the patient agrees to sign the death certificate, no autopsy in required.
Heart disease or failure is the most frequent cause of death in cases described as “natural causes.”  Even when a patient has no obvious heart problems or other conditions, a body’s key cells and tissues can just wear down. It’s not so much a disease process, as a natural biological condition – the body just doesn’t last forever.
Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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