Health Battles Lost for Three Celebrities

It’s been a sad week in the world of entertainment. Three celebrities have lost their battles with their health conditions.

Richard Glatzer/ALS

Richard Glatzer was the co-writer/director of the Oscar-nominated picture Still Alice, a film about a college professor with early onset Alzheimers Disease. While working on the film, he began to have slurred speech and other symptoms which lead to the diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 2013.

Julianne Moore, who plays accomplished Harvard professor Alice Howland, told the New York Times that:

“When Richard was diagnosed with A.L.S., Wash [Glatzer’s husband Wash Westmoreland] asked him what he wanted to do. Did he want to travel? Did he want to see the world? And he said that he wanted to make movies, and that’s what he did.”

So he and Wash kept working on the film, Richard appearing on the set every day. He communicated with the cast and crew members through his iPad, typing initially with one finger, and later with his toe, when he could no longer use his hands.

The film went on to win Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations and Glatzer got to see Julianne Moore win the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Actress.

He passed away Tuesday at the age of 63.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a debilitating neurological disease.07.04.ALS1

In ALS, the nerve cells that control muscles (“motor neurons”) are damaged. Muscle cells depend on the stimulation from nerves to function, and without this stimulation, muscle cells weaken or die.

This leads to the classic symptom of progressive muscle weakness.

ALS occurs most frequently in adults over 40.

Symptoms are usually noticed first in the arms and hands, legs, or swallowing muscles. Affected individuals lose strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body.

Other symptoms include spasticity, muscle cramps, and increased problems with swallowing and forming words. Speech can become slurred or nasal.

When muscles of the diaphragm and chest wall fail to function properly, individuals lose the ability to breathe without mechanical support.

Most patients die within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms.

Although the disease does not usually impair a person’s mind or personality, several recent studies suggest that some people with ALS may have alterations in cognitive functions such as problems with decision-making and memory.

Sam Simon/Colon Cancer

Sam Simon was a co-creator of The Simpsons, with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, as well as a comedy writer and director for shows such as Taxi, The Gary Shandling Show, Cheers, and the Drew Carey Show. He has been a philanthropist for a number of years, founding the Malibu-based Sam Simon Foundation which feeds hungry people (vegan foods only) and dogs. He also supports PETA (which named their Norfolk, VA headquarters after him, Save the Children, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (featured on the Animal Planet show Whale Wars).

At the end of 2012 he was diagnosed with colon cancer. The cancer was widespread at diagnosis and had spread to his liver, kidney, connective tissue and lymphatic system as well as in the colon, and he was told he had 3-6 months to live. When given the terminal diagnosis, Simon decided to donate nearly all his “Simpsons” royalties to charity.

Simon died over 2 years after his diagnosis, at the age of 59.

Signs of colon cancer include blood in the stool or a change in bowel habits.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by colon cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A change in bowel habits.
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool.
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
  • Stools that are narrower than usual.
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Feeling very tired.
  • Vomiting.

Jimmy Greenspoon/Malignant Melanoma

Jimmy Greenspoon, keyboardist for classic rock band Three Dog Night died today of malignant melanoma.

Greenspoon announced that he was ill when he looked to fans to help him cover medical expenses on the crowdsourcing website

On October 11, I started having strange visions and sensations.  My wife took me to the hospital where a CT Scan revealed a brain tumor.  I was transported to a different hospital with a good neurological team.  The tumor was removed on October 13th and diagnosed as a metastatic melanoma.  Upon further examination, 3 spots were found on my right lung and one spot on my liver.  There is a team of doctors working on a treatment plan, which they are confident will work.

At the time of his death, he had raised $23,000 in donations.

The band, whose hits included Eli’s Coming, Joy to the World and, announced his death on their Facebook page:

“We are very saddened at the passing of our dear friend and longtime band mate, Jimmy Greenspoon. Jimmy died peacefully at home today surrounded by his family. Please keep him and his loved ones in your prayers and your hearts.”

Malignant melanoma is a cancer that forms in skin cells, called melanocytes, which produce skin pigment. These cells grow in an uncontrolled fashion and form tumors. Although melanoma is one of the rarer skin cancers, it is responsible for most of the skin cancer deaths. Risk factors for melanoma include family history of melanoma, fair skin, frequent sunburns in childhood, atypical (precancerous) moles, and having more than 50 benign moles.

Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking.” Thinking of “ABCD” can help you remember what to watch for:

A: Asymmetry: One side does not look the same as the other side:


B: Border: The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.


C: Color: The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be seen.


D: Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).


Source: National Cancer Institute

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of melanoma (whether cancer is found in the outer layer of skin only, or has spread to the lymph nodes, or to other places in the body.
  • Whether there was bleeding or ulceration at the primary site.
  • The location and size of the tumor.
  • The patient’s general health.
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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