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When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine

1st May 2007
whenillnessgoespublicQ

In When illness goes public: celebrity patients and how we look at medicine, Barron H. Lerner, a physician, medical ethicist, and historian, has investigated the change during the last 70 years in how we in the United States view illnesses contracted by famous individuals as well as persons who became celebrities as a result of illness and subsequent treatment. Drawing from media reports, newspapers, newsreels, movies, autobiographies, biographies, and scholarly collections of individual’s papers in addition to his own interviews with both family and friends of his subjects, Lerner offers a superb volume rich with thorough and entertaining recollections and other information not previously in the public domain.

Lerner identifies Lou Gehrig as the "first modern patient" because he was a celebrity who later become ill. Lerner discusses how, given his celebrity, Gehrig’s doctors endeavored to protect him from the knowledge that he was dying from an incurable disease, and Gehrig’s condition was not fully revealed to him, or to the public, until very late. The movie about Gehrig’s illness, The pride of the Yankees, set the standard for subsequent celebrity deaths with its theme of "unabashed heroism and sacrifice in the face of illness."

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