Today In History: John Wayne Passes Away
Today in 1979, John Wayne died. Real name Marion Mitchell Morrison, Wayne was a prominent actor best known for his westerns. For over thirty years, he was one of Hollywood’s biggest draws.
Originally from Iowa, Wayne was raised in Southern California. He got his start in entertainment working for film studios after a bodysurfing accident cut a football career short. He mostly got bit roles but scored a leading spot in the 1930 film The Big Trail. It was successful enough to ensure that Wayne would be a leading man in B-movies for the duration of the thirties.
He got his first major break with 1939’s Stagecoach. He remained a major celebrity throughout his career. In spite of some major misfires (see the ill-fated The Conqueror, in which he played Genghis Khan), he was considered a talented actor. He won an Academy Award for his performance in True Grit.
Wayne died of stomach cancer, at age 72. He was being treated at the UCLA Medical Center at the time.
He is buried at the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery, in Newport Beach, California. For twenty years, his headstone was blank. It was eventually inscribed with a quote from a 1971 interview he did with Playboy: “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.”
Wayne himself wanted the tombstone to read “Feo, Fuerte y Formal,” Spanish for “Ugly, Strong and Dignified.”
Wayne’s family claims that he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly before death.
One theory as to the origin of his cancer was that he contracted it, along with 90 other cast and crew members, while working on The Conqueror. The movie was filmed in a part of Utah that was downwind of a nuclear testing site in Nevada. Wayne, however, believed the cancer was the result of chain smoking.