Cowboy and Western Film icon John Wayne historically had his final public appearance during the 1979 Academy Awards broadcast. After Johnny Carson and Bob Hope’s introduction of Wayne, the audience rose to their feet and earnestly applauded the Duke.
Overwhelmed by the warm welcome, Wayne thanked the audience and added that it’s the only medicine he’ll ever need. His speech was brief but his last line would leave you misty-eyed.
“We’re still here and planned to be around for a whole lot longer.”
Soon after his final adios onstage, Wayne could no longer hold his deteriorating body and was soon rushed to the hospital. Wayne hated being in the hospital because he was prohibited from drinking. His son said that Wayne would take a bottle of tequila before meals and a bottle of brandy after.
During his confinement, it was reported that Wayne would often cry due to insufferable pain. Wayne had faded fast in his hospital bed, losing bit by bit his consciousness each day. He spent his last frail moments with his family with his daughter Aissa holding his hand. She asked her dad if he remembers her. Wayne replied, ”Of course I know who you are, You’re my girl.”
His Last Film
Throughout his career, John Wayne grew to become more than just a movie star. He was considered to be an American icon with his representation of crass individualism and Old West ethics which also earned him international attention.
But John Wayne’s lifestyle of heavy drinking, smoking, and eating rich and heavy food took a toll on his body. In movies, he was known to battle outlaws and Indians but in reality, Wayne was battling a more formidable enemy. America’s Favorite Cowboy Actor was actually battling cancer.
Three years prior to his death, Wayne starred in his last film titled “The Shootist” with co-stars Howard and Lauren Bacall and directed by Don Siegel. A Hollywood veteran, Wayne had done scenes for a variety of films but with “The Shootist, Wayne had insisted to change some scenes to fit his perspective.
Wayne had hated Seigel back in the early stage of filming. Someone spread rumors that Seigel was allegedly a pro-communist person and Wayne, who’s anti-communism, disliked Seigel. Nonetheless, after finding out that the rumor was not true, Wayne approached Seigel and apologized.
John Wayne managed to live for 70 years but because of his illness, his aged body started to break down much faster. Filming his last movie was very unsteady due to Wayne’s worsening health. Wayne had trouble breathing and needed oxygen on the set to help him breathe in between the takes. Wayne also coughed badly and did miss some of the scheduled shoots. This forced the film staff to use a double.
Like anyone who’s suffering great pain, Wayne became difficult to work with during his last film. He was moody, angry and hostile. One instance was when Wayne got mad at a cameraman for not filming right and accused him of not taking note of the lighting. Seigel stood for the cameraman and defended him. He angrily told Wayne to take a look at the shots they took yesterday. Wayne responded and watched the shots. Eventually, he apologized to everyone in the set.
Unfortunately, “The Shootist” did not achieve much, grossing only less than $6 million dollars. At that time, Wayne needed some money for his treatment and maintenance. He then did TV commercials for “Datril and “Great Western Savings & Loan.” This brought Wayne to the realization that he could have been a much well-off man from all the films he starred in.
His last years were spent in poor health from all his vices and the unhealthy lifestyle he led in his youth. Maureen O’Hara, one of Wayne’s closest friends spent time with him for three days. She was Wayne’s leading lady for several films and during her visits, the two exchanged stories and laughs at their past experiences. Claire Trevor, another close friend of Wayne, also paid him a visit. He said that Wayne could barely walk.
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
– John Wayne