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

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

by Barron H. Lerner
     
 

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Steve McQueen had cancer and was keeping it secret. Then the media found out, and soon all of America knew. McQueen’s high profile changed forever the way the public perceived a dreaded disease.

In When Illness Goes Public, Barron H. Lerner describes the evolution of celebrities' illnesses from private matters to stories of great public interest.

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Overview

Steve McQueen had cancer and was keeping it secret. Then the media found out, and soon all of America knew. McQueen’s high profile changed forever the way the public perceived a dreaded disease.

In When Illness Goes Public, Barron H. Lerner describes the evolution of celebrities' illnesses from private matters to stories of great public interest. Famous people who have become symbols of illness include Lou Gehrig, the first "celebrity patient"; Rita Hayworth, whose Alzheimer disease went undiagnosed for years; and Arthur Ashe, who courageously went public with his AIDS diagnosis before the media could reveal his secret. And then there are private citizens like Barney Clark, the first recipient of a permanent artificial heart, and Lorenzo Odone, whose neurological disorder became the subject of a Hollywood film.

While celebrity illnesses have helped to inform patients about treatment options, ethical controversies, and scientific proof, the stories surrounding these illnesses have also assumed mythical characteristics that may be misleading. Marrying great storytelling to an exploration of the intersection of science, journalism, fame, and legend, this book is a groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of health and illness.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Suzanne M Shultz, MA (York Hospital)
Description: This book is a pastiche of medical stories about celebrities and ordinary patients who become celebrities by virtue of their disease. The 12 chapters detailing the illnesses of 13 patients selected by the author illustrate a cultural transformation taking place in the practice of medicine over the last 75 years.
Purpose: The author's purpose in writing this book is to explore "the phenomenon of celebrity illness, why it has become such a preoccupation for the media and the public, and what it tells us about sickness and health, hope and fear, and truth and myth in American society." He often refers to the case report as a means by which individual cases characterize "definitive examples of given diseases, their prognoses, and how they should be treated."
Audience: Readers interested in the modern history of medicine and its cultural transformation from confidentiality of specific medical cases to their very public airing by news reporters, television, movies, and even patients and their families, will find something instructive and compelling among these very personal stories.
Features: The individual stories fit loosely into a timeline of celebrity illnesses. The first group (1935-1970) is made up of persons who were already well known at the inception of their illnesses and who were willing to share at least some of the details. The second, somewhat smaller, group (1970-1980) is made up of celebrities who are less forthcoming about their illnesses and who challenge the medical system. The last five chapters (1980-1995) are stories of less well known patients who became celebrities because of their illnesses.
Assessment: Many of the stories are familiar and have been told elsewhere for other reasons. The fresh context, in conjunction with other similar stories which the author examines and studies, reveals an evidentiary trail of change in the way we view medical practice. Currently, clinical practice focuses on evidence-based medicine — the double-blind, randomized controlled trial of large groups of patients. The author points out a palpable tension between scientific best practice scenarios and the case report so full of fight and hope. This book is not in the typical format for a medical history, yet it is appealing and provocative.
Library Journal
Physician Lerner's (medicine & public health, Columbia Univ.; The Breast Cancer Wars) new book raises more questions than it answers. The "celebrity patients" of the subtitle include sports figures Lou Gehrig and Arthur Ashe, screen stars Steve McQueen and Rita Hayworth, photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, and former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Rounding out the celebrities are individuals who themselves or whose families fought highly publicized battles for better treatment or treatment reform. The references are from popular magazines and newspapers, medical journals, and primary source material. Some of the most interesting information derives from letters written by fans pleading with a celebrity to use a particular product or treatment. Lerner is aware of his lack of minority representation (excepting Ashe), and his treatment of the older historic figures treads familiar ground-see Philip Marshall Dale's Medical Biographies: The Ailments of Thirty-Three Famous Persons, a serious overview profiling, among others, poet John Keats and naturalist Charles Darwin. Large public libraries and libraries supporting journalism programs will want to purchase this book. (Index not seen.)-Martha E. Stone, Massachusetts General Hosp. Lib., Boston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
RALPH: Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities - Roxanna Stein

Interesting book, and the writing is sprightly.

Isis - Steven Epstein

Engaging and intriguing... Can be enjoyed by a broad public interested in the modern intertwining of the concerns of celebrity and health.

Social History of Medicine - Jasmine Gartner

When Illness Goes Public says much about the development of ideas of illness in American culture.

American Journal of Bioethics - Michael J. Green

Compelling... We can learn quite a bit about our society, culture, and values from the way celebrities' illnesses are publicly portrayed. As Lerner perceptively demonstrates, descriptions of illness and death ultimately have as much to do with how people want to imagine these experiences as with actual events... Lerner is at his best when he uses his considerable narrative skills to place these stories into their broader historical, cultural and ethical contexts.

Bulletin of the History of Medicine - Chris Feudtner

In Lerner’s capable hands, these dozen stories in their retelling are both colorfully dramatic narratives, ripped from the headlines (as the saying now goes) and also probing samples of historically specific contingencies and shifting attitudes.

Perspectives in Biology and Medicine - John C. Bailar

These 12 stories... delight and instruct readers about our own health and eventual mortality, and these are important things to know.

Journal of American History - Robert S. Robins

Well-written, professionally documented.

Development and Environment Abstracts of Public Administration

A major contribution to our understanding of health and illness.

Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved - Fahmida Hussain

When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine includes a great many references and keeps the reader engaged and entertained. This easily readable book will satisfy any reader's desire to learn more about famous people who have made a difference in how medicine and disease is handled in the U.S.... A great read.

Choice

Physician and associate professor Lerner is blessed with the ability to research widely and write lucidly... Well documented and indexed, this highly readable book deserves a broad audience.

Journal of American History
Well-written, professionally documented.

— Robert S. Robins

Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
These 12 stories... delight and instruct readers about our own health and eventual mortality, and these are important things to know.

— John C. Bailar, III

Bulletin of the History of Medicine
In Lerner’s capable hands, these dozen stories in their retelling are both colorfully dramatic narratives, ripped from the headlines (as the saying now goes) and also probing samples of historically specific contingencies and shifting attitudes.

— Chris Feudtner

Isis
Engaging and intriguing... Can be enjoyed by a broad public interested in the modern intertwining of the concerns of celebrity and health.

— Steven Epstein

New England Journal of Medicine

Lerner has done a beautiful job of tracing the degree to which celebrity patients have reflected and shaped the modern American understanding of doctors, patients, and illness. This book is a pleasure to read because of its compelling storytelling and analysis.

American Journal of Bioethics
Compelling... We can learn quite a bit about our society, culture, and values from the way celebrities' illnesses are publicly portrayed. As Lerner perceptively demonstrates, descriptions of illness and death ultimately have as much to do with how people want to imagine these experiences as with actual events... Lerner is at his best when he uses his considerable narrative skills to place these stories into their broader historical, cultural and ethical contexts.

— Michael J. Green

Social History of Medicine
When Illness Goes Public says much about the development of ideas of illness in American culture.

— Jasmine Gartner

Booklist

Celebrities yapping about what ails them wasn't always common, however, and Lerner believes that its prevalence now indicates cultural changes worth noting... Insightful analysis.

Journal of Clinical Investigation

Lerner offers a superb volume rich with thorough and entertaining recollections and other information not previously in the public domain... A clear, concise, and captivating treatise that holds the interest of lay readers and yet illuminates for medical professionals issues that are important to the individual patient as well as the scientific community.

British Medical Journal

A readable and thoroughly researched book. (Rated four stars: Excellent)

JAMA

Lerner has created a powerful prism through his thoughtful exploration of celebrity illness, highlighting societal and cultural forces that widely affect public and private health care decisions... Lerner's skills are superbly demonstrated in detailing complicated stories... fascinating analysis.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801884627
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
10/28/2006
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.08(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Lynn Redgrave and Annabel Clark

In dissecting the illnesses of these famous people, Dr. Lerner brilliantly separates science from the mythologized, bravely battling celebrity. Riveting reading.

Roger Rosenblatt

It's odd: When a celebrity falls ill, the illness becomes a celebrity, and public life democratized is made generally useful. Barron Lerner has created a fascinating book of this original observation.

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