When it comes to heart disease, it's not who you know -- it's who you came from. Heart disease is hereditary, so if you're dealt a bad card by those further up the family tree, you need to embrace a healthy lifestyle and steer clear of smoking, heavy drinking and poor dietary choices. All the money, fame and influence in the world won't make it OK for you to eat bacon cheeseburgers if there's a history of heart disease in your family.
While celebrities often take a pass on some of life's more unpleasant experiences (cleaning bathrooms, for one), no one has immunity against heart disease and heart attacks.
In this article, we'll talk about five celebrities who had heart attacks. Of the five, some lived, some died, and some saw the light and adopted a heart-healthy lifestyle and attitude.
First up: The music never stopped, only some of the unhealthy people who made it.
For the better part of 30 years, musician Jerry Garcia toured and played music with his band, The Grateful Dead, to adoring fans around the United States and the rest of the world. The Dead's yearly tours around the nation set the itineraries for thousands of people ("Deadheads") who traveled city to city with the band, enjoying a transient, musical lifestyle that involved equal parts Jerry-worship, bootleg-tape trading and hallucinogenic mind expansion.
It's hard to live a healthy lifestyle when you're the lead guitarist for the house band of the 1960s psychedelic revolution. Garcia struggled with obesity, with his weight sometimes ballooning to more than 300 pounds. And for most of his life, he was a three-pack-a-day smoker.
Garcia and the Dead basically served as ushers to the drug culture of the 1960s and '70s, and Garcia threw himself into the role. The talented musician and songwriter worked on several side projects over the course of his life, one of which was heroin addiction.
In 1986, Garcia spent five days in a diabetic coma. He survived the coma and made an effort to change his lifestyle, but the changes didn't stick. He continued smoking and remained obese, and his continued use of heroin necessitated repeated stays in rehabilitation centers.
At the age of 53, Garcia died of a heart attack. Had he paid heed to the warning signs his body was giving him, he might have added many dates to his life's tour -- and many more tapes to the Grateful Dead canon.
Next: The weight of the crown is heavy on the heart.
Before serving eight years as vice president in the George W. Bush administration, Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney served in the Nixon White House as a staffer and served as chief of staff in the Ford administration. In 1978, Cheney was elected to the House of Representatives, serving five terms and becoming house minority whip.
The near-constant campaigning and Washington deal-brokering would be stressful for anyone, and Cheney dealt with that stress in part by smoking cigarettes constantly. It was in 1978 that he had his first of five heart attacks.
Cheney made some lifestyle changes, but they didn't stick. He began smoking again, didn't get enough exercise and put on weight. His second heart attack came when he was 43, his third when he was 47 and his fourth just a few weeks after the 2000 election. Cheney has had five heart attacks in total, his fifth occurring in early 2010.
The former vice president has also had many heart procedures, including coronary heart bypass grafting, stenting, angioplasty and the insertion of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.
When it comes to heart issues, Cheney can give as good as he can take. During a hunting accident while serving as VP, Cheney accidentally shot a companion with a shotgun, lodging a pellet in the older man's heart, causing a small heart attack and atrial fibrillation.
Next: This author was not exactly a vision of restraint during the Roaring 20s.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The premier writer of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald served as both chronicler and embodiment of the times. Scott, along with wife Zelda, cut a wide swath through high society following the success of his first novel, "This Side of Paradise," followed by "The Beautiful and Damned," "The Great Gatsby" and "Tender is the Night." The couple also cut a wide swath through whatever obstacle stood between them and their next cocktail.
Fitzgerald embraced the Roaring Twenties, smoking heavily, falling into alcoholism and enjoying the night life a little too much. As a result, he steadily descended into poor physical and mental health, ultimately penning a collection of essays about his shattered state, "The Crack-up."
The writer's life was full of self-created financial stress as his lifestyle overtook his earnings. Fitzgerald's personal correspondence was in large part dedicated to hitting up his friends, editors and publishers for loans and advances.
Though he quit drinking in the final year of his life, the damage had been done. Fitzgerald suffered his first heart attack in November 1940 while buying cigarettes at a drugstore. About a month later, he was reading in the apartment of his mistress when he had a second heart attack, this one fatal. He was 44 years old.
Next: This actor made his mark as a funny big man, but his size took a toll on his health.
John Candy was a Canadian actor who became a screen star in the U.S. and worldwide. He often played the role of the good-hearted, bumbling-but-lovable dummy -- he was the huggable uncle, the well-meaning oaf. Candy used his size to his comedic advantage but reportedly preferred not to talk about his weight or his health off-camera.
For much of his life, Candy was obese, carrying around 300 pounds on his 6-foot-2-inch frame. More troublesome, the man who would star in such hits as "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and "Uncle Buck" was also a smoker.
In the 1990s, Candy quit smoking and attempted to lose weight, but his efforts to turn his health around seem to have come too late. In March 1994, a combination of years of poor lifestyle choices and heredity caught up with Candy, and -- like his father and grandfather before him -- the beloved actor died of a heart attack while filming on location in Mexico.
Next, one suspenders-clad media icon made a radical change in his lifestyle after having a heart attack -- and by doing so, has added years to his life.
When CNN host Larry King was 9 years old, his father died of heart attack at age 43. King's first heart attack would arrive at age 53, and the deteriorating state of his heart necessitated quintuple-bypass heart surgery later that year.
Leading up to that first heart attack, King himself has said he "did everything wrong." How wrong? In addition to smoking around 60 cigarettes a day, King ate a poor diet, didn't exercise and experienced high stress levels related to his busy work schedule.
After his heart attack, though, King immediately quit smoking, never touching a cigarette again. He began walking regularly for exercise (usually on the treadmill) and adopted a healthier diet, cutting back his intake of sodium, alcohol, meat and other cholesterol-raising foods.
King has likely added years to his life through his lifestyle turn-around. He's had several reminders of just how serious heart disease is. Ten years after his heart attack, he underwent an angioplasty procedure on one of his blood vessels. In early 2010, King had a stenting procedure during which a tiny balloon was threaded into a clogged vein and then inflated, flattening the plaque against the wall and allowing for better passage of blood. By listening to his body and seeking medical attention immediately after feeling pain in his shoulder, King may have again added more time to the clock.
How are skipping breakfast and atherosclerosis related? Learn about the results of a new study in this HowStuffWorks article.
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