5 Celebrities Who Had Heart Bypass Surgery

Doctors perform heart bypass surgery.
Doctors perform heart bypass surgery.

We often expect celebrities to be in better health than us "regular people." After all, their wealth means that they have unlimited access to the best physicians, physical trainers, nutritionists and personal chefs that money can buy. While this might be true, celebrities aren't invincible. They get the same diseases that we do. For example, there are plenty of celebrities who get diabetes, have high blood pressure and otherwise find themselves at risk for diseases such as coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease occurs when vessels in the heart do not provide an adequate blood supply to the muscle. It is most often due to atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the arteries. When blood flow to the heart is compromised, it can result in chest pain or even a heart attack. If lifestyle changes or medications don't work, surgery may be the only way to treat the problem. In one possible surgical treatment, known as a heart bypass, a surgeon uses a healthy piece of artery or vein from elsewhere in the body to make a detour around the blocked area, restoring full blood flow to the heart. Doctors have bypassed as many as five of these clogged places during one surgery, known as a quintuple heart bypass.


Many celebrities over the years have undergone heart bypass surgery. Let's start with one who has undergone heart surgery not once, but twice.

5: Larry King

Larry King interviews former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Larry King interviews former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on May 25, 2006.
United States Department of Defense/Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN

Larry King is probably best known for his long-running cable interview show, "Larry King Live," but the septuagenarian has been in show business since the 1950s. King began his career as a disc jockey in Miami, and began broadcasting nationally in 1978. "Larry King Live" has been on the air since 1985, and was the first worldwide call-in talk show on television. It is estimated that King has conducted more than 40,000 interviews over the course of his 50 years in broadcasting.

King's father died at the young age of 44 due to heart disease, which put King at high risk for developing the disease. He was also a heavy smoker and did not exercise or eat a healthy diet. In 1987, at the age of 54, King suffered a serious heart attack. Shortly afterward, he underwent quintuple bypass surgery. The experience led him to not only make serious changes in his own life, but also to help others with heart disease. King wrote two books on the subject: "Mr. King, You're having a Heart Attack" outlined his experiences, while "Taking on Heart Disease" focused on the experiences of other celebrities. King also started the Larry King Heart Foundation to help pay for cardiac surgeries for people who could not otherwise afford them.


Despite his lifestyle changes, in early 2010, 76-year-old King began experiencing pain that was the result of blocked arteries. This time, he had surgery to place tubes called stents in some of his coronary arteries. These stents push the plaque back against the arterial wall and allow for better blood flow.

4: Rue McClanahan

Rue McClanahan at the opening of a Broadway play in February 2009.
Rue McClanahan at the opening of a Broadway play in February 2009.
Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

Although many people think of breast cancer as the number-one killer of women, heart disease gets that ignoble distinction. Actress Rue McClanahan has dealt with both diseases. McClanahan began her career acting in off-Broadway plays in 1957, and then debuted on Broadway in 1969. Next, McClanahan moved to soap operas. But she is best known for her roles as Maude's best friend Vivian Harmon on the 1970s show "Maude" and as the man-eating Blanche Devereaux on the 1980s show "The Golden Girls." McClanahan has continued to act in movies, TV shows and on the stage. She was also a devoted animal rights activist.

In 1997, McClanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy, followed by the removal of nine lymph nodes, five months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. After making a full recovery, she began speaking at various breast-cancer-related events and sharing her experiences.


Twelve years later, McClanahan was preparing to attend a gala being held in her honor, but it had to be canceled when she was hospitalized. In a statement, she said that she was "currently having some maintenance on the old ticker." This translated to heart bypass surgery. Unfortunately, McClanahan suffered a stroke following the surgery and spent time in the ICU. Surgeons removed a blood clot, but the stroke caused some problems with speech and movement on the right side of her brain. McClanahan was reportedly doing well in her recovery and her health had started to gradually improve. However, Ms. McClanahan died of a cerebral hemorrhage on June 3, 2010. She was 76 years old.

3: David Letterman

David Letterman at the opening of the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute in 2009
David Letterman at the opening of the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute in 2009
Statia Photography/Getty Images

David Letterman has been hosting his own late-night TV show for nearly 30 years. After college, Letterman worked as a radio talk show host and weatherman for a local station in Indianapolis. He moved to Los Angeles in 1975 and began writing jokes for other comedians as well as performing stand-up. Letterman also made appearances on numerous TV shows and game shows. In the late 1970s, he became a regular guest host on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson." Letterman got his own show, "Late Night with David Letterman," on NBC in 1982. In 1993, he moved to CBS with "The Late Show with David Letterman."

At age 51, Letterman had an angiogram that showed that he had coronary artery disease and he went on medication. Letterman also continued his exercise routine and eating a low-fat diet. In January 2000, however, another angiogram showed severe constriction. He immediately went into surgery for a quintuple heart bypass. After five weeks of recovery, Letterman returned to his hosting duties. His first guests included the team of doctors and nurses who had performed his surgery and taken care of him.


In 2009, Letterman helped to open the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute in New York City. Through his private foundation, the American Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming, he has donated to several heart-related charities such as the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. In 2010, Letterman celebrated the anniversary of his bypass surgery and brought his surgeon, Dr. O. Wayne Isom, on his show.

2: Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds a few months after his quintuple bypass
Just a few months after his quintuple bypass, Burt Reynolds attended the 15th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival.
Carlos Marino/Getty Images

With a career spanning nearly 100 films and more than 300 TV shows, it's hard to imagine that Burt Reynolds didn't initially think about acting as a career. In the 1950s, Reynolds appeared in various summer stock and off-Broadway plays. After taking acting classes in New York, he guest-starred on TV shows such as "River Boat" and "Gunsmoke" and acted overseas in spaghetti westerns. Reynolds' big break came when he starred in the 1972 movie "Deliverance." He is also known for playing Bandit in the series of "Smokey and the Bandit" movies and Wood Newton on the TV show "Evening Shade." After a lull in his career, Reynolds began a comeback when he starred in the 1997 film "Boogie Nights."

In 2009, 74-year-old Reynolds was in the news because of a stint in rehab -- he had become addicted to pain medication prescribed to him after back surgery. Reynolds has also admitted to drug use in the past. In early 2010, he began having chest pains at home. Reynolds' doctor warned him that he could die without surgery, so he had a quintuple bypass. According to his manager, Reynolds has said that he has "a great motor with brand new pipes" and is "feeling great." He is scheduled to make a guest appearance on the TV show "Burn Notice" in summer 2010.


1: Regis Philbin

Regis Philbin walks to the studios of Live with Regis and Kelly.
Regis Philbin on his way to the studios of Live with Regis and Kelly.
Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

Regis Philbin has something in common with James Brown: they've both been called the hardest-working man in show business. Philbin holds the Guinness World Record for Most Hours on Camera. As of September 17, 2009, he had been on TV for 16,343 hours. Philbin began his broadcasting career in the late 1950s, but his first national gig was as the sidekick on "The Joey Bishop Show" in 1967. His real success came when he began co-hosting "The Morning Show" in New York City in 1983. Five years later, the show went national as "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" (now titled "Live with Regis and Kelly"). Philbin has also hosted numerous game shows over the years, such as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and made guest appearances on various TV shows.

In 1993, at the age of 62, Philbin underwent an angioplasty to clear a narrowed artery in his heart. In this procedure, a catheter is threaded through the vessel and inflated like a balloon. It presses the plaque against the walls of the artery to open it up. On a March 12, 2007 episode of "Live with Regis and Kelly," Philbin tearfully announced that he had been having chest pains and shortness of breath for the past two weeks. Doctors recommended a triple bypass. Philbin said, "Darn it, I don't want to do it. Nobody wants to do it!" but after getting a second opinion he went ahead with the surgery that week. Philbin returned to "Live" about six weeks later.


Philbin has continued to have various health issues; in 2009 he had a hip-replacement surgery and was off the air for four weeks. More recently he has mentioned suffering from sleep apnea and chronic back pain. On May 14, 2010, Philbin had a blood clot removed from his calf.

Lots More Information

Related Articles


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