The Death of Bing Crosby

Tom Degan posted 01/18/03 07:20 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Here's something I've been trying to find out and what better place than this to get the info: We all know that Bing Crosby collapsed and died on a golf course in Madrid Spain on 14 October 1977 after playing 18 holes of golf. The question is, what matter of heart attack was it? Was it simply a case of 74 year old heart giving out after a long and active life or did Bing have a chronic heart ailment that he may not have been aware of? Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Greg Van Beek posted 01/18/03 10:07 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly

I spoke to Mrs. Crosby about this very subject recently during a phone conversation. The way she explains it, Bing developed a substantially-sized blood clot in the vicinity of his pelvis/leg after his 25-foot (she corrected me, not 20-foot, as was widely reported at the time, but 25-foot) fall from a Pasadena stage in March, 1977. She believes this clot moved to his heart following the golf match on October 14, 1977, causing a massive heart attack, or, as she described to me, his heart "exploded". It was in very bad shape, she said.
Steven Lewis posted 01/18/03 10:54 AM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Mrs. Crosby, as a former nursing student, should know that hearts don't "explode"! Her statement that a clot moved from Bing's leg to his heart is not supported by any evidence I have seen, nor does it seem likely. If such a clot existed that day, Bing would not have been golfing or would have golfed in considerable discomfort. On the contrary, he seems to have enjoyed the round and the day. People with blood clots in their lower extremities don't walk well and walk with discomfort. The kind of death that Mrs. Crosby described would be more likely in bedridden people, or in people who have sat for prolonged periods of time. According to Giddens research, Bing had severe coronary artery disease (blocked arteries of the heart that develop slowly over many years) as well as heart valve disease (rigid heart valves). In this sense, he was a walking "time bomb" ready to drop. If he hadn't died of a heart attack that day in October, he would not likely have made it more than a few months more without diagnosis and treatment.
Greg Van Beek posted 01/18/03 11:03 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Thanks for your professional diagnosis, Dr. Lewis. However, I do recall hearing that in the last month of his life, Bing Crosby was having considerable difficulty with pains in his leg. It especially bothered him onstage at the Palladium that last season. I do not dispute what you are saying (you are probably more qualified to read into the medical jargon that Giddins quoted in his introduction from Bing's autopsy report than anyone), but I would not dismiss Mrs. Crosby's notion of a blood clot. Do you possess a copy of Bing's autopsy? If so, I'd be interested to hear what other maladies were found in Bing.
Steven Lewis posted 01/18/03 12:41 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Most likely the immediate cause of Bing's death was a blood clot that formed within the diseased arteries in Bing's heart. The vast majority of heart attacks (the leading killer of Americans in the 20th century) result from a clot that forms within the diseased arteries of the heart that suddenly shuts down the flow of blood through the heart. According to Giddins' account of Bing's autopsy, Bing had coronary artery disease (heart arteries partially blocked by fatty tumors) that would make him susceptible to clot formation in these arteries. If he had been diagnosed before his death, he might have received heart bypass surgery. I don't believe that balloon angioplasty was available in 1977. His valve disease was another matter, and its hard to figure what role Bing's heart valve disease played in his death. I, too, would like to see the autopsy to see if the examiner speculated on a relationship.

Of course Bing had pains in his lower back. Rosemary Clooney reported that he suffered from them during the final concerts. This was because he ruptured a disc in his lower back during his fall from a stage in March 1977. Many people suffer pain for years from ruptured discs and, eventually, have to have their ruptured discs removed to relieve the pain. Apparently, Bing's pain was not enough to keep him off the golf course and from golfing very well. I have read accounts that he seemed to favor an arm toward the end of his final golf game, but no reports of a limp that could reflect a blood clot affecting his lower extremities causing swelling and pain.

Clots that originate outside the heart sometimes do migrate to the heart and cause heart attacks. Most often this happens in very sedentary people -- people who are bed-ridden or who have sat for prolonged periods of time. Derrick Thomas, the former Kansas City Chief's linebacker, was such a victim following his paralysis in a car crash. Bing would have been more suxceptible to this fate during his 2-month convalescence following his fall from the stage in March. But Bing had long since returned to activity -- performing, hunting, golfing. The notion that a clot from a fall more than 6 months earlier killed Bing on a golf course is far fetched, to say the least, akin to his heart "exploding"!
Greg Van Beek posted 01/18/03 01:32 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Your absolutely right about Bing still having the pains in his back during the final concerts. Of course this was caused by the fall in March. However, as stated in Charles Thompson's expanded biography of Bing titled "The Complete Crosby", Bing's leg was also troubling him then, in addition to the back pain.

Now Mrs. Crosby also told me (and this appears in her new book as well), that Bing's blood pressure was alarmingly high during the final weeks. Clearly, Bing was not a well man, and indeed should've seeked more medical attention. It does appear he certainly could've been a candidate for heart bypass surgery. George Burns had heart bypass surgery in 1974, and he lived over twenty years thereafter. So possibly this may have saved his life.

Now as far as blood clots go, I'm sure it's possible for them to stay in one place for an extended period of time and suddenly be jarred loose and move towards the heart, following the natural blood flow. Of course his heart didn't literally "explode" (Mrs. Crosby's overly-dramatic term), but surely a clot (total blockage) within a major artery can cause that artery to burst or "explode". My grandmother died of a heart anyerism, or a balloning of an artery that suddenly "explodes" or bursts. This happened in her sleep, not by doing any physical labor. Oddly enough, she died at age 73, the same (incorrect) age that Bing was reported to be at the time of his death.
Steven Lewis posted 01/18/03 04:34 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Interesting that Bing died of the same cause that killed his last movie character, Dr. Cook. Of course, in the movie Dr. Cook lingered long enough to make a speech. In real life Bing didn't need to -- he won the golf match! Overall I can't think of a better way for Bing to take his final bows -- the fantasy-writers in Hollywood couldn't have written a better ending to his life story. On the other hand, the fantasy-writers did do a thorough job of smearing Bing after he was gone.

Nelson Rockefeller also made a fantasy exit at about the same time as Bing's, but it was far less respectable.

Greg mentioned aneurisms. Lucille Ball is a famous victim of death by aneurism -- an exploding artery. It happened while she was in the hospital, in fact. Her aorta -- the largest artery in the body -- ruptured from a ballooned-out, weakened area. She lost so much blood so quickly that she couldn't be saved, even in the hospital.

Princess Diana died from a ruptured pulmonary artery, but that was due, of course, to the trauma of her accident.
Greg Van Beek posted 01/19/03 07:46 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
While we're on the subject of Bing's death, there's something I've noticed about Bing's physical appearance in the last few years of his life, and am wondering if anyone else has noticed it too. To my eyes, it appears Bing's health began declining rapidly in mid 1976. I'm sure a lot of you have seen the 'A Bing Crosby Christmas- Just Like The One's We Used to Know' special that has aired on the Bravo channel the past few years, and is also available on VHS and DVD. Compare Bing's appearance in the clips from his 1975 and 1976 Christmas specials. The clips with Fred Astaire (Let It Snow, Sleigh Ride- with the egg-nog cups in hand, the One Solitary Life recitation) are all from the 1975 show, taped in late November 1975. Now the clips from 1976 (A Pair of Loafers with Jackie Gleason, Children-with that nifty leisure suit Bing is wearing, Silent Night, Joy To The World) were taped in mid July 1976, roughly 8 months after the 1975 show. The difference in Bing's appearance in that relatively short time span is shocking. He looks robust and healthy on the '75 show, with a nice, full hairpiece. But in the '76 show, clearly he's lost a considerable amount of weight, and appears gaunt and almost frail. His face is more deeply lined than it has ever appeared, and he sports what has to be the worst hairpiece of his entire career! Bing actually looked somewhat better a year later on his 1977 Christmas special (the one with Bowie), and that was just 5 weeks before his death. Now I know this is all trivial stuff, and hardly important in the total scheme of Bing things, but I'd be curious to hear others' comments on the subject.
Judy Schmid posted 01/20/03 09:51 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I have mixed feelings about knowing the details about Bing's passing - the medical details, I mean - because his death hit me so hard when it happened, and yet wasn't totally unexpected knowing what he'd been through (lungs, the fall) in the short years before his passing.

Interesting, too, how much could've been prevented if Bing would've been more 'in tune' with his body - many men aren't keen on visiting physicians and I have a hunch that he only went when in severe pain (bursitis, kidneys, etc) - so sad to think that with a little more 'attention' by himself or whomever, he might've lived longer and in better health.

Sad to think about...but certainly interesting.

Lars posted 01/20/03 10:46 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Judy, what you said reminded me about when Cary Grant passed away. He wouldn't let anybody call for a doctor when he suddenly felt ill during rehersals. If he'd gotten under medical attention the outcome might very well have been different.

Regarding Bing I've always felt that was the way to go! No long suffering - and leaving in the middle of something you really enjoy. Who could ask for anything more? I've understood that Bing might not have been in very good health the last year or so. And he might have lived longer if he had acted differently. But as you said, it's not that uncommon among men. "We" want to be the strong silent type.I'd have to be halfdead if they'll get me to any doctor. I expect my body to heal itself. And in Bing's case it doesn't matter anymore if he could have acted differently from what he did. He was hospitalized not long before his death - after the fall - and I presume he was thouroughly examined at that time. And I expect they would have noticed anything serious then (and maybe they did - actually I haven't kept up with the medical aspects or any details in connection with his health, like for example any possibly heartproblems).
Steven Lewis posted 01/20/03 04:17 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Lars, Bing was hospitalized for a month after his March 1977 fall from the stage in Pasadena, California. However, it is not likely he was administered a stress test to evaluate his heart considering the reason for his hospitalization and his intense back pain. A simple electrocardiogram does not reveal coronary artery disease prior to heart damage. The standard tests today involve ECGs while stressing the heart as well as injection of dyes to allow the coronary (heart) arteries to be visualized to detect blockages. If Bing was not complaining of heart-related conditions when he was hospitalized in March, these tests most certainly would not have been done.
Greg posted 02/06/03 02:30 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I find this whole discussion interesting. It's really amazing, considering his decling health, how well he was singing in the last few years of his life. He might have had an admirable death but I for one wish he had been able to get treatment that could have given him a few more years or even months if he could have recorded a few more albums like "Seasons".

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