By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) – George Harrison’s death may let others live: experts say the cancer that killed the “Quiet Beatle” could give the anti-smoking lobby a big boost.
They expect Harrison’s death from cancer to raise awareness of the disease and send a powerful message about the dangers of smoking. The youngest member of the Fab Four who epitomized the spirit of the 1960s did not hide his illness or the fact that he was a heavy smoker.
“George Harrison is the latest in a long line of well-loved stars and celebrities to have died from the disease,” said Dr. Leslie Walker of Britain’s Cancer Research Campaign charity.
“It shows that cancer is no respecter of fame or fortune.”
Walker said Harrison’s fight against cancer began with lung and throat tumors and more recently he received treatment for a growth on his brain.
“He made no secret of his regret at having been a heavy smoker, and we know from our research that tobacco is the single biggest cause of lung cancer,” Dr Walker added.
Like the deaths of Yul Brynner, John Wayne and Linda McCartney, Harrison’s demise will heighten concern about cancer because society identifies so closely with celebrities.
“We think we know them. They become a part of our extended family and therefore when something happens to them it is happening to a virtual extended family of ours,” said Professor Cary Cooper, a psychologist at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST).
“If they get ill, that illness becomes a significant illness.”
END OF AN ERA
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s openness about his prostate cancer increased demand for screening for the disease. Former Superman star Christopher Reeve has become the global spokesman for spinal injury sufferers and actor Michael J. Fox is the public face for Parkinson’s disease (news – web sites).
Harrison’s death is seen as particularly significant because of his gentle, spiritual character and because the Beatles represented the ’60s — a decade of reflection, free love, rebellion and challenging establishment values.
“It is the ending an era. It is symbolizing the end of what was probably in Britain and the rest of the developed world the end of a powerful decade — the ’60s,” said Cooper.
Health experts and anti-smoking groups believe Harrison’s public regrets about smoking and his early death at 58 could do more to convince people to stop smoking, or not start, than any public health campaign.
“It is a stark message,” said Clive Bates, of Action on Smoking and Health (news – web sites) (ASH).
“For people that grew up with the Beatles and are still smoking I suspect it (Harrison’s death) will cause a real pause.”
Cooper believes Harrison’s death will even have an impact on younger people who weren’t alive in the Beatles’ heyday.
“Teenagers and 20-somethings do not know him directly but they do know him through their parents. He is an icon in their eyes even if he is not of their generation,” said Cooper.
“I think it could have some positive effects on getting younger people to think about the effects of smoking.”