When the Famous Get Sick and the Sick Get Famous: Lessons from Celebrity Patients

Barron Lerner, M.D., Professor, Departments of Medicine & Population Health, New York University Langone Medical Center

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reception, 5:30, Lecture 6:00

Conference Room 103-A, The Knowledge Center at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library

Hammer Health Sciences Building, 701 West 168th St. at Ft. Washington Ave.

Sponsored by the Columbia University Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library


How do we reveal an illness?  Difficult enough to do when it only concerns family and friends, disclosure becomes more fraught when the subject is famous and the news of illness is potentially of interest to the larger public.

Barron Lerner (P&S 1986) explores the dimensions of celebrity and sickness in his lecture, When the Famous Get Sick and the Sick Get Famous: Lessons from Celebrity Patients on February 22, 2018 at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library. 

Based on his book, When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine, Lerner will discuss numerous cases in which famous people revealed details of their illnesses. From Lou Gehrig (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), to Steve McQueen (mesothelioma), to Rita Hayworth (Alzheimer’s Disease), celebrity illnesses have helped to educate the public, but they’ve also attained a mythical dimension that make them both inspiring and misleading.  In contrast, some patients attain celebrity through their illness, becoming symbols for a particular disease.

Please join us on February 22 for this free lecture.


Barron H. Lerner is a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Population Health at New York University Langone Medical Center.  He received his M.D. from Columbia University in 1986 and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington in 1996.  His book, The Breast Cancer Wars: Hope, Fear and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America, published by Oxford University Press, received the William H. Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine and was named a most notable book by the American Library Association.  Dr. Lerner has published extensively in scholarly journals and contributes essays to Slate, theatlantic.com, the Washington Post and the print and online health pages of the New York Times.  He has also appeared on numerous NPR broadcasts, including “Fresh Air,” “All Things Considered” and “Science Friday.”  Dr. Lerner’s fifth book, The Good Doctor: A Father, a Son and the Evolution of Medical Ethics, was published by Beacon Press in May 2014 and came out in paperback in May 2015.  The New York Times called it “exquisitely insightful.”  In addition to his research, Dr. Lerner practices general internal medicine and teaches medical ethics and the history of medicine to both undergraduates and medical students at NYU.