Prometheus to Evel Knievel
Overworked and underappreciated, the liver quietly goes about its business while the heart gets all the headlines. Still, if your liver goes south you’ve got real problems. Here are a few famous people who’ve suffered from Liver Trouble.
The mythical Titan PROMETHEUS had ancient history’s most famous liver problem.
According to the ancient Greeks, Prometheus angered Zeus by stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind. Bulfinch’s Mythology describes what happened next: Zeus “had him chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus, where an eagle preyed on his liver, which was renewed as fast as devoured.” That’s right: every day the eagle would eat his liver, and every day the liver would grow back.
For 30 long years the eagle returned each day to gnaw on fresh paté de Prometheus, until the hero Hercules arrived and slew the bird, freeing Prometheus from his doom.
Modern-day daredevil EVEL KNIEVEL broke dozens of bones in his motorcycle stunt career, but it was a bum liver that almost shut him down for good. Knievel contracted hepatitis from a blood transfusion during one of his many operations, and the disease worsened until he finally got a new liver in 1999. Knievel toughed it out for another eight years after the transplant. After his death in 2007, the Associated Press said “Evel Knievel’s hard life killed him — it just took longer than he or anyone else might have expected.”
DAVID CROSBY, of rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young, was as famous as Evel Knievel for his hard-living ways offstage. Crosby racked up multiple convictions for drug and alcohol abuse (not to mention drunk driving and gun possession), and by 1994 he needed a new liver. The case sparked a public discussion of transplant ethics — in particular, whether self-induced liver failure should take a person out of the running for a donor liver. But once everyone remembered that Crosby was famous, he got his transplant and grew healthy enough to return to the stage.Crosby also grew healthy enough to be a different kind of donor himself: he was the biological father of two children for singer Melissa Etheridge and her companion, Julie Cypher, in 1997 and 1998.
Another liverish singer was JOHN PHILLIPS, the founder of the 1960s pop group The Mamas and The Papas. (David Crosby’s group The Byrds played at the Phillips-organized Montery Pop Festival in 1967.) Phillips noted in interviews that The Mamas and The Papas bonded by taking LSD together (it was legal in those days), and drug and alcohol consumption seemed to be regular part of Phillips’s life for much of the next two decades. He went through drug rehab and reportedly kicked the habit in the 1980s, but by 1992 he still needed (and received) a liver transplant. He died in 2001 of heart failure brought on by a severe stomach virus.
Baseball hero MICKEY MANTLE had double liver trouble: cirrhosis from years of major-league drinking, and hepatitis C, possibly contracted from a transfusion during one of his many knee surgeries. When Mantle went in for a liver transplant in 1995, doctors discovered a third problem: his old liver was also cancerous. The transplant was a success, but the cancer led to his death two months later. According to the Washington Post obituary, “Drugs he had taken to prevent his body from rejecting the new liver had weakened his immune system, making it easier for the cancer to spread.”
As head of Apple, STEVE JOBS was as heavy a hitter in Silicon Valley as Mickey Mantle was in Yankee Stadium. And they shared another trait: bad livers. Jobs wasn’t chatty about his health (just the opposite), but he was known to have had surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004, after which his weight dropped alarmingly. After years of speculation by reporters, analysts and geeks, Jobs took a leave of absence in January of 2009 and had a liver transplant at the Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tennessee. Jobs didn’t confirm the transplant — the hospital did — and he returned to work on a part-time basis later that year. He died in 2011.