Famous People Impacted by the Flu

Author Stephen A. Berger, MD , 04-Mar-2020

Table of contents

It has become a tragic fact that every year the flu season brings an immense burden on health care services and now has dozens of subtypes cataloged, from ‘swine flu’ to ‘bird flu’ to ‘Asian flu’ and beyond. Typically, between late Fall and early Spring, over the last ten years, the United States has suffered hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths across all ages [1]. But shortly after the turn of the century, the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918 to 1920 was different in the extreme and, like every disease or virus, did not discriminate on age, gender, race, or species; indeed, fame.

This year ends the pandemics’ centennial anniversary, so along with the estimated 50 million deaths, let us remember how we are all equal in the face of such viruses.

Rose Cleveland – sister of President Grover Cleveland, who acted as ‘first lady’ to her bachelor brother – was one of approximately 150 famous people that perished in the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic. Perhaps the best-known victims at the time were Francisco Rodrigues Alves (Brazilian President-Elect) and Louis Botha (President of South Africa). Still, no less than ten shining stars of the silent movie era are known to have also died during the deadly outbreak.

True Boardman appeared in 137 films in just an 8-year career, and his son (also named True Boardman) went on to co-star in films with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

William Courtleigh, Jr. passed at only 26 years of age after co-starring with Lillian Lorraine and Ann Pennington.

Dark Cloud (Elijah Tahamont), a Canadian Indian and chief of the Abenaki. During his eight-year career, he got to work with Francis Ford and Mary Pickford, appearing in 34 movies.

Myrtle Gonzalez is regarded as Hollywood’s first Latin and Hispanic star. She starred in some 78 movies alongside William Desmond Taylor and Jean Hersholt.

Shelly Hull, brother of actor Henry Hull was only just breaking into motion pictures following his success on Broadway, where he starred in plays such as The Amazons, The Cinderella Man, and The Land of Promise.

Joseph Kaufman is an actor and director with over 30 credits in each discipline. He married fellow silent film star Ethel Clayton, who starred in as many as 180 movies.

Vera Kholodnaya was the first Russian star in Silent Movies. Unfortunately, most of her films have been lost. Her first film was Anna Karenina, and she went on to star in A Life for a Life, The Last Tango, and some reported 50 other films. She also has a life-size bronze statue of herself in Odesa, Ukraine.

Julian L’Estrange, the husband of Constance Collier, starred in stage and movie productions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Harold A. Lockwood was an actor, director, and producer who starred alongside May Allison in no less than 23 films and shared the screen with Mary Pickford (a repeating theme!).

Wayland Trask, Jr. is a member of Mack Sennett’s company of actors and a star in fewer than 45 comedies.

Even before the recent outbreak, influenza has long contributed to thousands upon thousands of deaths across the globe, naturally including several famous names: Juan Peron (Argentina), Francesco Nitti, and Paolo Boselli (Italy); performers Angela Baddeley, Lillie Langtree, Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Harlow, and Trevor Howard; baseball legends Dick Bertell and Hack Wilson; movie directors Jules Dassin and Luchino Visconti; and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Three additional Silent Movie stars managed to join the famous-flu-deaths list – 2 shortly after the Spanish flu with Edward J. Connelly (1928) and Henry B. Walthall (1936); and the other as recent as 2018, with the passing of Lassie Lou Ahern, who had a career spanning over 50 years, starring in no less than 30 films including many from the ‘Our Gang’ films.

These lists are abstracted from the hobby of our founder and medical advisor, Dr. Steve Berger, who maintains an extensive database at The site is free to use, allowing you to explore and search the medical file of over 20,000 VIPs. Who will you look up?


Stephen A. Berger, MD

Stephen A. Berger, M.D. is affiliated with the Tel Aviv Medical Center, where he has served as Director of both Geographic Medicine and Clinical Microbiology. He also holds an appointment as Emeritus Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Tel-Aviv School of Medicine. Dr. Berger co-founded GIDEON Informatics, developers of the GIDEON (Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Online Network) web app, and the GIDEON series of ebooks.

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