|Above, John Wayne in Monument Valley.|
39 years ago, June 11, 1979, I remember like it was yesterday.
It was the day when I first became an insurance claims adjuster when I started working at United Pacific/Reliance Insurance Companies in Los Angeles. I had graduated from California State University, Long Beach the previous month. I spent most of the day in a small conference room studying homeowners policies and training books.
After work, I arrived home in Hawthorne, California and my mom told me that John Wayne had died.
What began as an happy and exciting day of starting a new career, ended on a sad note.
The New York Times published at the time:
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Los Angeles, June 11 -- John Wayne, the veteran Hollywood actor, died today at 5:23 P.M., Pacific daylight time, at U.C.L.A. Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said. The cause of death was given as complications from cancer.
Mr. Wayne, 72 years old, had been hospitalized for treatment of cancer of the lower abdomen since May 2, when he was admitted for his second cancer operation of the year. His lower intestine was partly removed in the operation.
Mr. Wayne's second bout with cancer began earlier this year with what was officially described as a routine gall bladder operation. He had entered the Medical Center Jan. 10 and two days later his stomach was removed in a 9*- hour operation when a low-grade cancerous tumor was discovered.
'Duke,' an American Hero
by Richard Shephard
In more than 200 films made over 50 years, John Wayne saddled up to become the greatest figure of one of America's greatest native art forms, the western.
The movies he starred in rode the range from out-of-the-money sagebrush quickies to such classics as "Stagecoach" and "Red River." He won an Oscar as best actor for another western, "True Grit," in 1969. Yet some of the best films he made told stories far from the wilds of the West, such as "The Quiet Man" and "The Long Voyage Home."
In the last decades of his career, Mr. Wayne became something of an American folk figure, hero to some, villain to others, for his outspoken views. He was politically conservative and, although he scorned politics as a way of life for himself, he enthusiastically supported Richard M. Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Spiro T. Agnew, Ronald Reagan and others who, he felt, fought for his concept of Americanism and anti-Communism.
But it was for millions of moviegoers who saw him only on the big screen that John Wayne really existed. He had not created the western with its clear-cut conflict between good and bad, right and wrong, but it was impossible to mention the word "western" without thinking of "the Duke," as he was called.
Naturally, the local and national network news extensively covered Wayne's passing. There was even a television retrospective on the life and films of John Wayne later that night. Not too many movie stars are accorded such coverage these days. In fact, I can't think of any that did receive such coverage since Wayne.
Next year, it will be 40 years since Wayne's passing, yet he still remains popular. Two years ago, PR Newswire posted:
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Feb. 3, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The most popular film actor of the 20th century, John Wayne, is once again in the top five on The Harris Poll's annual list of "America's Favorite Movie Stars," this year landing the fourth spot. More than 38 years after his death, Wayne is the only late actor in the top 10 and has never fallen out in over two decades.
To read more, go here.