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Written on 6th August 2021

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer which is typically caused after being exposed to asbestos. After inhaling asbestos fibres or dust the cancer begins to develop in the lining that covers the outer surfaces of some of the body’s organs, such as the lungs or abdomen. Symptoms can range but typically involve shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue. It can take up to 40 or 60 years after the initial exposure to asbestos for mesothelioma to develop and the life expectancy for those people who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma is approximately 12 months.

Whilst some treatments can help to combat mesothelioma, such as immunotherapy and chemotherapy, there is no known cure to date. Sadly this means many patients who are diagnosed with this form of cancer die as a result.

Whilst mesothelioma cannot be cured, it can be prevented. The use of asbestos in most industries was prohibited in the late 20th century due to how dangerous and lethal it could be if inhaled by those working with or around it. However, before the dangers of asbestos were known or protected against by employers, asbestos was prevalent in many areas including construction, manufacture and the Armed Forces. This meant that many of those working with asbestos before its prohibition developed mesothelioma later on in life. As cases began to rise and people became more aware of the dangers of asbestos, it became less commonly used. Part of the growing awareness surrounding the dangers of asbestos came as more celebrities and well-known personalities began to contract, and ultimately die of, mesothelioma. Many singers, actors and TV personalities worked in industries which used asbestos prior to the start of their careers and ultimately died from it.

1. Ed Lauter

With a 40-year-long acting career that started in 1970 and a guest spot on the TV show Mannix in 1971, Ed Lauter’s career spanned almost a half-century; playing in over 200 acting credits. Possibly best known for his portrayal of Captain Wilhelm Knauer in the 1974 version of The Longest Yard, as well as the 2005 remake, Lauter worked with everyone from Alfred Hitchcock and Burt Reynolds, to Jim Carrey and Liam Neeson.

Lauter was 74 when he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in May 2013 in the midst of a film project. He sadly died less than 6 months later – his exposure to asbestos, which likely lead to his mesothelioma, is unknown.

2. Paul Gleeson

Paul Gleeson made a career out of playing unlikeable characters, his most famous one being the teacher in “The Breakfast Club”. He played in over 145 movies and TV shows. His 50-year-long acting career included castings in Die Hard, Boiling Point and Miami Blues, he also appeared in Friends, Seinfeld and All my Children. Before his acting career, Gleason worked in construction at a job with his dad as a teenager in the 1950s. He worked on many building sites as a teenager and was exposed to asbestos dust whilst working there. Sadly he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2006 and his daughter reported that he died only a month after.

3. Merlin Olson

Actor, broadcaster, football player – Merlin Olson was one of the most famous figures in Los Angeles. He appeared in a record 14-straight NFL Pro Bowls representing the Los Angeles Rams for 15 years, he also appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows including Father Murphey and Little House on the Prairie. However, before his career took off, Olson worked in the construction industry in his teenage years. It was here that Olson claims to have been exposed to asbestos. He was unfortunately diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009 and died aged 69 in 2010. After his death his family settled a claim with several asbestos companies in America. The claim covered 10 asbestos companies which manufactured or used asbestos but details surrounding the companies and the settlement remain confidential.

4. Sean Sasser

Died in 1994 at the age of 44, just 2 months after being diagnosed – Sean also suffered from HIV and was a huge activist for LGBT and was a HIV educator. Sasser spoke at the first White House AIDS conference and was appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS by Present Bill Clinton. Sean was a reality TV star – appeared on “The Real World: San Fransisco”.  After being diagnosed with mesothelioma he lived only 6 weeks due to how aggressive his cancer was. Unfortunately his HIV made treatment very difficult and he died in 2013 aged 44.

5. Joe Sample

Famous musician died in 2014 at the age of 75 although it is not known how he contracted mesothelioma. Sample started playing the piano at 5 years old and went on to have an accomplished career as a pianist and composer. Joe founded the Crusaders; the bebop band that started when he was in high school and he pushed the boundaries of jazz music by combining it with distinct blues and soul sounds. He was born and lived in Houston for his entire life and worked alongside other popular artists such as Miles Davis, Eric Clapton and Steely Dan.

6. Steve McQueen

Legendary actor, Steve McQueen was exposed to asbestos as a young man in the construction industry before joining the Marines where he worked stripping asbestos off pipes on Naval ships. He then went on to race motorcycles where he wore flame-retardant driver suits. As part of his career he starred in The Great Escape, Bullitt, and Popillion before being diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1979. McQueen underwent a series of traditional and unconventional treatment options – he travelled to Mexico in search of alternative treatments but sadly died of a heart attack in 1980 soon after.

For more information about how the mesothelioma and asbestos disease claims team can help you or your loved ones after a diagnosis of an asbestos related disease, please contact the team by email on or by telephone on 0118 952 7199.