John Wayne made a wide assortment of movies, including features across the Western and war genres. The actor wanted to continue the job he felt so passionate about, but his declining health ultimately made that increasingly difficult. Wayne’s daughter, Aissa, recalled that she could ‘barely watch’ one of his greatest movies that earned him an abundance of Oscar buzz – The Shootist.
Aissa’s John Wayne: My Father explores her perspective from his movies, as well as what it was like having one of America’s biggest movie stars as a father. She wrote about how her father admired his The Shootist co-stars, but he had a particular admiration for Ronnie Howard. However, she described the overall experience as a “gloomy” one for the actor.
Prior to filming my father contracted pneumonia, and was shorter of breath than I’d seen him in many years,” Aissa wrote. “Several mornings before he could start work, we had to lay him face down across a table, where a physical therapist pounded my father’s back to try and dislodge the fluid clogging his lung.”
Aissa described The Shootist as one of the “solid” movies from Wayne’s career. She thought that was the most compelling feature he made since True Grit. Additionally, Aissa felt that it was fitting for Wayne to finish making movies with a Western. However, she claimed in John Wayne: My Father that she could “barely watch” the film. Wayne died in a few previous movies, but usually for some sort of noble cause.
“In this film, he was dying of cancer, and that was extremely unnerving,” Aissa wrote. “If not quite a family curse, for us the spectre of cancer had never entirely faded. By the time of The Shootist, the disease had killed my Uncle Bob, and I’d lived ever since with the fear that cancer would come again for my dad. Though his cancer would not be diagnosed for two more years, when he made The Shootist I think my father had similar apprehensions.”
However, Aissa didn’t feel like her father was acting in The Shootist.
Wayne stopped making movies after The Shootist, which ultimately saw a downward spiral in the actor’s health from then onward. Aissa noted that her father’s voice was failing in 1978, which left the actor feeling incredibly frustrated. As a result, he wouldn’t be able to work, but he still tried to hide it over the course of interviews.
“When he finally saw a doctor, a defective valve was discovered inside his heart,” Aissa wrote. “Evidently due to all his violent coughing, he’d ripped a ‘string’ in his mitral valve, which controls the flow of blood between the left atrium and the left ventricle of the heart. The cardiologist said this was actually decent news: rather than a generally failing heart, my father had a single, isolated, correctible flaw. A successful operation, they said, could return his heart to full strength.”
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