Notable Individuals & Celebrities With Marfan Syndrome
If you have Marfan syndrome or a related disorder, you are not alone. In fact, there are many prominent figures and famous people who are associated with Marfan syndrome. Some are diagnosed and talk about it; others have changed their lifestyle because of it; still others did not know they had it and suffered a fatal event that may have been avoided if only they were diagnosed and treated. Still others were evaluated for Marfan syndrome, but do not have the condition.
[Note: Do not rely on the newspaper articles linked here for medical information on Marfan syndrome. Please refer to medical information on the NMF website, which has been approved by the Foundation’s Professional Advisory Board, and talk to your doctor.]
Diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome
Vincent Schiavelli, the character actor who appeared in more than 150 television shows and movies, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fast Times at Ridgewood High, and Ghost, was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome as a child. He was a long-time honorary co-chair of the NMF and loved to work with the teens at the NMF Annual Conference. He served until his death in 2005 from cancer. Vincent talked about Marfan syndrome in this Chicago Tribune article from 2001.
Bradford Cox, lead singer of the band Deerhunter, and is also known as a solo artist under the name Atlas Sound. He has been featured in Rolling Stone, has Marfan syndrome and has spoken about it in interviews.
John Taverner, the British classical composer, was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome at the age of 46; his brother had been previously diagnosed. Taverner also has two daughters with Marfan syndrome. His family has been supportive of Marfan causes in the U.K. and he frequently talks about Marfan syndrome in media interviews, such as this 1999 article from The Guardian.
Died from Marfan Syndrome
Flo Hyman, the captain of the 1984 U.S. Olympic volleyball team, died as a result of an aortic dissection during a tournament in Japan in 1986. She did not know she had Marfan syndrome. However, following Flo’s death, her brother was found to have Marfan syndrome, too, and he benefited from aortic surgery before he experienced a tear or dissection. Read more in this 1986 article from Sports Illustrated.
Jonathan Larson, the Tony Award-winning playwright of the hit Broadway musical, RENT, died in 1996 of an aortic dissection believed to have been caused by Marfan syndrome before his show opened. He went to two New York City hospitals complaining of chest pain, but neither recognized the signs of a dissection or considered that he might have Marfan syndrome. He never knew about the condition, but his family has been a major supporter of the NMF’s Emergency Medicine Campaign for many years. Read more in this NY Times article.
Ronalda Pierce had just completed her freshman year at Florida State University, where she played on the basketball team. It is not clear if she knew she had Marfan syndrome, but news reports, such as this article from the St. Petersburg Times, indicate that school officials were not aware she had the condition. She died in her sleep in 2004 from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
Euell Gibbons, a natural food advocate and author who gained fame on television as the pitchman for Grape Nuts cereal, died in 1975 from a ruptured aortic aneurysm caused by Marfan syndrome. He was 65 years old.
Chris Patton was a basketball player at the University of Maryland in 1976 when he died from an aortic dissection caused by Marfan syndrome during a pick-up game. He did not know he had Marfan syndrome. His death is often cited in articles, such as this 2006 Baltimore Sun article, along with that of Flo Hyman, as reminders of the danger of the condition.
Does Not Have Marfan Syndrome
Michael Phelps is a U.S. Olympic swimmer, who already won 16 medals (14 gold, 2 bronze) and will be competing again in London this summer. He was evaluated for Marfan syndrome, but, according to his memoir, was not found to have the condition. Still, as FoxNews.com reported in 2008, he has inadvertently raised awareness for Marfan syndrome because of the attention and speculation about him possibly being affected.
Joey Ramone, late member of the punk rock group, The Ramones, died of 2001 from complications from lymphoma. Due to his tall, thin stature, many on the internet (mostly in wikis or blogs) have surmised that he had Marfan syndrome, but this is just speculation.
Suspected of Having Had Marfan Syndrome
Abraham Lincoln was suspected of having had Marfan syndrome due to his body type, which included many Marfan-like features. In 1991, a panel, which included a representative of the NMF, was convened to discuss conducting a test on Lincoln’s DNA, which had been saved since his death. The panel was covered by the New York Times. The debate has continued in recent years and there is still no conclusive evidence either way.
Other figures in history who are suspected of having had Marfan syndrome due to their physical appearance and historical references are Nicolo Paganini, the Italian violinist; Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Russian composer, conductor and pianist; Mary Queen of Scots; and Akhenaten, the father of King Tut.