- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Lena Horne - A Full Life WITHOUT Multiple Sclerosis
Lena Horne in 1995
As we contemplate the many achievements of the late Ms. Lena Horne and mourn her passing, those of us in the MS community may have felt particular admiration for her because of a report that she suffered from MS. One trusted website in particular continually listed her name among celebrities living with MS. There is enough doubt about this claim however, to now ask that her name be removed from this list if substantial proof is not provided by reliable sources.
Painstaking research has not yielded any significant proof that she was ever diagnosed with MS. An interview dating back to 2007 given by her daughter, made no mention of MS, although it did say she was suffering from a heart problems and enjoying her complete retirement. While she was a very private person, surely she was not the type who would hide her MS or not acknowledge it as she bravely lived with the disease.
What a find example she is for us all, as she lived to the grand age of 92, but since I have not been able to locate any other source that confirms she was diagnosed with MS, I think it is only right to update this information accordingly.
I know longer believe Lena Horne was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
It has been nearly impossible to find quotes from her or others close to her about her life with MS or her symptoms. Surely at least one other outside source would have confirmed this as fact by now, had it been more than a mistaken rumor. There are 3 autobiographies about her available and I have found nothing mentioned about a MS diagnosis.
I will reset my opinion back to my original position, if in the future firm evidence is supplied, but short of that, I stick to my current view that Lena Horne did not have Multiple Sclerosis.
Lena's Daughter - Gail Lumet Buckley
"The Hornes: An American Family"
The most personal account of Ms Horne's life probably was written by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, a journalist.
Gail’s books include “American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm”, “The Hornes: An American Family” and “Jubilee: The Emergence of African-American Culture”
"The Hornes: An American Family" chronicles the family history spanning six generations. The book is based on "voluminous papers kept by the Hornes since the mid-19th century", according to an Amazon review.
Little Known Facts About Lena Horne
The majority of coverage of Lena Horne's death centers around facts easily attainable and often repeated.
Therefore, here are some interesting things about Ms. Horne that will not get as much publicity, but still speak to the character and personality of this beloved entertainer.
The source of the majority of this information is found here, a Los Angeles Times Obituary., written by Dennis McLellan
"Horne, whose career spanned more than 60 years, died Sunday of heart failure at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley."
Sometimes thought of as aloof and a diva, perhaps her true view of herself can be seen by the following exchange that took place with a writer doing an interview. She was 80 years old by this time.
As a singer, she "belonged in the pantheon of great female artists" that includes Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, Heckman wrote in 1997.
Horne, then 80 and cutting a new album, took a different view.
"Oh, please," she told the writer. "I'm really not Miss Pretentious. I'm just a survivor. Just being myself."
After signing with MGM, she was "Hollywood's first black beauty, sex symbol, singing star," as Vogue magazine described her decades later.
"I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept," Horne once said and rued that she was more popular as a performer because she could "pass" for white.
Refusing to play maids or other stereotypical parts then offered to black actors, she had cameos only as a singer and was often clad in a sophisticated evening gown, shown singing while leaning against a pillar. It became her on-screen trademark.
"They didn't make me into a maid, but they didn't make me into anything else either," she wrote in "Lena," her 1965 autobiography. "I became a butterfly pinned to a column singing away in Movieland."
Horne's musical numbers usually were shot independently of the films' narratives, making them easy to be deleted later when screened in the Jim Crow South.
She was born Lena Mary Calhoun Horne on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her father was a gambler who left the family when she was 3, and her mother was an actress.
Although she sometimes went on the road with her mother, Horne was largely raised by her paternal grandparents. Her "steely suffragette grandmother" trained her not to tolerate racism and emphasized ladylike dignity and precise speech, James Gavin wrote.
Marrying But Not For Love
While under contract to MGM in the 1940s, Horne met Lennie Hayton, a staff composer and arranger at the studio who was white. Afraid of adverse public reaction, they married in Paris in 1947 but did not announce their union for almost three years. This was her second marriage.
Horne said she became involved with Hayton because she thought he could be useful to her career.
"He could get me into places no black manager could," she told the New York Times in 1981. But "because he was a nice man and because he was in my corner, I began to love him."
Reaction to Racism
Being married to a white man, whom she once said "taught me everything I know musically," took a toll for example she confessed to sometimes using her husband as a "whipping boy" and making him "pay for everything the whites had done to us."
While touring with the USO during World War II, she was expected to entertain the white soldiers before appearing before African American troops.
A day after performing for white soldiers in an Arkansas auditorium, she returned to entertain black troops in their mess hall. When she discovered that German prisoners of war were seated in front of black soldiers, she marched off the platform, turned her back on the POWs and sang to the black soldiers in the back of the hall.
As often occurs when we try to keep deeply held feelings suppressed inside of us, Lena Horne's long-suppressed anger over the treatment of blacks in white society erupted in 1960 when she overheard a drunk white man at the Luau restaurant in Beverly Hills use a racial epithet to refer to her.
Jumping up, she threw an ashtray, a table lamp and several glasses at him, cutting the man's forehead. As reported in the Los Angeles Times article.
In the early 1970s, three of her family members died — her father, her son from kidney disease and her husband from a heart attack.
She withdrew in grief until King (Alan King, the comedian) "bullied" her out of her depression, and she returned to singing and recording, Horne later said.
As Horne said in "Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice": "My life has been about surviving. Along the way I also became an artist. It's an interesting journey. One in which music became my refuge and then my salvation."
Besides her daughter, she is survived by five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Gail Lumet Being Supported at Mother's Funeral
Family Gathered Outside After Funeral of Lena Horne
See the AP article and 9 photos in its entirety
Yes, by reading these snippets, we can see Lena Horne's life was very stormy at times. Whether it was caused by racial prejudice and injustice or by experiencing personal tragedy and her own health concerns, Ms. Horne's daily challenges were many and of the chronic variety.
She wore it well and reminds us all that it is very possible to survive what life throws at us, and even thrive if we can keep the same fighting spirit.
Funeral and Burial Services
Jenny Lumet, Ms. Horne's grand-daughter described her grandmother as a person who could not be summed up, ever.
“There are people who do their thing, and they pick up the nation, and when they’re done doing their thing, we’re all in a different place,” Ms. Lumet said. “They move us along whether they know it or not.”
“Grandma,” she said, “was definitely one of those people.”
Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Abbey of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan Friday, May 14, 2010 to grieve her loss.
During the two-hour funeral, New York City Mayor David Dinkins and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, additionally delivered eulogies for a woman who was blacklisted in the 1950s for her activism.
Proclaimed to be "shy" and "private" onstage she would transform into "performance mode" and become the singer so familiar to her listeners.
To read the article in full, click this link, to cinema.com.
Ms. Horne was buried in a private burial, another article covering the occasion can be read here, which is the NY Times article link.
The Original "Stormy Weather"
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You may be surprised by reading this alphabetized list of famous people with MS, but no doubt it will also amaze you since their accomplishments are many and their determination is collectively strong.