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Lena Horne - A Full Life WITHOUT Multiple Sclerosis

Updated on May 21, 2010

Lena Horne in 1995

Picture provided by Associated Press
Picture provided by Associated Press

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.

Tragedy Strikes

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

Picture courtesy of Associated Press
Picture courtesy of Associated Press

Family Gathered Outside After Funeral of Lena Horne

Courtesy of Associate Press
Courtesy of Associate Press

Stormy Weathers

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

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"

Please Note I Have Corrected This Article And Apologize for its Inaccuracies- Lena Horne Did Not Have MS

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    • profile image

      soldering station 

      7 years ago

      I thought this article very good, If not this article. I do not know where to find information. Thank you very much. I will always follow your articles.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      My pleasure Mickey. My respect for her is still the same even if she doesn't have MS. ;-)

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Thank you Jen! I love Lena!

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Hi 2besure, I am glad you enjoyed the article but evidently the reason Multiple Sclerosis was not associated with Lena Horne, is because she never had MS. I have contacted the site that incorrectly lists her as a MS sufferer and expect the correction will be made. Meanwhile with or without MS, we all agree she was an incredible person. :-)

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 

      8 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I had no idea Ms. Horne ever suffered from MS. I am encouraged by your strength and love your hubs.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Julie M, thank you for returning and sharing your views with me about the inaccuracy of Lena Horne's diagnosis. Since her passing, I have been trying to verify from other sources that she did have MS. Since I have been unsuccessful in my attempts, I think it only right to express my misgivings about this belief and follow up by requesting that the website that published her name check out the claim thoroughly, and remove her name from its list, if it cannot be substantiated.

    • profile image

      Julie M 

      8 years ago

      I should say that the official cause of death confirmed by her family is heart failure. A member of my Lena Yahoo group thinks she was at the NY Presbyterian hospital for other treatment and went into cardiac arrest. She probably had a DNR, they let her go because she didn't want to be "kept alive" by extraordinary means. The hospital is a long way from her apartment - if she just had a heart attack they would have taken her to one closer.

    • profile image

      Julie M 

      8 years ago

      Being "LISTED" does not make it true. Lena talked all about her heart condition, her poor eyesight and her arthritis (not being able to walk) in her later years, why no MS? Because she didn't have it.

      Point out ONE QUOTE or one legitimate news source that confirms MS. There isn't any. Even her biographer says that MS was an internet rumor.

      There's nothing wrong with having MS, but don't place a person on a list because of an unfounded rumor.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Hi Julie M. I am aware of Lola Falana, if you click on the link box above you will see my source was not based on that mistaken blog, they are both listed as having MS along with a host of other celebrities.

      Of course I am still looking for evidence which confirms or disproves her MS status. If you have something specific please don't hesitate to let me know.

      The official cause of death has not been released as of yet, but I will keep researching to make sure this article is as accurate as possible.

    • profile image

      Julie M 

      8 years ago

      LENA DID NOT HAVE Multiple Sclerosis. Someone confused Lena with MS sufferer LOLA FALANA. This should be corrected!

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Thank you for your heartfelt comment, rakeitha. Ms. Horne is not the only person to use Vaseline in such a way. Seems although it is very thick, it is actually a great moisturizer for the skin. I am glad you got to meet her in person, what a memorable experience!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What an awesome contribute to a great person. Thank you for sharing this information on one of my favorite singers, Lena Horne. She was such a private person, we didn't know too much about her. I did meet her at Morehouse College one year. She was as beautiful in person as she was on the screen. She was asked how she kept such beautiful skin and she said she's used nothing but "Vaseline" on her face all her life. She was such an encouragement and a role model to most of us because, she was a strong willed and independent person who weathered the storm well. She will be truly missed and it was such a blessing to have lived to be 92 and still looked GREAT. RIP

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      You are welcome dr5000,thank you for your comment.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Lena Horne so good.

      Thank you for good topic.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Thank you for sharing your look beyond the surface, mailxpress.

    • mailxpress profile image

      Michelle Cesare 

      8 years ago from New York

      What a beautiful tribute to such a natural talent. Excellent Hub. I feel many people misread Lena Horne's grace and class to be pretentious and stuck up. I personally always felt she was a modest person who lived life being true to herself.


    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      GarnetBird and successhomebiz, thank you both very much for your comments, glad you found this interesting.

    • successhomebiz profile image


      8 years ago from Rocky Mountains, Colorado

      She will be dearly missed. I loved her and greatly respected her but did not about MS. Your story is revealing and a real tribute. Thank you.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 

      8 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Lovely Hub about an exotic, lovely person!

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Thanks ethel, I am still hoping to find out when she was diagnosed. Quite a challenge thus far.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Interesting Jen. I did not know that she had MS. She was a wonderful performer

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Thanks mquee, glad you enjoyed it.

    • mquee profile image


      8 years ago from Columbia, SC

      This is a very interesting narrative on Lena Horne. I have watched many of her old black and white movies, but really never knew anything else about her life. Very well done.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Thanks so much Paradise, glad you found this a fitting tribute.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Terrific hub! I'm a big fan of Lena Horne from way, way back. She had the greatest voice in the world. Ever. Thanks for a wonderful tribute to a wonderful woman, and a great singer.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      That is so true ocbill, I want to have her longevity and I'm glad your aunt is doing well. Even more reason to feel positively.

    • ocbill profile image


      8 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      It's always nice to hear someone who beat the odds. My aunt has MS and is doing OK too.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      Good Morning DeBorrah, Bk, and Sandyspider!

      I'm glad you all enjoyed this mini-bio. Her life was so long and full it wasn't too difficult to try to pick highlights of her life that might not be covered in the typical obits.

      Wow BK, you are a most intriguing person. I am always being surprised by glimpses into your life! Thanks for sharing your memories of Ms. Horne with us all.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Loverly tribute to a beautiful and talented woman.

    • BkCreative profile image


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      A super tough lady! I remember many stories about Lena Horne fighting back both verbally and physically. She was not one to be pushed around.

      I did not know about MS. Even with MS she still fought on for human rights - well she has truly raised the bar.

      I'm happy to say she is from my part of town here in Brooklyn - and we are both June Cancers. She was the standard for many of us growing up, myself included, and we were happy to be compared to her - not just because she was beautiful but because she was a fighter - my kind of real woman.

      Her one woman show here in NYC left us speechless in the audience. It was a collective gasp when she walked on stage. And we were enthralled every moment. She was bigger than her legend.

      Thanks for such a lovely tribute. Rated up of course!

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 

      8 years ago

      Jen's Solitude, Great mini bio on Ms. Lena Horne. She was a beautiful, enchanchanting, intellligent and exceptionally talented woman of Color!

      I hope you are encouraged with her longevity. She accomplished much and perserved onward with MS!

      Thank you for sharing. In His love, Peace & Blessings!


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