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Remembering a son of a gun who was the son of a pharmacist

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Next Thursday, 11 June 2009, is the 30th anniversary of the death of the American actor John Wayne, famed for his roles in Western movies.

Born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907, Wayne was the son of a pharmacist. His father Clyde developed a lung condition that required him to move his family from Iowa to the warmer climate of southern California.

He gave up pharmacy to try ranching in the Mojave Desert but the ranch failed and, in 1914, the family moved to Glendale, California, where Clyde went back to practising pharmacy. The young Marion helped his father by delivering medicines to his customers.

After breaking into Hollywood, Wayne went on to star in many movies set in the Wild West, including a particularly silly film called In old California, in which he played a two-fisted frontier pharmacist.

Sadly, pharmacy was also to feature strongly in Wayne’s final years, because of the ever-increasing range of medicines he needed for his health problems. Some aspects of his final days have been recorded by Janet Kinosian, a Los Angeles journalist who is herself the offspring of a pharmacist.

As a youngster in the 1970s Ms Kinosian often met Wayne while helping out in her father’s Newport Beach pharmacy, where the actor was a regular customer. In a Huffington Post article earlier this year (2009), she wrote: “At this point in his life John Wayne was a very sick man. He had lung cancer and by 1978 open heart surgery.

“Wayne’s list of about a dozen and a half medications was penned on a handy, small piece of paper taped by the electric prescription typewriter. It seemed to grow daily.”

John Wayne’s doctor had asked the pharmacy not to sell him any cigarettes, but he would approach the young Janet and say, “Take any candy bar you want for yourself, dear, and hand me a couple of packs of Marlboros.”

Inevitably, the deal would be scuppered: either his secretary would appear to frustrate the transaction or a pharmacy employee would grab the cigarettes, reminding Wayne that he was not supposed to smoke.

The last time Ms Kinosian saw the actor was a few weeks before his death. After a second operation for stomach cancer he was a shadow of his former self. “To see him was a physical shock,” she wrote.

“He stayed but a minute, said goodbye and, clearer than I can see anything, there he strode out the door against a backdrop of dark-pink evening clouds, legendary, unmistakable death all around him.”

That would make a poignant ending to a film of his life — “the Duke” striding off into the sunset, with his distinctive rolling gait, while the production credits scroll up across the screen.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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