Walter Brennan died from emphysema which is ‘common’ for middle-aged Britons


The three-time Academy Award winner, Walter Brennan died at the age of 80 because of damaged air sacs within his lungs. Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine cautioned that emphysema (damaged air sacs in the lungs) “occurs very slowly over time”. Belonging to a group of lung diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema is mostly caused by smoking.

Other contributing factors can include air pollution, irritating fumes and dust, and a rare inherited condition called “early onset pulmonary emphysema”.

During the early stages of lung damage, Brennan is likely to have experienced:

  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sputum production
  • Wheezing.

Once emphysema develops, “there is no way to repair or regrow the damaged lung tissue”, the experts cautioned.

Anybody who is told they have emphysema are strongly advised to stop smoking immediately.

READ MORE: The rare ‘jelly belly’ condition that killed Audrey Hepburn

Resources to help stop smoking include:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

The NHS says COPD is a “common condition” that mainly affects middle-aged smokers.

“The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time,” the NHS warns.

Typically dismissed as a “smoker’s cough”, a persistent chesty cough with phlegm is a sign of COPD.



In fact, anybody over the age of 35 who has symptoms of COPD, who smoke – or used to smoke – should see their doctor.

Treatment includes not smoking, using inhalers and medication to make breathing easier, and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a specialised programme of exercise and education.

For a very small number of people, surgery or a lung transplant could be an option.

While treatment can be successful for some people, COPD can lead to “life-threatening problems” for others.

Nowadays the health ramifications for smoking are well-documented, but in 1894 – when Brennan was born – the habit was seen as glamorous.

Dying on September 21, 1974, the adverse complications due to smoking had only just been put into the spotlight.

Walter Brennan starred in At Gunpoint, which will show on Film4, on Wednesday, September 14 at 4.55pm.



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