John Wayne felt he was ‘on borrowed time’ after heartbreaking news from friend

Cahill U.S. Marshall official movie trailer from 1973

During the Sixties and Seventies, John Wayne was riddled with ill health. 

The hard-drinking, chain-smoking star had a cancerous lung removed back in 1964 and would secretly rely on an oxygen mask on movie sets, especially if at high altitudes.

By 1973, he was 65 and filming one of his last Westerns, Cahill US Marshall, but was suffering from emphysema on his single lung.

Being significantly weakened, Wayne was forced to use a stepladder to climb onto his horse in the movie.

As for riding shots from a distance, Duke’s Cahill had to be doubled by Chuck Roberson.

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Wayne was also coming to terms with being in the winter of his own days, having heard that his long-time collaborator, 79-year-old director John Ford, was dying of cancer.

The Hollywood duo had worked together on 22 movies over the course of their impressive filmmaking careers, from 1927’s Mother Machree to 1963’s Donovan’s Reef.

Ford was infamous for baiting Duke on his sets to get a better performance out of him, but the actor would always put up with it because he felt “Pappy” (as he nicknamed him) had made him a star by insisting on casting him in Stagecoach.

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Upon news of Ford’s death, 50 years ago on August 31 1973, Wayne told journalists: “I’m pretty much living on borrowed time.”

Duke would go on to make a couple of better-received Westerns in True Grit sequel Rooster Cogburn opposite Katherine Hepburn and The Shootist. The latter film saw him playing a terminally ill gunfighter, on a set that was almost shut down due to his ill health.

The Hollywood icon himself died of cancer just a couple of years later in 1979 aged 72.

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