John Wayne lived out his tough big-screen persona in real life, according to his The Sons of Katie Elder co-star Dean Martin. Duke continued doing his own stunts right after having a cancerous lung removed, which included almost catching pneumonia after being dragged through a river multiple times.
The star even had to rely on an oxygen mask on set, which he was photographed using, making the Hollywood legend explode in rage.Back in September 1964, John Wayne was set to re-team with Rio Bravo director Howard Hawks and co-star Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder, which is on ITV4 this weekend.
The Western saw four brothers, with Duke playing the eldest, return home to their mother’s funeral before avenging their father’s murder and winning back the family ranch. However, the shoot was delayed until January 1965 so that the Hollywood cowboy star could have a cancerous lung and two ribs removed.
Following Wayne’s diagnosis at 57-years-old, he recommended Kirk Douglas play his role, but director Henry Hathaway was insistent that Duke should do the part. Despite a successful operation, the Hollywood legend would suffer with ill health for the rest of his life.
Yet just four months after surgery, he still insisted on doing some of his own stunts on the new movie to show the public that he wasn’t slowing down.
One stunt included being dragged into a river and almost catching pneumonia, but narrowly getting away with a serious cold. In fact, if you watch that scene you can hear a child crying out “Come on Dad!” This was Wayne’s three-year-old son Ethan who was watching off-camera and knew his father wasn’t in the best of shape.