Life-limiting conditions that took actress Barbara Stanwyck’s life

The future star was born as Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, in New York City. By the age of four, she lost her mother, who was killed when a drunk stranger pushed her off a moving streetcar. The New York Times also reported that the loss devastated Ruby’s father, a bricklayer, who then deserted all of his five children.

Never to see her mother or father again, Ruby boarded with family friends and left school at 13 to earn a living.

Moving from one low-paying job to another, she took up dance in her spare time.

At 15, Ruby stepped into the limelight as a chorus girl, first performing in speakeasies and soon advancing to Broadway.

Having won contracts with Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers, the rest, as people say, is history.

Donning the stage name Barbara Stanwyck, she featured in the likes of Double Indemnity (1944) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948).

One of her most famous roles was as the matriarch of the Barkleys in the western TV series The Big Valley (1965).

During her lengthy Hollywood career, Barbara was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Yet, her time came to an end in January 1990, when the actress died from heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) at the age of 82.

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The NHS explains: “COPD is the name for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties.”

COPD includes emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lungs) and chronic bronchitis (long-term inflammation of the airways).

Mainly affecting smokers, people tend to not realise they have it until breathing difficulties become more obvious.

Symptoms include increasing breathlessness when active, a persistent chesty cough with phlegm, frequent chest infections and persistent wheezing.

“Without treatment, the symptoms usually get progressively worse,” the NHS adds.

As soon as a person suspects COPD, it’s best to seek medical help as the lungs can become “significantly damaged”.

Treatment can include inhalers and medication to ease breathing, and current smokers are best to give up the toxic habit.

While damage to the lungs can not be reversed, becoming a non-smoker can help to prevent further damage.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) noted that a third of people with COPD also have heart failure.

Heart failure can lead to:

  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen ankles and legs
  • Feeling lightheaded and fainting.

“See your GP if you experience persistent or gradually worsening symptoms of heart failure,” the national health service advises.

Barbara Stanwyck starred in The Furies, which is showing on Wednesday, March 8 on Film4 at 1.20pm.

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