Longtime entertainment columnist Army Archerd has died of the rare asbestos cancer mesothelioma.
Born Armand Archerd in 1922, Archerd was a columnist for the entertainment trade magazine Daily Variety, and broke a number of influential news stories about celebrities. He was well-respected among the Hollywood community for his meticulous fact-checking, and for verifying the accuracy of any tips that he received before publishing the story.
Archerd was the first one to report the story that actor Rock Hudson had been diagnosed with AIDS. The first time a major Hollywood celebrity or other public figure was disclosed as an AIDS victim, the announcement brought a new level of awareness of the disease.
Archerd was also the greeter and interviewer at the Academy Awards for more than 50 years. In that capacity, he chatted with actors, directors, and other members of the glitterati as they came down the red carpet on their way to the Oscar ceremony.
The columnist had previously worked in shipyards while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His wife, Selma, said that he had probably contracted the mesothelioma cancer as a result of this work.
Mesothelioma is almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure, and asbestos – often used for insulation because of its heat- and fire-resistant qualities – was frequently used on board ships and in shipyards. Asbestos was widely used between the 1930s and the 1970s, and was even mandated for use in shipbuilding by the Navy for a period. Public concern over the health hazards of asbestos prompted the government to enact restrictions on the use of asbestos, although it is not completely outlawed and is still present in older ships and structures.
When asbestos fibers become broken, they disintegrate into microscopic particles which can nevertheless do big damage. These fibers, once inhaled or ingested, can burrow into the soft tissues of the body, leading to various deadly diseases, including the rare cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma, which targets the lining of the lungs and chest cavity, can take up to 50 years to become symptomatic.
Archerd, who was 87, died at the UCLA Medical Center. His last column in Daily Variety ran in September 2005.