Rita Hayworth's Tragedy: Her Alzheimer's Was Mistaken For Alcoholism For Two Decades

Date June 6, 2018

Who was Rita Hayworth? She was one of the top movie icons in the 1940s. During World War II, she was the favorite pin-up girl among American soldiers. She was also a loving mother of two. She was, at times, a troubled and emotionally unstable woman. But what is the most important part of her legacy? Probably, not her movies. Hayworth was one of the first celebrities whose diagnosis of Alzheimer’s became public, which helped shine light on the disease and spark the conversation about it.


READ ALSO: Ronald Reagan And 5 Other Famous People Who Had Alzheimer’s

Rita Hayworth's struggle with Alzheimer's

For many years, the actress struggled with alcoholism. Her partners, friends, colleagues, and family members thought her outbursts were related just to drinking. But in reality, this and other symptoms, such as Rita's inability to memorize her lines, were caused by early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In the 1960s, Hayworth started to have trouble remembering lines for her roles. She was frustrated and worried that her career could end, so she sought solace in the bottle. The actress was only in her forties, and her friends and colleagues wrote her worsening memory off as a result of alcoholism.


READ ALSO: Bill Gates Tells Why He Is Helping Fight Alzheimer's Disease

One particular episode was clearly caused by the disease, but no one understood it at the time. In 1976, the actress became agitated and had an outburst on a plane, so she had to be removed from her flight. Once again, Rita's odd behavior was attributed to drinking. But the real cause of her memory issues and strange conduct was finally found out when the actress was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia in 1979.

Rita’s daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan, put her singing career on hold to take care of her ill mother. In 1987, Rita Hayworth died from complications of the disease at the age of 68.


Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President at the time and Rita’s former colleague, released a statement:

Rita Hayworth was one of our country's most beloved stars. Glamorous and talented, she gave us many wonderful moments on stage and screen and delighted audiences from the time she was a young girl. In her later years, Rita became known for her struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Her courage and candor, and that of her family, were a great public service in bringing worldwide attention to a disease which we all hope will soon be cured. Nancy and I are saddened by Rita's death. She was a friend who we will miss. We extend our deep sympathy to her family.

Later, Reagan himself was diagnosed with the disease. He and Rita Hayworth are still the most famous Alzheimer’s patients whose condition helped spread awareness in the United States and beyond.

Source: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times,

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