John Hoyt was a versatile and prolific actor who appeared in numerous films, television shows, and Broadway plays. He is perhaps best known for his roles in the films The Lawless, When Worlds Collide, Julius Caesar, Blackboard Jungle, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Flesh Gordon. He also played Dr. Philip Boyce in the original pilot episode of Star Trek. But what was John Hoyt’s cause of death, and how did it relate to his involvement in one of the most controversial film productions in history?
The Conqueror: A Film with a Deadly Legacy
In 1954, John Hoyt was cast in the epic film The Conqueror, produced by Howard Hughes and directed by Dick Powell. The film starred John Wayne as the Mongol leader Genghis Khan, and Susan Hayward as his love interest. Hoyt played the role of Shaman, a wise and loyal adviser to Khan.
The film was shot on location in St. George, Utah, a small town near the Nevada border. The problem was that the area was also close to the Nevada National Security Site, where the US government conducted above-ground nuclear tests from 1951 to 1963. During the filming of The Conqueror, several nuclear blasts occurred, sending radioactive fallout over the region. The cast and crew were exposed to high levels of radiation, as well as the local residents, animals, and vegetation.
The film was a critical and commercial failure, and is widely considered one of the worst films ever made. But the real tragedy was the health consequences for the people involved. According to the website Atomic Heritage, nearly 150 million curies of radioactive material was released through the atmospheric tests conducted from 1951 to 1962. This amount of radiation equates to about twenty times the amount of radiation released during the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
The Downwinders: A Community Affected by Radiation
The people who lived downwind of the nuclear test site were known as the downwinders. They suffered from various illnesses and cancers, many of which were fatal. The government did not inform them of the risks, nor did they advise them to avoid consuming local food and water that were contaminated by the isotopes strontium 90 and cesium 137.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the downwinders received an average radiation dose of 13 millirems per year, which is equivalent to about four chest X-rays. However, some individuals received much higher doses, depending on their location, age, and diet. The NCI estimated that the radiation exposure caused between 18,000 and 75,000 cases of thyroid cancer among the downwinders.
The downwinders were not compensated for their health problems until 1990, when the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed by Congress. The act provided payments of $50,000 to individuals who developed certain cancers or other diseases as a result of the nuclear tests. However, many downwinders were excluded from the act, either because they did not meet the eligibility criteria, or because they died before they could file a claim.
John Hoyt’s Battle with Lung Cancer
John Hoyt was one of the many victims of the radiation exposure from the nuclear tests. He developed lung cancer, which eventually claimed his life on September 15, 1991. He was 85 years old. He was survived by his second wife, Dorothy, and his son, Christopher.
John Hoyt’s cause of death was not unique among the cast and crew of The Conqueror. Out of the 220 people who worked on the film, 91 of them developed some form of cancer, and 46 of them died from it. This includes the stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and Pedro Armendáriz, as well as the director Dick Powell. The producer Howard Hughes, who also handled the radioactive film footage in his private studio, died of kidney failure, which may have been caused by radiation exposure.
John Hoyt was a talented and respected actor, who left behind a legacy of memorable performances. He was also a victim of a tragic and avoidable environmental disaster, that affected thousands of people. His cause of death serves as a reminder of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and the need for accountability and justice for the downwinders.