Years before she passed away after a long battle with lung cancer, Donna Summer blamed the cloud of dust from the 9/11 tragedy as the trigger for her illness. Now, seven years after her passing, a new documentary reveals the possible real reasons behind her death.
Known as the “Queen of Disco” for her enduring legacy in the dance music genre, Donna Summer earned a spot in music history with her infectious hit songs in the late ‘70s. The five-time Grammy Award winner passed away on May 17, 2012, aged 63.
Summer in a recording studio in September 1977. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images
Her death caught fans and colleagues by surprise. She spent her last months away from the spotlight, and her lung cancer diagnosis was never made public until after her passing. At the time, her family released a statement saying that Summer’s lung cancer was “not related to smoking.”
Close friends of the singer later revealed that Summer believed she had been another victim of the 9/11 events and that she developed cancer after inhaling the toxic dust-filled air that covered Manhattan for days after the destruction of the World Trade Centre.
Donna Summer at The Nobel Peace Price Concert 2009. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images
She had been living in New York, close to the twin towers, at the time of the tragedy, and she was so traumatized by the events that she confessed to People in 2008 she suffered severe depression for almost two years.
“I was really freaked out by the horrific experiences of that day,” said Summer.
“I couldn’t go out; I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I had to keep the blinds down and stay in my bedroom.”
The north face of Two World Trade Center after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175. | Photo: Wikimedia Common Images
Eventually, Summer got better with professional help and by relying on her Christian faith. “I went to church, and the light came back into my soul,” she said back then.
Lung cancer in non-smokers is not impossible. According to the American Cancer Society, the disease can also be caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, radon gas and other carcinogens, as well as air pollution.
Family history may also play a role, and pathologist Dr. Michael Hunter is focusing on Summer’s family history to explore the real cause of her lung cancer in a new episode of the series “Autopsy: The Last Hours Of...”
Donna Summer performs during the David Foster and Friends concert, October 2010. | Photo: GettyImages/Global Images of Ukraine
Hunter believes that despite what was said, smoking did play a role in Donna’s demise. Even though she quit the habit, the doctor says she smoked in the early days of her career, and then kept performing on smoke-filled venues.
Although there is no doubt that Donna was exposed to the smoke and ash from the cloud — which had asbestos, crushed cement, lead, copper, fiberglass, and other dangerous substances— Hunter does not believe “she could have been exposed to it long enough to suffer any long-term damage, as has been the case with firefighters and other first responders.
Fan memorial to Summer in the Castro District, San Francisco. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images
According to the World Trade Center Health Registry, the toxic cloud created by the collapse of the twin towers exposed an estimated 410,000 people to 400 tons of pulverized concrete, glass and asbestos, which causes mesothelioma, as well as poisonous gases and other dangerous substances.
On the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, last year, it was revealed that the total of those who died from 9/11-related diseases goes over the 2,000 marks. A total of 2,753 people were killed at ground zero.
“Autopsy: The Last Hours Of Donna Summer” is set to air on Reelz on February.
Summer was survived by her ex-husband and three daughters- Mimi, from her previous marriage to Austrian actor, Helmuth Sommer; and Brooklyn and Amanda with Bruce Sudano.
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