In 1926, famed silent-film actor Rudolph Valentino lapsed into a coma after battling acute appendicitis, an attack of which had felled him on Aug. 15, gastric ulcers and resulting peritonitis, which had required an immediate operation. The actor's health had seesawed back and forth over the following week, as doctors battled to suppress an inflammation in his left lung brought on by his weakened condition.
Rudolph Valentino SurvivesValentino's coma seemed to confirm the prognoses of the more pessimistic of his physicians, who expected him to die. However, a week later, in the early morning of August 31, he awoke.
A new story by Eric LippsValentino's convalescence took months, and the damage done to his lung altered his speech, giving it a rough, whispery, vaguely sinister tone. At first, that did not matter - but in the late twenties, with the coming of the "talkies," Valentino faced a crisis. His changed voice left him uncastable in the ladies'-man roles which had been his bread and butter, and for a while it seemed his career might be over.
His salvation came with the casting of the movie Frankenstein in 1931, in which he beat out the less-famous Lionel Atwood for the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. His altered voice, combined with the gauntness which he still retained from his near-fatal illness, made him a perfect choice to play the mad doctor, and in subsequent years he would play similar roles in many other films, as well as such minor characters as the pickpocket in 1943's Casablanca who distracted his victims with warnings of "vultures, vultures everywhere".
However, the former leading man grew increasingly unhappy with the roles assigned to him. His position was only made worse by the rise of Joseph McCarthy, for in the 1930s the star, like others in Hollywood during those Depression years, had briefly flirted with Communism. The Wisconsin senator called him to testify before Congress in March of 1953, and raked him over in front of the TV cameras not only for his political associations but also for several past sex scandals in which he had been involved. In 1955, having been quietly told he had become unemployable in Hollywood, he returned to his native Italy, where he died on March 8, 1962 at the age of 66.