Merlin Olsen, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman also known for his acting and broadcasting career, died at age 69 of mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of lung cancer. >
Olsen was a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” of the Los Angeles Rams, and was selected to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls, a tie with Bruce Matthews for the longest streak in league history. Olsen was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Towards the end of his football career, Olsen became involved in television, acting on the television shows “Little House on the Prairie” and “Father Murphy” and acting as a spokesman for FTD Group Inc.’s flower commercials. He was an avid commentator for college football – Olsen was the voice of college football’s Rose Bowl from 1980 until 1988.
Olsen was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009, and was undergoing chemotherapy at the time of his death. Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos that attacks the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen. Although rare, mesothelioma patients often have a grim prognosis.
Mesothelioma can take upwards of 30 to 40 years to manifest, which makes it difficult to ascertain when the initial exposure occur. The World Health Organization has identified asbestos as a dangerous carcinogen, in which there are no safe levels of exposure. Although activists and organizations such as Ban Asbestos are currently seeking a worldwide ban of asbestos in all capacities, asbestos is still used in construction in developing countries and may be found in quantities of less than 1 percent in certain products sold in the United States.
Olsen filed a mesothelioma lawsuit claiming he was exposed to asbestos at age 10 or 11 when he worked after school and during the summer holidays doing manual labor. He also stated he may have been exposed while working in the construction industry while in high school and college. Olsen’s lawsuit states the manufacturers didn’t warn workers about the potentially dangerous side effects of breathing asbestos fibers.
Due to the hazardous nature of the fibrous substance, a licensed contractor is required by law in the United States to remove asbestos. The often time-consuming process is necessary to prevent civilians from exposure. Because asbestos was a common construction fiber, many older buildings may be contaminated, unbeknownst to its occupants.
Olsen’s fame has brought the threat of mesothelioma into the media spotlight, as many individuals may be unknowingly exposed. Individuals should contact their local health department if they suspect asbestos contamination and should not try to remove it themselves.