‘The Conqueror’: John Wayne and His Sons Allegedly Got Cancer From ‘Nuclear Fallout’ Movie Set

Actor John Wayne and two of his sons allegedly got cancer while on the set of his film The Conqueror. He died as a result of stomach cancer at the age of 72 on June 11, 1979. However, “nuclear fallout” on The Conqueror had a huge impact on the Wayne family, as well as other folks in the area.

John Wayne plays Temujin in ‘The Conqueror’

'The Conqueror' actor John Wayne holding a gun
John Wayne | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

The Conqueror follows Temujin (Wayne), who is a mighty Mongol warrior. He would later be called Genghis Khan. Temujin falls in love with Bortai (Susan Hayward), the daughter of the Tatar’s leader. He kidnaps her and as a result, brings war upon the lands. This story explores the adventure of Genghis Khan.

The critical reception of The Conqueror remains highly negative. The film earned $9 million on a $6 million budget, but critics and audiences continue to slam the movie. There aren’t enough critic scores to account for a final score on Rotten Tomatoes, but the adventure film is currently sitting at 11% with audiences. The film is a laughing stock, primarily due to Wayne’s casting.

John Wayne and his sons, Patrick and Michael, allegedly got cancer from ‘nuclear fallout’ on the set of ‘The Conqueror’

The Guardian explores the devastating story of Wayne on the set of The Conqueror. The film was shot in the Utah desert in 1954. The government detonated atomic bombs at their test site, but that location was more than 100 miles away. The officials said that their filming area would be “completely safe.”

Wayne had a Geiger counter, which is an instrument that has the ability to detect radiation. Images from the set display him holding the black metal box along with his two teenage sons, Patrick and Michael. However, the area certainly wasn’t safe, as the Geiger counter had indicated.

The box crackled so loudly, Wayne initially thought that it was broken. He moved it to another area of the desert along other rocks, where it continued to make the same sounds. However, Wayne simply went along with his duties on the set.

Hollywood remembers The Conqueror by this story, which allegedly killed Wayne, Hayward, director Dick Powell, among many others on the set. Wayne’s sons battled and survived their cancer scares.

The Conqueror went on to be called an “RKO Radioactive Picture.”

The ‘downwinders’ said ‘my government lied to me’

The Guardian interviewed Rebecca Barlow, a nurse practitioner at the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP) half a century later. She works in the surrounding area.

“More than 60% of this year’s patients are new,” Barlow said. “Mostly breast and thyroid, also some leukaemia, colon, lung.”

The fallout impacted tens of thousands of people, who are now called “downwinders.” Outspoken advocate Michelle Thomas openly spoke about how it affected the community.

“It’s gone into our DNA,” Thomas said. “I’ve lost count of the friends I’ve buried. I’m not patriotic. My government lied to me.”

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