Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Family: Joepa Did Not Die of Broken Heart

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Family: Joepa Did Not Die of Broken Heart

Article excerpt

"I don't fish. I don't golf. I don't cut the lawn. I don't want to die. Football is my life."

Don't say we weren't warned: Joe Paterno repeatedly said he would die if he couldn't coach football.

As mourners gather in State College today for a memorial service for the legendary Penn State football coach, who succumbed to lung cancer Sunday, two months after being fired, many wonder if he really died of a broken heart.

Mr. Paterno, who was fired Nov. 10 in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving his former assistant Jerry Sandusky, was diagnosed with lung cancer just days afterward -- a particularly lethal, aggressive form of it.

On Twitter, Facebook and all over the Internet this week was speculation that Mr. Paterno had lost the will to live, citing University of Alabama's football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, who died of a heart attack 28 days after he retired ("Quit coaching, and I'd croak within a week," Bryant said.)

But Mr. Paterno's son Jay specifically rejected that idea, stressing Sunday that his father "didn't have a broken heart," and fought his illness to the end, adding that when he celebrated his 85th birthday on Dec. 21, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, "he was in a really good place."

While many experts on aging believe a traumatic event -- loss of a spouse or of an all-consuming job -- hastens death, the scientific evidence is less conclusive.

Several large studies have shown that people who retire at a young age die sooner than those who continue to work, which may be because they were ill to begin with. Still other studies link early death with a single traumatic event, mostly loss of a spouse -- although women are more affected than men.

"We don't know if this major crisis in Mr. Paterno's life precipitated a more rapid decline, but it certainly didn't help," said Sean Morrison, professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. …

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