Blythe Danner opens up about battle with same cancer that killed her husband


Blythe Danner says she feels “lucky to be alive” after revealing she is in remission from cancer.

Danner, 79, known for her roles in “Meet the Parents” and “Will & Grace,” shared in a recent People interview that she was diagnosed in 2018 with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of oral cancer. 

The Emmy-winning actor, who is Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother, said she was struck by the coincidence that her late husband, producer and director Bruce Paltrow, also had oral cancer before his death at age 58 in 2002. 

Bruce Paltrow, left, died in October 2002 at age 58. Above, the family in July of that year.Gregg DeGuire / WireImage

“Everyone is touched by cancer in some way, but it’s unusual for a couple to have the same cancer,” Danner told People.

She added that after her diagnosis, she “looked up at heaven and said to Bruce, ‘Are you lonely up there?’ … It’s a sneaky disease. But I’m fine and dandy now.”

Danner’s husband reportedly died from “complications from pneumonia and a recurrence of throat cancer,” according to his 2002 obituary in The Guardian. It is unclear whether he had the exact same kind of oral cancer as Danner. 

Adenoid cystic carcinoma often occurs in the salivary glands of the head and neck, but may also occur in the breast, uterus or elsewhere in the body, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center.

Danner said she kept her diagnosis secret “for a long time” from her children, Gwyneth Paltrow, 50, and director Jake Paltrow, 47.

“I wanted to forge ahead as a mother, and I didn’t want them to worry,” she said.

"I'll See You In My Dreams" Screening
Paltrow said her mother’s oral cancer diagnosis was “eerie” in the way it echoed her late father’s illness.Todd Williamson / Getty Images

Gwyneth Paltrow said she was “obviously very shocked” when she heard the news. 

“It was scary. And it felt really eerie because it was so similar (to my dad’s),” she said.

The Goop founder also marveled at her mother’s strength.

“She went through it with so much grace,” she said. “I was amazed at how strong she was able to be.”

Danner shared that despite undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries, she wasn’t “quaking in (her) boots” during treatment.

“I don’t have any fear of death at all,” she said.

Blythe Danner and Bruce Paltrow during The 13th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles.
Danner and Paltrow were married for more than three decades.Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

She also reflected on grieving her husband of 33 years.

​​”You never get over that kind of loss,” she said. “Bruce was the heart of our family. And life is so much paler without him around. But grief is the price we pay for love.”

After her husband’s death, Danner and her family worked with the Oral Cancer Foundation to establish the Bruce Paltrow Oral Cancer Fund, which focuses on offering free cancer screenings and other support to underserved populations in the U.S., including minorities and those with limited access to medical care.

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