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Lucille Ball Stricken, Has Heart Surgery

Times Staff Writer

Comedian Lucille Ball suffered a heart attack Tuesday and was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she underwent several hours of emergency open-heart surgery.

“She appears to have come through all right,” hospital spokesman Ron Wise said late Tuesday.

Her condition was described as stable and “guarded, but optimistic,” by Dr. Robert Kass, the surgeon who performed a lengthy procedure in which he replaced part of the aorta--the largest blood vessel in the body--and the aortic valve, using tissue from the body of a 27-year-old male donor.

Kass said “the next 24 hours would be crucial” for the comedian, who he said has a history of high blood pressure.

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He described the surgery as a “very high-risk procedure . . . but the fact that she came through it well makes us all optimistic.”

The surgeon said Ball would remain hospitalized for “at least two weeks.”

Ball’s husband, Gary Morton, who drove her to the hospital, told reporters his wife experienced “terrible pain” at their Beverly Hills home. “She’d been feeling just great until this morning,” he said.

The 77-year-old Ball, who with then-husband Desi Arnaz, gained worldwide fame during the 1950s as the zany, red-haired wife of the Cuban bandleader in television’s “I Love Lucy,” arrived at the hospital about noon.

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Wise said Ball was conscious and able to talk to doctors as she entered the hospital in a wheelchair but added that she was “very uncomfortable.”

Morton told reporters that Ball’s daughter, Lucie, was at the house when her mother was stricken. He said Ball’s son, Desi Arnaz Jr., was notified and both children were at the hospital.

Ball was taken to Cedars-Sinai twice last year, once in May for what Morton said had been a slight heart attack. He dismissed at that time reports that she had suffered a stroke.

“She didn’t have a stroke,” Morton told reporters after she returned home. “Right now she’s recovered from a very slight heart attack. She’s doing super. Sensational.”

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Cardiac tests at the time apparently failed to pinpoint the problem. By the end of May, Morton said, his wife was up and about the couple’s home on Ridgecrest Drive.

Four months earlier, Ball had undergone what her secretary said was minor throat surgery. Wise said then that doctors had removed a small cyst from her throat beside her thyroid gland. He said the operation was performed while she was in the hospital for her annual physical examination.

Ball appeared on television March 29 with comedian Bob Hope during the Academy Awards ceremony.

“Lucille Ball is one of the most wonderful women I’ve ever known,” Hope said Tuesday from his home in Toluca Lake. “I’m shocked, especially since we worked together so recently . . . and she was so full of energy. Like the rest of the world, Dolores and I are praying everything will be all right.”

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Ball was honored last month by the Beverly Hills City Council for her contributions to show business and to the city in which she has lived for 37 years.

The council proclaimed this “Lucille Ball Year.”

In February of last year, she was honored by Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club as its Theatricals’ Woman of the Year.

Ball, who was born in Jamestown, N.Y., Aug. 6, 1911, dropped out of school at 15 and attended the John Murray Anderson school of drama in New York City. She was briefly in the cast of a Ziegfeld Follies road show, then appeared in a few Broadway chorus lines.

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She became a model, then came to Hollywood in 1933.

With her hair bleached platinum blonde, she got her first screen work in the chorus of Samuel Goldwyn’s “Roman Scandals.”

She later dyed her hair red and became known as “Queen of the Bs.”

She met Arnaz in the 1940 musical “Too Many Girls,” in which she played the ingenue lead and he was cast as a Cuban football player. They married seven months later.

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Arnaz was on the road most of the time with his band and she was working in films. They salvaged their marriage with the “I Love Lucy” television show, which enabled them to operate their own production company and studio, Desilu.

After their tremendous success on television in the 1950s, the couple divorced in 1960. Arnaz eventually sold his share of Desilu to Ball for $3 million. She sold the company to Gulf & Western in 1967 for $18 million.

Ball married Morton, a stand-up comedian, in 1961. He became executive producer of her “Here’s Lucy” television show, which ran from 1968 to 1974.

In 1985, Ball portrayed a bag lady in the television movie “Stone Pillow.”

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She launched her “Life With Lucy” series in 1986, but it failed to last the season.

Arnaz died that same year.

Times staff writers John H. Lee and Terry Pristin contributed to this article.


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