Did 'Rejuvenation' Therapy Kill George Balanchine?

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This article was first published as Did "Rejuvenation" Therapy Kill George Balanchine?"in PR Watch, Volume 4, No. 3, 3rd Quarter 1997. It original article was authored by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

Choreographer George Balanchine is probably the most famous person in the United States who has died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (also known as Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease), the human equivalent of mad cow disease. In a retrospective written after Balanchine's death in 1983, one of his physicians speculates that he may have gotten the disease as a result of exposure to animal glands during "rejuvenation" treatments in Switzerland.

"Mr. Balanchine obviously had some kind of neurological disease, but a specific diagnosis could not be reached," recalls Robert D. Wickham, MD, senior attending urologist at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, in the book, I Remember Balanchine by Francis Mason. "It was not until an autopsy was done that the disease could be identified," Wickham says. "Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease is rare and the diagnosis is ordinarily made only by microscopic postmortem examination of tissues."

Regarding the cause of the disease, Wickham writes that "Mr. Balanchine was very much concerned about staying as youthful as possible. That preoccupation is common in many men as they age. He once told me that in the past he had obtained 'rejuvenation' injections in Switzerland. It is quite possible that he got Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease by way of these injections. Such injections have been available in European health spas and clinics for many years. They oftentimes contain extracts of animal glands such as testicular tissue. . . . If we were certain of how and where Mr. Balanchine got this rare and fatal disease, it would help prevent others from being inoculated with it."

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