Although they were never married, Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne had their own version of a love affair, keeping up a strong friendship throughout their careers.

In “The Quiet Man,” the on-screen chemistry between Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne was so strong it made the film an instant classic. They were just as passionate friends off-screen though it never strayed into an affair as some claimed.

It all ended in 1979 when Wayne, a heavy smoker, contracted lung cancer for the second time at age 71.

This time, there was no way he would “lick the Big C,” as he called it the first time.

Wayne appeared at the Oscars in April 1979 looking shockingly thin. They put so much makeup on him he complained he “didn’t want to look like he was embalmed just yet.”

Nine days after his Oscar appearance, he was rushed to UCLA Medical Center. All those years of heavy smoking had done what no outlaw could do, bring down John Wayne.

O’Hara, herself a serious cancer survivor, paid what became a farewell visit to her onscreen co-star. She was shocked by his skeletal appearance and broke into tears.

“Maureen why did you and I have such lousy luck,” asked Wayne, according to a 1983 memoir by his partner Patricia Stacy.

Wayne was referring to their battles with illnesses, their broken marriages, and the death of O'Hara's husband Charles Blair in a mysterious plane crash.

The atmosphere lightened as they chatted, Aubrey Malone wrote in her 2013 biography of O'Hara.

Malone, however, wrote how Wayne expressed that depressed about the fact that he would turn 72 soon.

"So what?" O'Hara said. "I'll be 58 in August. Mileage never hurt a Rolls Royce. We're a couple of Rolls Royces!"

O’Hara stayed three days with Wayne, every day “putting on a cheerful Irish act."

"At no time did she let on how seriously worried she was about him," according to Stacy.

When it was time to go, O’Hara put on her coat and turned to say goodbye.

“That’s a gorgeous coat, it looks beautiful on you,” were the last words O'Hara heard from the Duke.

John Wayne died on June 11, 1979, at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 72.

Thus ended one of the great screen partnerships in movie history.

After he died, O’Hara blamed his heavy cigarette habit for his death: “That’s what did him in if we knew then why we know now about cancer maybe we’d have done something about it.”

* Originally published in March 2019, updated in August 2023.