Little information was released in the immediate aftermath of the death of rapper Heavy D (born Dwight Arrington Myers) in Los Angeles on Tuesday. One source confirmed to Vibe magazine that “respiratory issues” were the cause of death. In other news reports, pneumonia is mentioned.
If the county coroner investigation bears out these reports, Heavy D would become one more data point in what is a sad statistical category: According to the American Lung Association, 335,000 Americans die each year of lung disease, which is responsible for one in seven deaths in the U.S.
It may be a broad category — encompassing asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung cancer and many other health issues — but respiratory disease is not an equal-opportunity destroyer. Though it can afflict people of all ages, both genders and all incomes, it “affects a disproportionate share of minority populations — particularly African-Americans,” the University of Maryland Medical Center reports.
Factors contributing to poor health outcomes among African-Americans include “discrimination, cultural barriers, and lack of access to health care,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
If Heavy D’s death at 44 helps shine a light on the disparities in life expectancy within U.S. society, then in addition to his legacy as a musician and actor, he may have contributed to the wider understanding of a medical disparity that affects millions of Americans.