Actor’s Death Highlights Mesothelioma Risk in Australia


An Australian film actor best known in the U.S. for playing opposite Mel Gibson in Gallipoli has died ofmesothelioma.  Harold Hopkins died in a Sydney hospital where he was receiving hospice care.  He was 67 years old.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the thin tissue around internal organs.  It is often considered an occupational disease, since many people come into contact with the asbestos that causes it while working in various industrial settings.  Although actors are not typically thought to be at high risk for mesothelioma, Hopkins reportedly encountered asbestos long before his acting career began.  According to Australia’s Daily Telegraph, he was exposed to asbestos as early as the 1960’s while working his first job after high school as an apprentice carpenter in Queensland.

Mesothelioma is usually slow to develop, but fast to spread once it does. Patients often do not live more than 12 to 18 months after diagnosis. Hopkins’ family said that just days after his diagnosis he auditioned for a role in a new production of The Great Gatsby, which is set for release in May.

Hopkins was born on March 6, 1944 in Queensland and graduated from Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1967.  He appeared in 16 movies, including Age of Consent, Gallipoli, Don’s Party, The Club and The Year My Voice Broke.  He was also a popular television actor and appeared in more than 160 episodes of Australian TV series such as Barrier Reef, Homicide, The Godfathers, Twenty Good Years and Sarah Dane.

Hopkins’ death puts a face to a growing mesothelioma concern in Australia.  Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) reports that Australia and the UK have the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, largely because of the heavy use of asbestos in these countries. The NHMRC reports that there have been at least 4,700 mesothelioma deaths since records began in the 1980’s and more than 25,000 Australians are expected to die of mesothelioma over the next 40 years.

Several notable American actors have also died of mesothelioma, including Steve McQueen in 1979, Paul Gleason in 2006 and Merlin Olsen in 2010.  McQueen may have been exposed to asbestos while serving in the Marines.  Olsen and Gleason, like Hopkins, were both believed to have been exposed while working construction jobs as teenagers.


“Actor Harold Hopkins dies from asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma”, The Daily Telegraph, December 12, 2011.
Asbestos Related Diseases, Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council website.

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