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Like many, I assumed it was a result of heavy drinking after the lifting of prohibition – as many ended up suffering from in later life, including Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth and Veronica Lake. (It hit women harder because the female body absorbs alcohol much fastyer than men.
In 1990, her medical records were unsealed, and it was found she had actually died of cerebral edema (brain swelling) as a result of renal (kidney) failure. It was discovered that she survived scarlet fever as a child, leaving her with a post-streptococcal bacterial condition with a compromised immune system and weakened kidneys. There was no dialysis or antibiotics in those days and death by renal failure was an agonizing death as the body slowly poisoned itself. That being the case, there’s little evidence that alcohol would have made much difference had she known about her renal condition and avoided it.