Oscar Levant: Remembering the musical maestro – and the lead-up to his untimely death


“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity; I have erased this line,” quipped Oscar Levant. Ever so witty, the composer secured a regular spot on the panellist show Information, Please! However, his remark was tainted with truth. Following a heart attack in 1952, Oscar became depressed and addicted to painkillers. Aged 45 at the time, the heart attack had knocked him sideways, but instead of taking charge of his health, it deteriorated.

In the years leading up to his death, Oscar was frequently committed to mental health wards in the hospital.

The charity Mind emphasised how anybody experiencing a mental health crisis could benefit from a stay in hospital.

Potential advantages include access to a range of talking therapies, providing structure to your day, and getting a welcomed break from everyday stressors.

There can, however, be potential disadvantages, such as boredom, not having your own belongings near you, or loved ones, and not being able to always leave when you want to.

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Mind added: “If you think staying in hospital could help you, then you can ask your GP, psychiatrist or another health care professional to refer you.”

On the mental health ward, there will be a mixture of people who have voluntarily gone to hospital and people who have been detained under the Mental Health Act to help keep themselves or others safe.

While Oscar sought treatment for his mental health, he continued to sustain the habit of smoking cigarettes.

And, 20 years following his first heart attack, Oscar died from a more major heart attack at the age of 65.


His wife, June, discovered her husband’s dead body in their Beverly Hills home in California.

The year was 1972, and three of his children – Amanda, Marcia, and Lorna – lost their father.

Oscar was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

His work, however, lives on with songs such as Rhapsody in Blue and films including An American in Paris.

Heart attack causes

The NHS certified that the leading cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease is when the coronary arteries – that supply blood to the heart muscle – becomes clogged with deposits of cholesterol.

The risk of developing coronary heart disease is increased by:

  • Smoking
  • A high-fat diet
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Being overweight or obese.

A heart attack may also be caused by drug misuse, such as using cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines.

These illicit drugs can cause the coronary arteries to narrow, restricting blood supply and triggering a heart attack.

Without the supply of oxygen and nutrients, the heart muscle becomes damaged and begins to die.

“Without treatment, the heart muscles will experience irreversible damage,” the NHS added.

To lower your risk of heart attack it is imperative to be a non-smoker, to eat a healthy, varied and balanced diet, and to exercise regularly.


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