The Truth About King Tut's Health Problems

King Tut. The name captures the imagination. Just ask Steve Martin, who did a famous musical number about Tutankhamen for Saturday Night Live. Like a lot of history, though, the details often get lost in the translation ... until science steps in and gives the low-down, in this case, on the boy king.

Tut lived a less-than-idyllic existence. He took the throne about 3,000 years ago, according to Biography, at the ripe old age of nine — who wouldn't want to live in a country ruled by a nine-year-old boy? — and Tutankhamen, like Elizabeth I of England, was the last of his family's dynasty, in this case ruling Egypt. He was on the throne for less than a decade, and spent part of that time married to his half-sister. It could be argued that he was mostly unknown, and only became truly significant well after death, with the discovery of his nearly-intact tomb by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. According to National Geographic, Carter nearly missed it. But the find itself was magnificent: aside from all the gold, jewels, and statuary, as detailed by Der Spiegel, the discovery also ignited a minor obsession with all things Ancient Egyptian in the West, led to rumors about a curse, and eventually spurred on a whole raft of Mummy movies, including one good one with Brendan Fraser.

As for Tut himself, his life was less than a bowl of cherries, particularly in regard to his health.

CT scans tell a sorrowful tale

In the years since Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered, scientists have discovered many things about the boy king. It was only in 2010, though, that the Journal of the American Medical Association, as detailed by NPR, published results of CT scans on Tut and other mummies.

It seems the boy king started out life with a few strikes against him, including a cleft palate and a club foot (the left one). Bones in his toes were dying of some sort of degenerative disease, which might explain why, among the treasures of the tomb, were more than 100 canes and walking sticks. Tut's right leg had been badly broken at some point, and testing further concluded that he was suffering from "a raging case of malaria," according to Howard Markel, professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. The two conditions likely contributed to his early demise. History quotes Gayle Gibson, an Egyptologist who teaches at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, as explaining, "What we're looking at is a young man who was not in good health and had a pretty sad life in a lot of respects." Yes, despite that condo made of stone-a.