Jean Harlow Experienced An Unusual Symptom Related To The Condition That Killed Her

Hollywood icon Jean Harlow was something of an erotic enigma back in the day. Marilyn Monroe revered her for her sexuality and unapologetic attitude. At the time, such energy from a woman was considered gratuitous, uncouth, and promiscuous, but there was little in the way of apology when it came to Harlow's general attitude and outlook on life. That aside, she was considered one of the most prolific and talented actresses of her day and is remembered accordingly (via Village News).

"I like courage. I hope I have it. I want and I try to be honest. Perhaps I don't always succeed. But I try ... I am like that," Harlow once declared (per Bizarre Los Angeles). No doubt, she was the "live fast, die young" type. True to form, the "Blonde Bombshell," as she was often called, tragically died at the age of 26 when unforeseen illness took its fatal toll, according to Britannica.

Jean Harlow died of kidney failure

While filming Jack Conway's "Saratoga" (1937), Jean Harlow started experiencing bizarre complications that concerned the crew. Village News reports that the actress could hardly draw a breath, she was sweating profusely, and her skin had disturbingly turned a dismal grey color. Filming was put on hold and she was rushed to the hospital by members of the crew after a doctor advised immediate medical attention over the phone.

Sadly, by the time Harlow found out she was sick, it was too late. Uremic poisoning had reached an advanced stage when she was taken into the hospital, and on June 7, 1937, she died in a hospital bed (via Britannica). According to Cleveland Clinic, uremic poisoning occurs when one's blood becomes riddled with certain toxins. It's caused by the failure of the kidneys to filter urine properly, allowing dangerous toxins to enter the body.

Jean Harlow's breath smelled like urine

Before Harlow died, she exhibited an unusual symptom that popped up during the course of her illness. In between her first hospital admission and her death, she was allowed to return home, where her mother cared for her. Eight days later, things took a turn for the worse and she was rushed back to the hospital. When visited by her dear friend and fellow actor Clark Gable, he noticed something odd about her condition: Harlow's breath smelled like urine. Fresenius Kidney Care reports this phenomenon can occur when the kidneys fail to filter out a certain waste chemical in the urine called urea and it starts to build up in your bloodstream and lungs. This is often indicative of kidney failure/uremic poisoning, and sadly, such was the case with Jean Harlow (per Village News). 

There was also a significant conglomeration of ammonia sitting in her lungs that contributed to the urine smell. At first, doctors believed she was experiencing gall bladder disease, but they later discovered the real problem to be rooted in kidney failure. Unfortunately, by the time the diagnosis was made official, nothing could be done and Harlow died at the age of 26.