Smiling and looking fit, Lucille Ball attended the American Cinema Awards with her second husband Gary Morton in January 1989. “Other than a few aches and pains, she was in fairly good health,” her close friend Lee Tannen, author of the book I Loved Lucy: My Friendship with Lucille Ball, revealed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “She’d had a stroke the year before, but it didn’t get her down. She was even exercising.”

The beloved star died four months later at age 77 from a ruptured aorta — a heart ailment that may have been exacerbated by the medication her doctors had prescribed. “As early as 1984, Lucille was using [an] inhalant to ease pains in her chest and heart,” forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Hunter revealed on an episode of Autopsy: The Last Hours of... He reasons that the drug she was taking, amyl nitrate, might have caused the walls of Lucy’s heart to weaken.

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It didn’t help that Lucy was also a known cigarette smoker and survived a crippling bout with rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager, which experts say can contribute to heart valve inflammation, heart disease and aneurysms.

Lucille Ball attends the International Radio and TV Society Gold Medal Awards
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Despite the series of medical conditions throughout her life, Lucy never allowed her ailments to break her spirit. “She was pretty private and didn’t like to talk about her health,” her friend explained, who believes the famed actress was a “good patient” — which comes to no surprise. “She always had a positive outlook.”

Though Lucy — who became America’s most popular comedian on her hit show I Love Lucyinsisted she wasn’t naturally funny, her friend attested that she spread joy until the last day of her life. “She was generous and loving and had a very kind sense of humor,” said Lee. And when it came to her friends, Lucy was one of the best ones around. “She was totally accepting of me,” gushed Lee. “It’s 30 years later, but there is still not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.”

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