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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

August 21, 2007 |  4:31 pm

The Mirror, June 13, 1956. Note: No 72-point headline on Jack O'Leary's hiccups.

Paul_coates Aug. 21, 1957

June 13, 1956, was a grim and heavy news day.

In New York, six children were killed in a cave-in. In San Diego, plans were revealed for production of a new "atom" plane. In Washington, D.C., the U.S. State Department crushed hopes of any meeting between John Foster Dulles and Chou En-Lai, premier and foreign minister of Communist China.

In Moab, Utah, a prospector -- found near death in the desert -- told of surviving his eight-day ordeal by eating raw lizards and cactus.

And again in the capital, the National Academy of Science gave first warning that waste from atomic industrial plants could contain more lethal matter than could be produced by an all-out atomic war.

But these weren't the headline stories in Los Angeles.

We had one of our own.

And it read, in bold and black 72-point type:


The date of June 13, 1956, was probably the only one in history when a case of hiccups was explosive enough to push politics and violent death and international tensions onto Page 2.

For the public, it was the end of a story that had held their interest for more than six years -- when Jack's hiccups gained their first inch of newspaper space.

For O'Leary, then 30, it ended an eight-year siege of a malady that had cut his weight from 138 to 72 pounds and shoved him face-to-face with death more times than he'd care to recall.

Jack's mother called it a miracle, accomplished by "prayer, only prayer, eight years of prayer."

Her comments were greedily absorbed into newsprint.

And every L.A. newspaper dug into its files to compile a history of O'Leary's fantastic illness.

They recounted that the young Irishman's hiccups started after an attack of appendicitis on June 15, 1948. They gave play-by-play accounts of:

  • His trips to specialists in Phoenix and the Northwest and the Midwest.
  • His diet, year by year (most of the time he subsisted on a small glass of apple juice a day).
  • The cures and prayers he received in more than 100,000 letters from nearly every country in the world. (One cure, suggested by some Boy Scouts, was that he shoot off his big toe.)

It was Jack O'Leary's day -- newswise and healthwise.

1957_0821_rambler But it didn't last.

Twenty-four hours later he was yesterday's news -- something you wrap garbage in.

He was forgotten by everyone but the bill collectors.

And that's his position today. I know because I talked to him.

He doesn't complain. He's still thankful to be alive. But he doesn't hold anything back, either.

He admits that his hiccups wiped out his mother's $10,000 bank account and put his family $5,000 in debt.

He's up to 82 pounds now, he says. He's strong enough to earn a living. He washes and polishes cars in the driveway behind his apartment at 4015 Edenhurst Ave. He makes about $35 a week.

The hiccups?

He says they're gone now. But in the last 14 months they began again twice. Once for three weeks. Once for six weeks.

He also contracted a skin disease that, he said, was 10 times worse than the hiccups.

Does he still get letters?

Occasionally, a stranger will write to find out how he's doing. This compares to the day when his hiccups were first publicized -- and as many as 7,000 letters poured in during a 24-hour period.

His diet? Toast and tea for breakfast. A vegetable and a little meat and tea for lunch. And the same for supper.

He's not putting on weight, and he still gets pains in his chest three or four times a day.

But he can still smile at the future.

"Someday, with luck, I'll have my own business."

He was a market manager when his hiccup siege started. But now he'd just as soon run a modest carwash establishment.

Jack O'Leary seems like a very nice individual. I'm glad I looked him up.