Paul Gleason’s iconic lines “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns” solidified him as the cantankerous antagonist in The Breakfast Club. While his role as the principal guarding rebellious 80s teens is his most famous, his death from pleural mesothelioma is less well known. Aside from being a casualty of asbestos exposure, Gleason was an actor with a full career on top of his dedicated family life and enthusiasm for sports.

Acting was not always his dream, though. Raised in New Jersey, the free-spirited Gleason ran away at the age of 16 and hitchhiked across the east coast playing baseball as he traveled. He settled down in Florida and attended Florida State University as a college football player.

After his time as a football player, Gleason joined the minor leagues in baseball and played two seasons professionally with the Cleveland Indians. Though he did not stay in professional sports, Gleason often participated in celebrity golf outings where he was known to meet with fans, conversing and signing autographs.

Gleason’s Acting Career and Mesothelioma Battle

Despite his reputation of friendliness to fans, many of his roles were that of the hard headed antagonist. He appeared in over 60 films. Some of the famous films and television shows you can find Gleason in include Trading Places, The Breakfast Club, Friends, Seinfeld and Die Hard.

paul gleason

In fact, it was during a standstill in his baseball career Gleason began to consider the idea of an acting career. This idea became reality when he was inspired to pursue his dream by his friend, and famous writer, Jack Kerouac. He developed his skills with Lee Strasberg, the acclaimed father of method acting. Gleason published a book of poetry shortly before his death, establishing yet another area of talent for the athlete and actor.

Sadly, Gleason met his untimely end at the age of 67 in May 2006.

Shannon Gleason-Grossman, his daughter, said of his death to mesothelioma;  “He was an athlete, an actor and a poet. He gave me and my sister a love that is beyond description that will be with us and keep us strong for the rest of our lives.”

He died abruptly in Burbank, California just three weeks after his pleural mesothelioma diagnosis. It is believed that Gleason was exposed to asbestos as a teenager working on building sites with his father.

Read more famous deaths from asbestos exposure and mesothelioma to learn about other actors, singers, and athletes who have suffered from mesothelioma.