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Prostate Cancer in Pop Culture

During this time of pandemic, many of us are staying home to stay safe. And to pass the time while staying at home, it’s not uncommon to find me in a deep dive of Netflix movies or absorbed in an e-book from the library.

As I was watching the latest season of the popular Netflix show, Dead to Me, I noticed that a subplot was developing regarding a character with breast cancer. It occurred to me that breast cancer, as well as many other cancers, are often depicted and discussed on screen and in other formats. Yet prostate cancer – for reasons likely tied to hesitations to discuss the disease at all – shows up less frequently.

So I decided to do some digging and see what I could watch and read on prostate cancer while I’m spending my days at home. I thought I’d share my findings with you. Enjoy – and if you end up purchasing any of these titles, be sure to use Amazon Smile and choose ZERO as your charity of choice. (And if I missed any mentions of prostate cancer in popular media, please let me know! Email socialmedia@zerocancer.org so this post can be updated.)

Movies and TV

  • In the 1994 film, The Paper, Robert Duvall stars as a newspaper editor who gets diagnosed with prostate cancer (Available for purchase or rental on Amazon)
  • Prior to her Hunger Games stardom, Elizabeth Banks had a recurring guest role on Scrubs as a urologist (Scrubs is available for streaming on Amazon Prime)
  • The Golden Globe award-winning Netflix original series The Kominsky Method features Danny DeVito as a “chipper urologist”  according to the AARP (The Kominsky Method is available for streaming on Netflix)
  • Ted Danson starred as George in the HBO comedy series, Bored to Death. In that role, his character had prostate cancer. (Bored to Death is available to stream on HBO Go)
  • On NYPD Blue, the beloved character of Sergeant Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz) faced a serious battle with prostate cancer. Much to the relief of fans, in the show’s storyline, he survived! (NYPD Blue can be streamed on Hulu)
  • In episode two of the beloved  sitcom Northern Exposure, a local radio host named Anku tells the town’s new doctor that in terms of his medical condition, “Everything’s under control, it’s just a little prostate cancer.” (DVDs are available for purchase on Amazon)
  • In the classic film, My Girl, an eleven-year-old protagonist named Vada is a bit of a hypochondriac. According to an article from Entertainment Weekly,  she’s always scurrying off to the town doc to see if she’s got prostate cancer or a chicken bone stuck in her throat.” Watch a funny clip about this on YouTube, and stream it via YouTube Movies.
  • Judd Apatow had a breakout role in This Is 40, in which he plays a character having both a midlife crisis and a prostate exam. For other movies with prostate exam scenes, check out this list from IMDB. And remember — these scenes are often Hollywoodized and dramatized! A prostate exam may be momentarily uncomfortable, but offers potentially life-saving results. This Is 40 is available for rent on iTunes.
  • In Zoolander, the late Jerry Stiller plays the irreverent “Maury Ballstein,” who had such memorable lines as: “I’ve got a prostate the size of a honeydew and a head full of bad memories.” Click here to watch another funny clip of Stiller remarking about his prostate. (And in a bit of a real-life coincidence, his son and the star of Zoolander, Ben Stiller, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the last few years.) Stream Zoolander on Google Play.
  • In the 80s, Chevy Chase starred in several iconic film roles in the Fletch series. There’s an iconic film scene of Chase receiving a prostate exam — see for yourself! The series was based on a book of the same name. In another example of life working in mysterious ways, the author of the series, Gregory McDonald, died from prostate cancer in 2008. In another tragic twist of fate, the director of the Fletch movies, Michael Ritchie, also died from complications related to prostate cancer. Watch Fletch in their memory on YouTube Movies.
  • In the hit NBC sitcom Good Girls, a character played by Matthew Lillard lies about having prostate cancer in an attempt to win the sympathy of his estranged wife. Good Girls is available for streaming on Peacock.


    Literature and Theatre

  • Ed Asner starred in a one-man stage play called “A Man and His Prostate
  • In Exit Ghost, a novel by Philip Roth,  a protagonist by the name of Nathan Zuckerman faces prostate cancer. (Available for purchase on Amazon)
  • In The Lay of the Land , a four-part book series by Richard Ford, ends with a cliffhanger about prostate cancer. At the end of the series, the book closes with protagonist Frank Bascomb and his wife Sally flying to the Mayo Clinic so that Frank can begin treatment for his prostate cancer. (Available for purchase on Amazon)
  • In a 1975 western-themed read titled The Shootist protagonist and notorious gunman, J.B. Books learns he has prostate cancer. (Available for purchase on Amazon)
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