Actor Lance Reddick, best known for playing police lieutenant Cedric Daniels on “The Wire,” succumbed to the No. 1 killer of adults in the United States: heart disease. Reddick, a Baltimore native, was found dead at his home in Studio City, California, on March 17.
Though the 60-year-old was initially thought to have died from natural causes, his recently released death certificate lists ischemic heart disease and atherosclerotic coronary artery disease as causes of death.
These two conditions are “basically the same thing,” said Roger Blumenthal, the Kenneth Jay Pollin Professor of Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in Reddick’s care. Both are caused by hardening of the large heart arteries from buildup of cholesterol and fats on the inner walls, also known as atherosclerosis, Blumenthal said.
When left untreated, this hardening and clogging of the arteries can result in partial or full blockage of blood flow to the heart, which in turn can result in a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Though it is not known if Reddick was aware he had heart disease or was having symptoms, he may have been one of the 40% of people for whom sudden death is the first sign of the disease, said Blumenthal.
If a person goes into cardiac arrest and does not receive prompt CPR and/or treatment with an automated external defibrillator or AED machine, chances of survival are quite low, Blumenthal said.
Some people do experience cardiac symptoms prior to a heart attack, including new chest pain or pressure or shortness of breath — any of which necessitate an immediate trip to the emergency department, Blumenthal said. People may also notice that normal exercise suddenly becomes more taxing when a heart attack is looming, he said.
Heart disease causes one in five deaths, and heart attacks occur every 40 seconds nationwide. Coronary artery disease — the most common type of heart disease, which Reddick had — afflicts 20 million adults and caused 383,000 deaths in 2020. Twenty percent of those deaths occurred in individuals younger than 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Black people are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than white people in the U.S. Their higher rates of fatality and severe illness from heart disease can be largely attributed to social and environmental characteristics with a disproportionate negative impact on communities of color, such as lack of access to preventive health care and scant availability of healthy food and neighborhood spaces for outdoor exercise.
Risk factors for coronary heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, illnesses with a strong link to lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise, Blumenthal said. These risk factors can also run in families, he said, so genetics must be considered in tandem with lifestyle modifications in order to minimize risk.
Coronary artery disease itself also has a strong genetic component, Blumenthal said. This means that even people who maintain a healthy diet and exercise religiously — as Reddick did, according to those who knew him — can still develop significant heart disease if it runs in their families, he said. And they may never know until it’s too late.
The sheer prevalence of heart disease and the extent to which it goes undetected underscore the need for consistent access to preventive care and testing, Blumenthal said, whether someone has a family history of heart disease or not.
Basic testing of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar should be obtained on a routine basis, he said, and people with heart disease in their family should be informed on the details as much as possible and be sure to share those with their provider. These patients may need more extensive blood or cardiac testing, Blumenthal said, and lifestyle changes may be more urgent for them.
This is especially true for people whose parent or sibling developed heart disease before age 60 if they were male or 65 if female, he said.
Reddick’s death is “a good wake-up call for all of us to realize that heart disease can have severe consequences,” even in the absence of obvious risk factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise and excess weight, Blumenthal said. Still, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, accessing preventive care, and using medications when needed for conditions such as high blood pressure can greatly lower one’s risk, he said.
Reddick’s breakthrough role was a doomed undercover detective immersed in the drug trade who becomes an addict himself in “Oz,” which preceded “The Wire” on HBO. The actor ran a Homeland Security unit in Fox’s science-fiction series “Fringe” that aired from 2008 to 2013, and played a deputy chief on Amazon Prime’s long-running police drama “Bosch.”
Reddick starred in the “John Wick” movie franchise as fixer Charon, and was nominated for a SAG Award in 2021 as part of the ensemble for Regina King’s film “One Night in Miami.”
Music was the actor’s first love. A musician, singer and songwriter, Reddick studied classical composition and earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, and later got a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale drama school. Reddick released an album, the jazzy “Contemplations and Remembrances,” in 2011.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Reddick graduated from the Friends School of Baltimore, a private Quaker school in Wyndhurst, in 1980. He also attended the preparatory department of the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University as a teenager.
Reddick is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and two children from his first marriage, Yvonne and Christopher.