Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and a recurring impression that he was smelling burned rubber. Doctors discovered he had developed a type of cystic malignant brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiforme. Although some tried to trace his disease to a blow on the head from a golf-ball, the cause of this type of cancer is still unknown. This type of cancer occurs most often in males, accounts for 52% of all brain cancers, and is always fatal. Scientists have recently discovered viral connections to this type of tumor.
In January 1937, Gershwin performed in a special concert of his music with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the direction of French maestro Pierre Monteux. It was in Hollywood, while working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies, that he collapsed. He died on July 11, 1937 at the age of 38 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital following surgery for the tumor. A memorial concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl on 8 September, at which Otto Klemperer conducted his own orchestration of the second of Gershwin's Three Piano Preludes.
Gershwin received his sole Oscar nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 1937 Oscars, for "They Can't Take That Away from Me" written with his brother Ira for the 1937 film Shall We Dance. The nomination was posthumous; Gershwin died two months after the film's release.
Gershwin had a 10-year affair with composer Kay Swift and frequently consulted her about his music. Oh, Kay was named for her. After Gershwin died, Swift arranged some of his music, transcribed some of his recordings, and collaborated with his brother Ira on several projects. Gershwin also had an affair with actress Paulette Goddard.
George Gershwin's mausoleum in Westchester Hills Cemetery
Gershwin died intestate. All his property passed to his mother. He is buried in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. The Gershwin estate continues to collect significant royalties from licensing the copyrights on Gershwin's work. The estate supported the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act because its 1923 cutoff date was shortly before Gershwin had begun to create his most popular works. The copyrights on those works expired at the end of 2007 in the European Union. They will expire between 2019 and 2027 in the United States.
According to Fred Astaire's letters to Adele Astaire, Gershwin whispered Astaire's name before passing away.
In 2005, The Guardian determined using "estimates of earnings accrued in a composer's lifetime" that George Gershwin was the richest composer of all time.