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Delicate and Sickly
aka: Ill Girl

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This trope is under discussion in the Trope Repair Shop.

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Gives new meaning to the phrase "sickeningly cute".

"When they met she was fifteen
Like a black rose blooming wild
And she already knew she was gonna die."
— Love You To Death, by Kamelot
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A character who is delicate and sickly is almost inevitably a sympathetically cute girl.note  The disease can be anything from non-terminal but debilitating conditions like anemia to invariably-fatal issues like organ failure. Smart writers avoid such specifics, making it a Soap Opera Disease. It will never disfigure or impair her cuteness.

If the condition is terminal, a common cliche is that the dying character is trying to hold on until some distant, significant day has arrived. For example, she might be lying sick in autumn, noticing leaves falling off a tree by the window, and hoping she will live long enough to see the last one fall. You can see this one subverted in the O. Henry story "The Last Leaf."

This character type is probably indirectly descended from the Western romantic "consumptive heroine" (The classic 19th-century example would be the heroine of La dame aux camélias, source material for La Traviata and Camille (1936), while Nicole Kidman's "Satine" in the film Moulin Rouge! is a contemporary example). She may suffer from what Roger Ebert called Ali McGraw's Disease (after Love Story): "Movie illness in which only symptom is that the sufferer grows more beautiful as death approaches."

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Becoming this character is a common side-effect of Victorian Novel Disease. Only occasionally related to Definitely Just a Cold. See also Littlest Cancer Patient, Bandage Babe, Too Good for This Sinful Earth, Incurable Cough of Death, Utsuge, Soap Opera Disease, and Marked to Die. Sickly Child Grew Up Strong occurs when a heroic or powerful character is shown to have been this in their youth. They may be seen with an Illness Blanket.

For the equestrian equivalent, see The Alleged Steed.


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    Music 
  • Hospice is a Concept Album by The Antlers that tells of the relationship between a hospital worker and a cancer patient, with the last three songs surrounding the narrator trying to deal with the patient's death.

    Podcasts 
  • The Last Podcast on the Left: In their series on Grigori Rasputin, one of the factors that allowed Rasputin to gain the power he did was that Tsar Nicholas II's son Alexei was a hemophiliac, a condition only Rasputin could reliably alleviate and which the Romanovs kept very secret, lest it be known that Nicholas's heir be a weak, sickly child. Henry Zebrowski presents Alexei as a child constantly on his deathbed, explicitly comparing it to Colin Craven of The Secret Garden.
    Henry: ...and then you're cutting over to Alexei, and that sweet little boy looks like the kid from The Secret Garden and he's like (as Alexei) "Daddy, do you think that one day I can sprout wings like a bird and fly to Heaven?" and they're like "Aw, fuck... he's gonna have to be Emperor one day..." and he's just like draped in blankets 'cause he's constantly shivering from how thin his blood is.

    Poetry 
  • The titular rat in the poem story Beishang has rather vague terminal illness, the which is characterized by her persistent hacking of blood, and she later dies before she and her father could make amends , However, the poem isn't too clear as to what brought on her illness and seems to imply that she wasn't well before her illness started to take her life and that her despair worsened it or, rather, her sudden terminal illness was caused by her despair.
  • The "last leaf" cliche dates back at least to the first decade of the 19th century, when Charles Hubert Millevoye wrote his highly popular poem "La chute des feuilles" ("The Falling of the Leaves"), in which a sick young man wanders mournfully in the woods musing on his upcoming death. "La dernière feuille qui tombe/A signalé son dernier jour" ("The last leaf to fall/Signaled his last day").
  • Similarly, we have this in What He Couldn't Save, the girl's father fights desperately find a cure for his sick daughter, his relationship with whom was strained. When her illness hits terminal, she falls comatose and she later dies, leaving her father unable to make it up to her and haunted by her death.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Jushin Thunder Liger had to tone down his high flying style due to brain surgery. He also cannot hear in one ear for the same reason.
  • While working for Maryland Championship Wrestling, Stevie Richards contracted a lung infection that eventually caused its collapse.
  • April Hunter was born with pneumonia and later found out she had "chronic lung disease" when competing in an Iron woman contest lead to her needing an emergency inhaler.
  • Montel Vontavious Porter has a heart condition that causes it to beat abnormally fast, which has at times caused him to be removed from cards or have his role reduced, such as on an episode of WWE's Smackdown where he was supposed to get beat up by Evander Hollifield but ended up just getting a jab with Matt Hardy taking most of the beating.
  • Bobby Lashley's career has been plagued by mono, though he's done pretty well in both professional wrestling and mixed martial arts despite it.
  • While reigning as the first Northern Championship Wrestling Femme Fatales International Champion, LuFisto lost weight, seemingly had a stroke and then was revealed to have a hole in her heart. An operation allowed it to close back up.
  • Roman Reigns had been diagnosed with leukemia twice. The first time was in 2007, which derailed a potential football career. When the leukemia went into remission, he became a professional wrestler. Eventually, though, it recurred in 2018, which resulted in him relinquishing the WWE Universal Championship and going on indefinite haitus. Until it went into remission again and he returned a few months later.

    Radio 
  • Bleak Expectations: Parodied with Flora Diesearly, who a short while into her marriage to Pip Bin suddenly comes down with a mysterious rash of fainting, which Pip's doctor proclaims is a sign of the dread Nonspecific Weakness. Despite Pip's efforts, Flora Diesearly dies (though it is suggested that this is more from the medicine Pip bought, rather than the illness itself).

    Toys 
  • It's never explained what her illness is, but Sine from Little Apple Dolls died of some sort of illness. She is shown healthy as a young child but a few years later is wheelchair bound. She's described as getting weaker and weaker until she can't visit her favorite orchard anymore, and later she dies.
  • Meet Suzy Puppy, an educational toy made to teach people about the dangers of puppy farms and how to buy a puppy safely. Suzy comes with conjunctivitis, diarrhoea, fleas, worms, and worst of all, parvovirus (likely the cause of the diarrhoea).

    Theatre 
  • The illness of Eva Peron is glamorized in the musical Evita. She's made to look beautiful and fragile. Photos of the real Eva Peron from this period show that her beauty was quickly fading. Real death is seldom pretty.
  • I and You: Discussed and Defied. Caroline purposefully cultivates a hostile, sardonic demeanor to stop people from treating her as a helpless waif rather than a regular teenage girl due to her severe illness. While she does have a hidden softer side, she never never loses her bite.
  • Mimi in every version of La Bohème. And, yes, despite dying of consumption she's still "beautiful as the dawn" on death's door.
  • Little Eyolf by Henrik Ibsen has the title character Eyolf, an eight year old boy, who is crippled and hardly gets to play with the other boys. He dies, of course, by drowning.
  • Little Shop of Horrors: Audrey is never diagnosed with anything, but she "is not a healthy girl" and, thanks to being regularly beaten senseless by her boyfriend, has "a black eye...and several other medical problems." Just when it looks like she's getting better, she's mortally wounded by a giant plant.
  • Fosca from the Stephen Sondheim musical Passion suffers from a conveniently vague illness that waxes and wanes according to her mood, but does nothing to make her more attractive; in a notable subversion of the "consumptive heroine" version of the trope, she's ugly, demanding, self-pitying, and doesn't inspire protectiveness in those around her so much as exasperation and mild disgust.
  • In a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, Ilse from the revival of Spring Awakening is implied to be ill when she takes off her wig and reveals her bald head. At the time of the Los Angeles production, her actress Krysta Rodriguez was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer.

    Web Original 
  • Everyone in Bay 12 Katawa Shoujo Roleplay and the sequel Katawa Shoujo Gaiden.
  • The Buildingverse (Roommates, Girls Next Door etc.) has several more-or-less-seriously ill-people who play on this trope (but the illnes won't be fatal as the Nobody Can Die rule is in effect): Mag (She is permanently blind); Satine (Has Victorian Novel Disease); Jareth (when he caught the magical cold and became insufferably cute too... though he got better; later he also got mortally wounded by a Weapon of X-Slaying).
  • Iriana Estchell fits the typical characteristics, but she's not EXACTLY sick. However, she only has a handful of non-artificial organs and is very limited in the physical activities she's capable of doing, and will definitely go into a coma after five minutes outside. Why? Because she was made for the sole purpose of being the titular mech's pilot, without the intent of ever leaving it. Her body IS capable of regeneration mostly as a side-effect of her internal recycling so as to not require nutrients, but her source of energy is the mech. Without her battery, she's essentially immortal inside her Ilivais, but if she stays out too long, she'll eventually die.
  • Dreamscape: Keela's limbs are more skinny than the rest of the cast and she has a raspy voice, so she gives off this vibe. This also means it takes her longer to heal through traditional medicine. She reveals in 'The Mystery of Melinda' that she was in a near-death state before she made a Deal with the Devil, so she became "frozen" in that state of body when she became a Demon of Human Origin.
  • Toki was dying from leukemia during the events of Flashbacks I. She gets better but the effects are still there. She is also frequently ill due to having what Amoridere describes as a "wiped immune system".
  • We have Anwen von Eyre from Killerbunnies and she is ill with a progressive illness that will eventually take her life. She turned to villainy to find a cure if not something that will prolong her life.
    • We seem to also have this with with case of "Nuclear Blast" Nova, as it's implied her scars are the result of operations in which she's had to have tumours removed.
    • We also have this to some degree with Sheyla, who has respiratory problems necessitating her to use be hooked up to an oxygen tank.
  • In-character, Ironmouse of VShojo has been rendered weak and feeble due to being a demon who refuses to devour human souls. In real life, she suffers from Common Variable Immune Deficiency, a genetic disorder that has compromised her immune system, leaving her homebound and reliant on weekly plasma transfusions.
  • Puppet from the Whateley Universe subverts this through her caustic attitude, plus a learned snobbishness from her upbringing. She definitely has it hard though, making her something of an Iron Woobie.
  • Inanimate Insanity has Tissues, who suffers from a flu-like infection known as "the condishawn". Expect him to unleash a giant sneeze whenever he appears. Unfortunately, viewers weren't a fan of his snotty (literally) ways, causing him to be the first eliminated from Season Two. That said, he has picked up a sizable fanbase more recently, most of which say he's adorable.
  • The first Pokémon: Twilight Wings short stars a little boy named John. John has been hospital-bound from an early age.

    Webcomics 
  • Parodied in Ansem Retort, where Axel and Zexion deliberately infect Riku with AIDS to make him the poster child for their charity AIDS Aid.
  • In Demon Street, Kate suffered from an unknown illness causing coughing fits while living in the human world. The air of the demon world she became stuck in cured her symptoms.
  • Magical 12th Graders: Yeorum is a psychological version during the current story, and in flashbacks she was doted on by her parents for physical problems. She was faking at least some of it for the attention.
  • MegaTokyo
    • Miho is...complicated. Short version: Lots of fainting spells and time in the hospital. Long version: She's the in-universe Trope Maker. Her story, the archetype of a young girl dying from some nameless disease, tugged on the heartstrings of the world so much that it became more "real" than she ever was. She is forced to relive her sickness and "die" over and over again. How long this has been going on is unclear, but long enough that she hates the archetype she created. And just to further complicate things, she's The Chessmaster and the closest thing the comic has to a Big Bad.
      Miho: Have you ever fallen in love with a girl because you knew she was going to die?
    • In-universe, Kotone, the girl Kimiko is voicing in the game Sight, is another. Details are sparse, but apparently she was kept innocent and sheltered her entire life. She's an Expy of Miho. Once we see Miho with long hair, the physical similarities become more clear.
  • Larisa from Sandra and Woo is, as a diabetic, on insulin, among other things. "Cute" is not the right word to describe the chaotic pyromaniac fille fatale that Larisa is, though.
  • Mecha Maid in Spinnerette has Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) likely because of being experimented on as a baby and is unable to move except in her Powered Armor. It's Played for Drama as it's made abundantly clear that this condition is slowing destroying her body and is going to be fatal.


Alternative Title(s): Ill Boy, Ill Man, Ill Child, Ill Girl

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