Oliver Sacks 1933-2015

Acclaimed author and neurologist has passed away, aged 82

Gregory Cowles (The New York Times)

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and acclaimed author who explored some of the brain’s strangest pathways in best-selling case histories like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” using his patients’ disorders as starting points for eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition, died Sunday at his home in New York City. He was 82.

The cause was cancer, said Kate Edgar, his longtime personal assistant.

Dr. Sacks announced in February, in an Op-Ed essay in The New York Times, that an earlier melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver and that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer.

As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Sacks achieved a level of popular renown rare among scientists. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.)

Dr. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. P. — the man who mistook his wife for a hat — whose brain lost the ability to decipher what his eyes were seeing.

Describing his patients’ struggles and sometimes uncanny gifts, Dr. Sacks helped introduce syndromes like Tourette’s or Asperger’s to a general audience. But he illuminated their characters as much as their conditions; he humanized and demystified them. [Read More]


Oliver Sacks in 1961
Oliver Sacks in 1961

“My religion is nature. That’s what arouses those feelings of wonder and mysticism and gratitude in me.”

— Oliver Sacks


Robin Williams and Oliver Sacks. Williams played a character based on Sacks in the 1990 film, Awakenings
Robin Williams and Oliver Sacks. Williams played a character based on Sacks in the 1990 film, Awakenings

Jack Shepherd (The Independent)

Born 9 July 1933 in England, Dr. Sacks went on to attend Oxford University in 1951 where he studied for a bachelors degree in physiology and biology, going on to earn a masters and then a medical degree.

Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks

Soon after he made his way to the United States, where upon he completed a fellowship in Neurology in Los Angeles. During this time he experimented with recreational drugs, inspiring his 2012 book Hallucinations. His drug experimentation would also inspire his acclaimed essay Altered States, written for the New Yorker.

In 1965 he moved to New York, and in 1970 began his writing career, taking inspiration from both past and present case studies. Unlike other medical observations, Dr. Sacks was known to write both poetically and with accuracy, appealing to both his peers and the masses. [Read More]

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  1. Still difficult to hear, even though we knew it was coming.

    • Rhys Tranter

      Despite being aware of his diagnosis, I felt a sense of shock and surprise when I read the news.

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