Oliver Sacks, best-selling author and neurologist, dies at 82 of cancer

By: | Published: August 30, 2015 10:44 PM

Renowned neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, who explored the mysteries of the human brain in a series of best-selling books, died today at age 82.

Renowned neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, who explored the mysteries of the human brain in a series of best-selling books, died today at age 82.

His longtime personal assistant, Kate Edgar, told AFP Oliver Sacks died at his home in New York’s Greenwich Village, “surrounded by loved and loving ones” after a battle with cancer.

Oliver Sacks was the author of the 1973 book “Awakenings,” which detailed his real-life experience with patients who suffered from a condition known as encephalitis lethargica, and how they were able to exit – however briefly – from their catatonic states with the aid of a drug.

The story was adapted into a 1990 Oscar-nominated film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Oliver Sacks announced in February that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer after a rare melanoma of the eye, diagnosed nine years earlier, was found to have spread to his liver.

“I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying,” Oliver Sacks wrote in an essay in the New York Times opinion page.

“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

Born in London, his parents were both doctors, his mother being one of the first female surgeons in England.

Oliver Sacks was educated at Oxford and then emigrated to Canada, and from there went on to the United States, arriving in New York in 1965 where he taught, wrote and practised for the rest of his life.

At the time of his death, Oliver Sacks was a professor of neurology at New York University’s School of Medicine.

“NYU School of Medicine acknowledges with sadness the passing of our esteemed colleague Oliver Sacks, MD, whose breakthrough work in the fields of neurology and neuro psychiatry led to important understandings in these fields.

“Equally important, his prolific, award-winning writing touched the lives of millions around the world,” the school said in a statement.

Earlier in his career, Oliver Sacks was a clinical professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a professor of neurology and psychology at Columbia University.

He gained a broad public following through his writings, which drew on his personal life and clinical experiences to bring to life the mysteries of the brain and human behaviour.

In “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales,” Sacks recounts case studies of patients struggling with neurological orders that have turned their perceptions inside out.

Among his subjects were patients robbed of their past by memory loss, or unable to recognise common objects, or capable of extraordinary mathematical or artistic feats despite their autism.

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