22 July 2019
Oliver Sacks wrote extensively about a neurological disorder from which he himself suffered. Photo: ABC News
Oliver Sacks wrote extensively about a neurological disorder from which he himself suffered. Photo: ABC News

Brain scientist and author Oliver Sacks dead at 82

Oliver Sacks, the English neurologist and author, has died. He was 82.

The cause was cancer, said Kate Edgar, his longtime personal assistant, The New York Times reports.

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.

Sacks wrote extensively about a neurological disorder from which he himself suffered and brought the clinical science of the brain to life for countless readers, according to The Guardian.

Although his first book, Migraine (1970), marked a relatively conventional beginning, Sacks’s decision to write about a complex neurological disorder with pointed in the direction of his future interests.

His second book, Awakenings (1973) came out when Sacks was 40 and brought his work to a wide audience.

Praised by critics, it describes the effects of L-Dopa, then recently recognised as an effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease, in a group of patients who had lived in something close to suspended animation since the epidemic of the “sleeping sickness”, encephalitis lethargica, swept the world at the end of the first world war.

Awakenings later became the subject of the first documentary in the ITV Discovery series (1974), and a successful feature film, starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

Sacks’s many subsequent books went beyond clinical neurology but his work always remained rooted in his fascination with the brain.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) and An Anthropologist on Mars (1995) are collections of essays on patients with disorders of sensation and perception.

Sacks also wrote prolifically for periodicals including the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books and inspired an abundance of work in other media.

He appeared in documentaries, winning recognition as a highbrow but appealingly bearish TV personality.

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