Oliver Sacks, Author and Neurologist, Dies at 82


The New York Times reports that Oliver Sacks, author and neurologist — who previously held tenure at New York University School of Medicine, Columbia University, and other esteemed institutions — died of cancer at his New York City home. He was 82.

Sacks wrote “eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition,” often inspired by his own patients’ neurological disorders — such as his 1985 book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The collection of essays inspired the amnesiac protagonist in Christopher Nolan’s Memento and is referenced in Stephen King novel 11/22/63. The author’s 1973 book Awakenings details his treatment of a group of patients with encephalitis lethargica with the drug L-DOPA, which helped them regain some function. The novel was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name, starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Sacks announced he had cancer in an eloquently written op-ed for the Times earlier this year. “Though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted” he wrote. “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

One of Sacks’ final, poignant essays reflected on the significance of the Sabbath:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.