Oliver Sacks Dies

The neurologist and author had written about his recent experiences being “face to face with dying.”

Aug 31, 2015
Kerry Grens

WIKIMEDIA, MARIA POPOVAOliver Sacks, a physician and author of popular books on the magnificence and malfunctioning of the brain, died Sunday (August 30). He was 82.

He is perhaps best known for his books The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, Musicophilia, and others. The stories that populated his writings were often inspired from his experiences treating patients with mental maladies, such as face blindness—a condition Sacks himself lived with—musical hallucinations, and Tourette’s syndrome.

“He was an extraordinary and exemplary doctor,” Jerome Groopman wrote in The New Yorker Sunday. “He questioned absolutist categories of normal and abnormal, healthy and debilitated. He did not ignore or romanticize the suffering of the individual. He sought to locate not just the affliction but a core of creative possibility and a reservoir of potential that was untapped in the patient.”

In February, Sacks announced that an ocular melanoma had metastasized to his liver.

“A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky ‘powdered with stars’ (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are),” Sacks wrote last month (July 26) in The New York Times. “It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience—and death.”

His autobiography, On the Move: A Life, was published this year; Sacks continued to write until his final days. “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,” he wrote earlier this month (August 16) in the New York Times. “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.”

Sacks is survived by his partner, Billy Hayes.