Oliver Sacks, the British neurologist who wrote the book that inspired the 1990 Robin Williams-Robert De Niro movie “Awakenings,” died of cancer Sunday at his home in New York City. He was 82.
Sacks had a gift for explaining complicated scientific concepts related to his study of brain functions to general readers. “Awakenings,” his first non-fiction book to achieve popular success, revolves around a group of patients in the Bronx whose lives are changed by a cutting-edge treatment for a rare form encephalitis, aka “sleeping sickness.”
The film adaptation directed by Penny Marshall earned Oscar nominations for best picture, for lead actor for De Niro and for adapted screenplay for Steve Zaillian.
Sacks’ book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat,” a collection of stories about his clinic practice, was adapted as an opera in the U.K. by composer Michael Nyman in 1986.
“The Last Hippie,” an essay Sacks wrote that appeared in the “Review of Books” in 1992, was adapted into film “The Music Never Stopped” in 1992. J.K. Simmons starred as a father who, after his son loses the ability to store new memories, tries to connect with him through music.
Sacks was also known for hosting and contributing to numerous docu-series that aired in the U.K. and in the U.S., as well as for TV appearances on “Charlie Rose” and “The Daily Show.”
Sacks’ other books included “An Anthropologist on Mars” (1995), “The Mind’s Eye” (2010), “The Island of the Colorblind” (1997) and “Seeing Voices” (1989).
In February, Sacks wrote an essay in which he described that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer after a melanoma in his eye spread to his liver.
Sacks was born in London, and moved to New York City in 1965. His neurology career followed him from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, were he taught from 1966 to 2007, to the New York University of Medicine from 1992 to 2007 and Columbia University from 2007 to 2012.
Sacks was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2008 and earned honorary doctorates from several institutions.