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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Oliver  Sacks

Oliver Sacks 1933to –2015

Neurologist, professor, author and storyteller. Sacks was born in London to a Jewish medical family—his mother was one of the first female surgeons in England. He earned his medical degree from Oxford in 1960, then moved to California for his residency. While there, Sacks struggled with the knowledge that he was gay, and one of his responses was living recklessly. He began experimenting with drugs, speeding through the mountains on a motorcycle, and competing as a bodybuilder. He moved to New York City in 1965, and it was there that he worked with the statue-like victims of encephalitis lethargica. He wrote of his experiences in the 1973 book Awakenings, which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter, and the 1990 film starring Robin Williams. Sacks continued to write heartfelt, anecdotal stories of neurological disorders in popular books such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. He also contributed regularly to The New Yorker, including an article exploring his own past drug use, and another about his struggles with face blindness. What he never discussed until the end of his life was his homosexuality. After a series of heartbreaks when he was young, compounded by a crippling shyness and the deep sense that his sexuality was a personal flaw, Sacks decided it was easiest to ignore sex entirely. He remained celibate for 35 years until he found himself falling in love at the age of 75, and began his first real relationship with fellow writer Bill Hayes. Sacks publicly acknowledged his sexuality and relationship in his autobiography On the Move: A Life, which was released shortly before his death, after a long battle with cancer.

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