Oliver Sacks, Neurologist and 'Awakenings' Author, Dies at 82

Awakenings Robin Williams Robert De Niro - H 2015
Everett Collection

The Oscar-nominated film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro was based on Sacks' account of working with post-encephalitic patients.

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist whose memoir Awakenings was the basis for the 1990 Oscar-nominated film, died Sunday at his New York City home. He was 82.

His personal assistant, Kate Edgar, told the New York Times that Sacks died of cancer. Sacks had written an essay for the Times in February, discussing that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer following a melanoma in his eye that spread to his liver.

A medical doctor, Sacks wrote several books, many of which centered on people with neurological disorders. His 1973 nonfiction work Awakenings, about his efforts aiding post-encephalitic patients, was adapted into the film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. It earned three Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best screenplay.

On Sunday, Williams' daughter Zelda Williams paid tribute on Twitter to Sacks and to her late father, who died in August 2014. "Here's hoping you and Dad are enjoying the view together, and debating the world again the way only you two could," Zelda wrote. "RIP. Mr. Sacks. xo."

Sacks was a frequent contributor for publications including The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. His essay The Last Hippie, which appeared in the Review of Books in 1992, was adapted into the 2011 film The Music Never Stopped, starring J.K. Simmons as a father whose brain tumor prevents him from storing new memories.

Born in London, Sacks moved to New York City in 1965, where he practiced neurology ever since. He was an instructor and then clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1966 to 2007, followed by an appointed professor at the New York University School of Medicine from 1992 to 2007, and then professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University from 2007 to 2012. 

Sacks, who never married, earned honorary doctorates from numerous institutions, including the University of Oxford, and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2008. 

"I'm very saddened by the passing of Oliver Sacks. He was a remarkable doctor who made extraordinary contributions to medical science and to society," De Niro said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "Oliver looked into the human mind and found beauty. He shared his insights with the world and made the world a better place. There is no one to take his place."

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@THR.com
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski

Aug. 30 at 2 p.m. Updated with Zelda Williams' quote.

Aug. 30 at 5:29 p.m. Updated with Robert De Niro's statement.