Neurologist Oliver Sacks Dies at 82

Oliver Sacks, a gifted author and neurologist known for studying the idiosyncrasies of the human mind, died at age 82 on Sunday at his home in New York City. Kate Edgar, his personal assistant, told The New York Times that the cause was cancer.

In February, Dr. Sacks went public with his battle with terminal cancer in a series of meditative op-eds for the Times. He shared that a melanoma in his eye had metastasized to his liver, and he wrote about the prospect of impending death with clarity and grace. "I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return," Sacks wrote.

His many literary works, self-described as neurological novels, gained Sacks a sort of cult celebrity status that is unusual for scientific professionals. He was prolific, exploring Freud, twins, phantom limbs and numerous oddities in his works. More than anything, Sacks was fascinated with observing the human condition, and the neurological differences that made people so distinct from one another. "I love to discover potential in people who aren't thought to have any," he said in a 1986 interview.

Sacks began as a researcher, but found that his skills were better suited for clinical practice. Heads started turning with the publication of his 1973 book Awakenings, about a group of people afflicted with a rare "sleeping sickness." In his writing, Sacks eschewed the trope of clinical descriptions often seen in medical texts; the characters in his works are vibrant beings, jumping off the page, and his writing itself is meticulous, and nimble.

Some of his best-selling books included An Anthropologist on Mars, which explores the relationship between mental disorders and genius, and Seeing Voices, which tackles language and deafness. His approach in turn made chronic syndromes, such as Asperger's, more visible to the public. Later on, several of his books were adapted for film and the stage. The late Robin Williams played a Sacks-like character in the film version of Awakenings (1990), which garnered three Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture. An opera based on his popular book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat graced stages in London and New York in the late 1980s.

He is remembered by friends and admirers for his kindness and generosity. On Twitter, author JK Rowling mourned his passing, calling him "great, humane and inspirational." Several months ago, Sacks wrote that he had made peace with life and death, saying: "Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."