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Oliver Sacks Biography, Gay Partner, Cause of Death

Oliver Sacks was a British writer, naturalist, physician, and historian of science. Sacks was born in London and received his medical degree from The Queen’s College, Oxford, and then he moved to the United States.  Dr. Oliver Sacks spent most of his career in the United States. He started an internship at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco and completed his residency at the University Of California, Los Angeles, in neuropathology and neurology.

He worked with the survivors of the 1920s sleeping sickness Encephalitis Lethargica, who could not move their bodies for decades. His treatment and work on these survivors become the topic of his book Awakenings. This book was adapted into the feature movie Awakenings. The famous actors Robert De Niro and Robin Williams starred in this film.

Dr. Oliver Sacks’ books were mainly a collection of his case studies of patients with neurological disorders. He also published different articles on neurology, book reviews, the history of science, natural history, and nature. He was called the poet laureate of contemporary medicine and considered one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century. His books usually include his experiments with his patients, his own experiences, and how his patients cope with their diseased state. He had a beautiful writing style and informative content that attracted his readers. Dr. Oliver Sacks stated that the “brain is one of the most incredible things in the universe.”

Birth9 July 1933
Birth NameOliver Wolf Sacks
Birth PlaceLondon, England
Height6ft and 4 inches.
ProfessionNeurologist, Author, Physician, Professor
EducationUniversity Of Oxford
Famous ForNon-Fiction books about his neurological and psychiatric patients
Sub SpecialitiesNeurology 
Death30 August 2015

Early Life:

Oliver Sacks was born in Cricklewood, London, England, to a family of Jewish doctors. He was raised surrounded by a large extended family, one with many eminent doctors and scientists, including director and writer Jonathan Lynn, Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann, and the Israeli Statesman Abba Eban. Both his parents Samuel Sacks and his mother, Muriel Elsie Landau, were medical practitioners. His father was a general physician, and his mother was one of the best female surgeons in England. The shadow of war darkened his childhood. As Germany began the sustained bombing of London, young Oliver and his older brother were sent to a boarding school in the countryside in December 1939. The departure from his home, separation of parents, and the school’s strict discipline were traumatic for Sacks. Later in life, he regarded his severe shyness and discomfort in ordinary social situations due to this early experience. 


Young Oliver Sacks was interested in the study of science. As a child, he was amused by a giant display of the periodic table of various elements at the Museum of Natural History. A chemist’s uncle encouraged his interest in chemistry. His mother shared the intuition of her medical practice with young Oliver, showing him illustrations of diseased brains and damaged fetuses and bringing him along to observe the dissection of a deceased human.

During adolescence, he became interested in biology and shared his parent’s enthusiasm for medicine. 1951 Oliver started studying medicine at The Queen’s College, Oxford. Oliver graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Physiology in 1956. Oliver chose to stay on for an extra year to research after he had taken a course by Hugh Macdonald Sinclair. Sacks did his research on Jamaica Ginger, which was a commonly abused drug known to cause irreversible nerve damage. After giving his time to research, Sacks was disappointed by the unprofessional guidance of Sinclair, and he stopped his research. He was depressed, and his parents and teachers suggested moving to  Kibbutz Ein HaShofet and spending the summer of 1955 there. He had spent time traveling and scuba diving and became interested in marine biology.

Once he was physically and mentally cured, he returned to London and started his clinical work. In 1956, Oliver began his clinical study at the University of Oxford and Middlesex Hospital Medical School. He took courses in medicine, surgery, infectious diseases, orthopedics, neurology, psychiatry, dermatology, pediatrics, obstetrics, and various other disciplines. Sacks graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, and his BA was promoted to Masters of Arts degree in 1958. After completing his degree, Sacks began his house officer rotations at Middlesex Hospital, and he also took a job in a hospital at St Alban’s. He completed his pre-registration in June 1960.

Beginning Of Life In North America:

Oliver left Britain and moved to Montreal, Canada. He visited the Royal Canadian Air Force and Montreal Neurologic Institute and told Royal Canadian Air Force that he wanted to become a pilot. Seeing his medical background, he was suggested to join medical research.

He then moved to the United States and completed an internship at Mt.Zion Hospital in San Francisco and a residency in neurology and neuropathology at the University Of California, Los Angeles.


Oliver served as an instructor and later clinical professor of neurology at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1966 to 2007 and also held an appointment at the  New York University School of Medicine from 1992 to 2007. Professor Oliver Sacks joined the faculty of Columbia University Medical Center as a professor of psychiatry and neurology in July 2007. Oliver was also a visiting professor at the University of Warwick in the UK. He returned to the New York University of Medicine and served as a professor of Neurology and consulting Neurologist in the epilepsy centre in 2012.

Sacks maintained a busy hospital-based practice in New York City. He accepted a minimal number of private patients despite being in great demand for such consultations. He served on The Neurosciences Institute and the NewYork  Botanical Garden boards. 

Sacks worked as an honorary medical advisor and helped to provide the foundation of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. The institute awarded him its First Music Has A Power Award in 2000.

Writing Career:

From the start of his medical practice, Sacks usually took copious notes of all his cases. He reached a subject that had long fascinated him for his first book. Like his mother, he had suffered from migraine headaches from an early age.  Based on his personal experience, deep learning, and a vast collection of detailed case histories, he wrote his first book, Migraine, in ten days only. His description of the sleeping sickness cases, Awakenings, was published in 1973. It gained relatively little attention at the time. Still, Sacks gained a little attention from readers, not only fellow neurologists but among members of the general public.  Other Writers recognized him as a gifted storyteller as well as a brilliant neurologist.

While continuing working at Beth Abraham, Sacks also worked at Holy Family Homes, nursing facilities run by order of nuns known as the Little Sisters of the Poor — one in the Bronx, one in Queens, and one in Brooklyn. Unlike many other clinicians, Sacks always looked for the individual behind the symptoms in hopes of treating even the most apparently hopeless cases. Through the 1970s, Sacks worked in relative obscurity, compiling case histories of various neurological ailments: epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, retardation, dementia, schizophrenia, brain tumors, and head injuries. In some of his books, Sacks described the case of Tourette’s syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.

Oliver’s practice led him to write the book that brought his work to the general public’s attention, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. Readers and critics were fascinated by his stories of patients who remained highly functional in many respects but had lost faculties that most of us take for granted. Some had lost all memory of their past lives or could no longer recognize family members and familiar objects. Some had no control of their limbs or speech, while others were developmentally disabled yet possessed extraordinary artistic or mathematical abilities.

He continued to explore the outer limits of neurological experience in his subsequent books, An Anthropologist on Mars and The Island of the Colorblind. The worldwide success of these books drew renewed attention to his earlier writing. In 1990, his book Awakenings was made into a feature film, with the actor Robin Williams playing Dr. Sacks and Robert De Niro, one of his patients.

Oliver Sacks psychology:

Oliver Sacks was a neurologist. However, his work often intersected with psychology and profoundly impacted his understanding of the human mind and behavior. Sacks was particularly interested in the study of neurological disorders and their effects on individuals’ cognition, perception, and personality.

He approached his patients with compassion and empathy, seeking to understand their unique experiences and how their neurological conditions shaped their lives. Sacks documented many of these cases in his books, such as “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” “Awakenings,” and “An Anthropologist on Mars. His books brought these extraordinary stories to a broader audience.

Through his writing, Sacks explored the fascinating complexities of the human brain, delving into the profound and often unexpected ways in which neurological conditions can shape a person’s identity, emotions, and perception of the world. His work helped bridge the gap between neuroscience and psychology, shedding light on the intricate relationship between the brain and the mind.

Famous Books:

  • Migraine
  • Awakenings
  • A Leg To Stand On
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat
  • Seeing Voice: A Journey Into The World Of Deaf
  • An Anthropologist On Mars
  • The Island Of Colorblind
  • Uncle Tungsten: The Memories Of Boyhood
  • The Mind’s Eye
  • Hallucinations
  • On The Move: A Life
  • Gratitude
  • The River Of Consciousness
  • Everything In Its Place: First Love And Last Tales

Personal Life:

Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist, and author, had a long-term partner named Bill Hayes. They were in a committed relationship for several years until Oliver Sacks passed away in August 2015. Bill Hayes is also a writer and photographer, and he has written a memoir titled “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me,” which explores his relationship with Oliver Sacks and their life together in New York City.

Oliver Sacks Gay

Oliver Sacks never married and lived alone for most of his years. He has no wife in his life. He never shared personal details that he was gay by sexual orientation until late in his life. He talked about his homosexuality for the first time in 2015 in his biography  On The Move: A Life.  Sacks frequently took drugs like Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and Amphetamine in the late 1960s. He swam almost daily for his life since his father started him swimming as an infant.

Cause of Death:

Oliver Sacks died on August 30, 2015. The cause of his death was fatal melanoma, a type of skin cancer that had spread to his liver. Oliver Sacks was diagnosed with melanoma in 2006, and despite treatment, the cancer eventually spread and became terminal. His death marked the end of a remarkable career and left a significant void in neuroscience and literature.

Oliver Sacks’ final resting place is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Green-Wood Cemetery is a historic cemetery housing the graves of many notable individuals, including writers, artists, and musicians.


  • What did Oliver Sacks do?

Oliver Sacks was a highly influential and accomplished neurologist, writer, and researcher. He made significant contributions to neurology, neuroscience, and psychology. 

  • Where is Oliver Sacks buried?

Oliver Sacks’ final resting place is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

  • What did Oliver Sacks Discover?

Sacks’ most significant contribution was his work with patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica, a mysterious neurological disorder that emerged in the early 20th century. He documented his experiences in the book “Awakenings,” where he described how the administration of the drug L-Dopa temporarily revived patients who had been in a catatonic state for decades. This discovery profoundly impacted the field of neurology and led to further research on the use of L-Dopa in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

  • What is Oliver Sacks known for?

Sack was a prolific author renowned for his ability to bring complex scientific concepts to a broader audience. His books, such as “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” “Awakenings,” and “Musicophilia,” became bestsellers and have been highly influential in bridging the gap between neuroscience and popular literature.

  • Was Oliver Sacks married?

No, Oliver Sacks was not married. He had a long-term partner named Bill Hayes, but they were not married.

  • When was Oliver Sacks born?

Oliver Sacks was born on July 9, 1933, in London.

Mian Tajamul

Mian Tajamul is a passionate content writer with a flair for storytelling. With a deep fascination for the lives of remarkable individuals, he specialize in crafting engaging biographies of well-known personalities. Through their words, he brings history to life and inspires readers to explore the extraordinary journeys of these iconic figures. When not immersed in writing, you can find Mian Tajamul exploring new horizons and seeking inspiration for their next captivating biography.

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