Words: John Harris Dunning / Will Stroude; Images: The Oliver Sacks Foundation (left), Erica Berger
Oxford graduate, pilled-up San Francisco biker, maverick neurologist, cultural icon - Oliver Sacks was all these things and more. In a life filled with turmoil and hardship, his innate empathy for the suffering of others has left a scientific legacy that continues to inspire.
The trailblazing doctor and author - whose 1973 non-fiction book Awakenings was famously adapted into an Academy Award-nominated 1990 starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro - only addressed his homosexuality for the first time in his 2015 autobiography On the Move: A Life, just months before his death from cancer in August of that year, aged 82.
When given his terminal diagnosis, Sacks responded in typically idiosyncratic fashion by inviting filmmaker Ric Burns into his home to shoot a documentary about him. The result, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, is an intimate portrait of a great man, told with the same extraordinary empathy that was his hallmark.
In an exclusive new clip from the film, which is in UK & Irish cinemas for a One Night Only special event on 29 September, Sacks reflects on his move to San Francisco in the 1960s, where he was able to life freely as a gay man (in private, at least) while completing an internship at Mt. Zion Hospital.
Author Paul Theroux, who offers reflections on Sacks' life throughout the film, explains: "Where you go when your mother calls you an abomination is you go to San Francisco - and stop writing home!"
Sacks - whose story is uncovered in greater depth in the Attitude October issue - out now to download and to order globally - recalls in the clip: "Soon after arriving in San Francisco, I got an internship at Mt. Zion Hospital. I think I felt something of a split in myself, which actually went with my names; Oliver Wolf Sacks.
"'Oliver' was the kindly doctor, Doctor Oliver, and 'Wolf' was the lupine part of myself which would put on my leathers and get on my bike and would, sort of, be a lone motorcyclist at night, with a peculiar sense of freedom and wildness."
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is in UK & Irish cinemas for a One Night Only special event on 29 September. Visit altitude.film for more info.