Return Home

Dr. Sacks Looks Back

Back to Episode

Dr. Oliver Sacks (Photo Credit: Oliver Sacks)

When Radiolab was just starting out, Robert asked Dr. Oliver Sacks if he could help us, maybe send us a few story ideas. Over the years he has shared with us stories of chemistry, music, neurology, hallucinations and more, so much more. Because Oliver notices the world and the people around him with scientific rigor, with insight, and most importantly, with deep empathy. ‪When he announced a few months ago that he had terminal cancer and wasn't going to do any more interviews, we asked him if he'd talk with us one last time. He said yes‬. So Robert went, as he has done for 30 some years now, to his apartment with a microphone, this time to ask him about the forces that have driven him in his work, in his unique relationships with his patients, and in his own life.

This performance was scored live by the incomparable Sarah Lipstate/Noveller. Her new album Fantastic Planet is out now. 

The lullabies you hear in "Dr. Sacks Looks Back" are sung by Carrie Erving, whose current project is Ponyhof

Though it probably goes without saying, we highly recommend Dr. Sacks' new autobiorgraphy, On The Move. 


Dr. Oliver Sacks

Comments [35]


I saw Dr. Oliver Sacks many times in passing between 1988 and 1991, when I worked at Beth Abraham Hospital; he would smile broadly at me and I to him in return- but our contact never went beyond that, because I was a mere "Dietary Worker" in this institution's large Kosher kitchen and he was the great Neurologist, about whom a major film was produced. I personally knew at least a couple of his patients, as well. Years later- when I worked in Westchester radio- I sought him out for an interview; but he had by then left the hospital and could not be contacted. I will always regret the fact that I did not get to know him better. Being a lover of the Sciences and Psychology and Classical Music, I learned that I had a lot in common with him. I loved watching him on television, and I deeply enjoyed reading his books, particularly "Musicopia". Settled for following him in his journey through life, and now missing him posthumously. My comfort lies in the fact that he was a friend to many, if not just myself. And that is not so bad, after all.

Jan. 25 2016 01:04 AM
dan from Iowa City

This was a very nice tribute up until the end, at which point Krulwich decided to be very disrespectful to Dr. Sacks' memory. Dr. Sacks' was, if nothing else, a Naturalist. He sought non-supernatural explanations to mysteries for his whole life, and he often found them. The indigo passage was indeed well done (evoking eternity with droning Post-Rock guitars was a nice touch), but it dismissed Sacks' life's work with a single gesture. Positing an immortal soul is something Sacks' never had to resort to, and I suspect that avoiding such supernatural explanations was quite important to him. What Krulwich did at the end was essentially to say, "That was all very nice Oliver, but now that you've died you'll see how things REALLY are."

By inserting his belief in a soul/heaven at the end of this piece, Mr. Krulwich undermined the memorial of Dr. Sacks rather than respecting it.

P.S.: The woman's voice sounded a lot like Natalie Merchant to me, but I am not certain.

Sep. 09 2015 02:46 PM
Rachel Xu from Houston, TX

I hope Dr. Sacks had seen Indigo again...

Sep. 02 2015 01:05 PM

This made me cry. Thank you.

Aug. 31 2015 08:34 PM
Jason Grube from Seattle

My heart breaks. Another great one gone...

Aug. 31 2015 01:36 AM
Jonathan from United States

Rest well, good sir. Your contributions will be missed by all who knew you, and by those of us who only got to hear you.

Aug. 30 2015 05:15 PM
Tamara from Berkeley

Dr. Sacks, I have admired your books since one day, I opened your Musicofilia and could not put it down. What an amazing human being you are! I am so grateful that I got to hear you talking about your life and illness with courage, humor and love. I wish you the happiest journey - because you are a very happy man, no matter what circumstances come to your life.

Aug. 23 2015 11:43 PM
Martha Magee from Cape Cod MA

Thank you Oliver Sachs. Thank you for your completely open mind and heart that has allowed the wonder of life to flow through you with no limits. I think of you as one of God's angels because you carry magic. Because when I hear you speak, I hear the voice of Love.
Peace and Blessings on your journey. Thank you for being you. I love that a human like you can even exist within the world of medicine.

Jul. 28 2015 08:15 PM
kathleen Dalton from rochester, ny

I have admired Dr. Sachs for many years This interview touched me deeply, I can honestly say one of the best intrviews I have ever heard. I am so , so sad to hear that Dr. Sachs has cancer. I am so happy to hear he found love. Dr. Sachs is a dear, kind, gentle and highly intelligent human being, I wished I had known you. You are loved and admired by many.

Jul. 23 2015 09:14 PM
Ruth Anne OKeefe from Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thank you, Dr. Sacks, for being my medical hero my entire adult life. When I had a fascinating orthopaedic case, I would imagine myself to be just a little like Oliver Sacks in that I, too, could attract fascinating cases that come with complicated people. I hope you finish every single book on your plate. There will never be enough.

Jun. 23 2015 06:09 PM
josh Talbott from Los Osos, CA

Thank you , Oliver!
You have stirred my imagination and left lasting effects on my life. I am so grateful to Radiolab for presenting you to me years ago. I feel less alone is my compulsive wonder to hear you speak. I hope to follow in your footsteps in bringing a sense of wonder to those who feel alone.

Jun. 10 2015 12:52 AM
Jones from Ohio

This interview is absolutely the most beautiful, most vulnerable, and most courageous I've ever heard (or read, or seen) from Dr. Sacks.

Wonderful work. Thank you.

Jun. 06 2015 05:09 PM
Erin Adams from Quincy, Il

I was riding in the the car on a trip while listening to this and almost passed out. I had to pause it for a few minutes and cool down. My husband I discussed that both of us get a weak feeling when discussing blood, veins, arteries, etc. I especially notice a decreased ability to use my hands/decreased grip strength. Still loved the episode and love listening to radiolab!!

May. 24 2015 06:41 PM
Robyn from Australia

That was such a lovely segment on such an inspirational man. Thank you.

May. 24 2015 02:15 AM
diana from nj

All my life, from middle school on, Dr. Sacks has been with me. He has influenced me profoundly and deeply. Thank you so much, Radiolab, for this loving, moving show, and indeed for all the work you do--- you keep me true and whole during my hour plus commute to and from a very stressful job.

PS. You have a typo above-- You write "we highly recommend Dr. Sacks' new autobiorgraphy..."

May. 21 2015 06:39 AM

Dr. Sacks,
I found one of your books when I was about 16, got the others that were published at the time as quickly as I could after, and have been a fan since the first page. I was smoking cocaine every day at the time, homeless and soon to be a high-school dropout. But I had your voice, as well as all of those at WNYC, in my life, to give a window on all the else that was out there in the world. Over the coming decades, I've come to despise neurologists, as I have a rare, recurrent condition (brain disease) that they have often arrogantly misdiagnosed. But I tend to think that you, like my current doctors, would listen and understand, and treat accordingly. Today I am a success: I will finish my PhD (hopefully) in 2016, have well-loved children, own a home, and have interesting, well compensated work. There were many things, I think, that made the difference between me and my peers that did not make it out. However, NPR as the backdrop of my early years and authors such as you, Dr. Sacks, were part of the difference. I've never met you, but I'm looking at most of your published work on a shelf next to me now.... Thank you. So much, thank you.

May. 20 2015 11:13 PM
Chase from Berkeley

This episode actually overcame me and I fainted on the train on the way to work! I guess there was a warning, but I had no idea how affecting it would be! :-(

May. 20 2015 07:02 PM
kristee humphrey from Austin

Wow. What amazing stories, as always. Dr Sacks just blows me away and makes me laugh. He is navigating his situation with such grace. Incredible. You guys are awesome. Thank you.

May. 20 2015 11:26 AM
Fred from La Jolla, CA

I began to listen to this piece on my way across campus to have lunch. Dr. Sacks has always had a special place in my family. My brother is a huge fan of his books. I was saddened to hear of his illness.

What made the story more poignant, was his finally finding love late in life. I myself have recently found myself in a first relationship at 50 years old, and I know the feeling of love sneaking up on you, especially when you thought it never would.

Thank you for publishing this story. Although I must say I looked strange with tears of sadness and joy running down my face as I walked back from lunch.

May. 19 2015 04:26 PM
Rael from Asheville, NC

My heart is broken open with the news of Dr. Sack's illness. Thank you for sharing such an intimate story of love rejected and love received.

May. 19 2015 08:41 AM
Lyn Elkind from United States

Thank you Robert. I don't know of a better interview and more poignant look back with a friend. Thanks to Dr Sacks for enlightening my world and for his generosity of spirit and knowledge. I hope heaven is indigo.

May. 18 2015 07:03 PM
Annie Stratton from Vermont

Dr Sacks has always intrigued and moved me with his so-very-human stories, told with gracious humility. Each time I read or hear him, I feel more human, and more at ease within myself, more open to what others around me have to offer. RadioLab, thank you for doing this beautiful interview with him. I too cried, out of gratitude for his presence on earth, and out of happiness for him, that before his life ends, he is experiencing the joy of reciprocated love. Bless you, Dr Sacks. May you live on forever in the people you've touched.

May. 17 2015 01:31 PM
Rama Ganesan from United States

Nice to hear from Dr. Sacks again, I have loved his writing for decades but Radiolab brought a much closer relationship with the author and his thoughts. It was moving to hear more about his personal life, and personal tragedies, I had no idea about those.
I would like to say though, as sensitive and inquisitive as Dr. Sacks is, it deeply saddens me that he can eat the liver of another animal while mourning the ravaging of his own liver. We are so conditioned to unquestioningly accept that other animals' lives are worth less than our own, not even someone like Dr. Oliver Sacks thinks to question the assumption.
Other animals are not here for our use. They are here for themselves, and their lives are as worthy as our own.

May. 15 2015 08:31 AM

Another request for details of the music featured in the story about the 88 year old woman, please :)

May. 15 2015 01:58 AM
Louise from United Kingdom

Such an inspirational man and what a great mind, he will be missed.
What a sadness he had to suffer.
I feel it in my solar plexus mostly and also in my heart.

May. 14 2015 08:41 PM
tom meunier from United States

Another request for the bio/info/credits of the singer who's performing "For Ireland I'll Not Tell Her Name" in the piece about the woman hearing music. Cannot find that version on Spotify or Youtube anywhere.

May. 14 2015 08:04 PM
Jo from New Jersey

Beautiful pieces. Especially Dr. Sacks. Always a favorite. Thank you Radio Lab!

May. 14 2015 02:43 PM
Laurel Anderson from Costa Rica

Incredibly moving. I was sobbing during the part about the 88 year woman who heard songs (from her mother?) The vocal was haunting and beautiful, could you tell us more about this music? Already downloaded Fantastic Planet.Thank you!

May. 14 2015 09:18 AM
venus from Southern California

Thank you, Dr. Sacks! Thank you, Radiolab.

May. 14 2015 04:24 AM
Kirsten from Vancouver, Canada

I just wanted to briefly say how incredibly and deeply affecting this interview was for me. Thank you.

May. 13 2015 05:20 PM
Simon O'Connor from Melbourne, Australia

Ever since Awakenings (as modified by Hollywood as it may be) I've loved Oliver Sacks... I'm sure a lot of people were introduced to him by that movie. His books and fascination with the mind and seeing connections that others don't is amazing to me and led me down many wonderful paths of discovery about what can go right and wrong with our minds.

I had not heard that he was dying, and this piece made me cry. I hope he does get to see indigo again.

May. 13 2015 04:09 PM
Kendra from California

Wonderful piece about Oliver Sacks. It's evident in his work and in this interview what an extraordinary, curious and compassionate person he is. And I'm so glad he finally found reciprocal romantic love. The whole segment was very touching. Kudos.

May. 13 2015 03:25 PM
Saadman Khan from Bangladesh

The vocalization of the song during the story of the musical stroke was amazing. I would love to know if that's an actual artist.

May. 13 2015 10:09 AM
Jeffrey Meanza from Chapel Hill, NC/Minneapolis, MN

I have always loved Dr. Sacks, and this story was incredibly beautiful. The love and respect that you all have for him is clear in the design and creation of this piece. I long for an opportunity to see one of your live shows. As a theatre artist, I am obsessed and in awe of your craft. Thanks to you all!

May. 13 2015 10:01 AM
christopher gardiner from United Kingdom

Inspiring! Thank you

May. 13 2015 08:03 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.