Leonard Shlain, Best-Selling Author, San Francisco Surgeon Dies, May 11, 2009

The Bay Area and the world lost a renowned visionary thinker and educator when Leonard Shlain, best-selling author and San Francisco surgeon, died Monday, May 11, 2009 at his home in Mill Valley after a battle with brain cancer. He was 71 years old.

Admired among artists, scientists, philosophers, anthropologists and educators, Leonard Shlain authored three best-selling books: Art & Physics, Alphabet vs. The Goddess and Sex, Time, and Power. He delivered multimedia presentations based upon his books in venues around the world including Harvard, The New York Museum of Modern Art, CERN, Los Alamos, The Florence Academy of Art and the European Council of Ministers. His fans include Al Gore, Norman Lear and singer Bjork who credited Shlain ‘s Alphabet vs. The Goddess with inspiring her recent album “Wanderlust”. His fourth book Leonardo’s Brain about Leonardo Da Vinci will be published next spring by Viking. Dr. Shlain was a surgeon for 38 years at California Pacific Medical Center where he headed the Laparascopic Surgery Department and an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF.

Leonard Shlain was a loving and generous man with a larger-than-life intellect and a prodigious curiosity. He was a widely respected surgeon and attentive father and husband. He had an encyclopedic knowledge which he wove with highly creative insights in his books and presentations. A voracious reader, he took pride in finding the perfect metaphor and delighted in making connections between everything from art, physics, to human evolution and sexuality. Dinner conversations spanned from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to politics, literature to a hilarious joke. When his children were young, he brought a human brain in a bucket of formaldehyde during the school show and tell. When he came home after a hard day’s work as a young surgeon, he would excitedly diagram his operation of the day on a napkin. Later, his diagrams became more adventuresome and expanded to thought experiments that included what it would be like to sit astride a beam of light and how that corresponded with Picasso’s rose period, blue period. This eventually led him to write his first book, Art and Physics.

captshlainLeonard Michael Shlain was born on August 28th, 1937 in Detroit Michigan. He graduated Central High School at the age of fifteen, attended University of Michigan and then graduated Wayne State University Medical School at twenty three (AOA), where he was recently honored as the alumnus of the year. After serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army stationed in France, he interned at Mt. Zion in San Francisco, began his surgical residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York and then completed it at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco where he set up his general surgical practice in 1969. In 1973, he volunteered and served as a trauma surgeon in Isreal during the Yom Kippur War. An early pioneer of gallbladder and hernia laparascopic surgery in 1990, he was flown around the world to train doctors in the new techniques, patented several surgical instruments and specialized in gallbladder and hernia operations.

dadheadshotLeonard Shlain is survived by his wife Judge Ina Gyemant, Ret., and his children, artist Kimberly Brooks, filmmaker and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain and doctor/entrepeneur Jordan Shlain. He was also father in-law to filmmaker Albert Brooks, scientist/artist Ken Goldberg, Ph.D. and Caroline Eggli Shlain, Ph.D., respectively. He had two step-children, attorney Anne Gyemant Paris and writer Roberto Gyemant, Jr. His son-in-law Michael Paris is a medical engineer. He is pre-deceased by his sister Shirley Wollock and survived by siblings Marvin Shlain and Sylvia Goldstick, as well as grandchildren Shawn, Jacob, Claire, Odessa, Amber, Sophia, Elena, Daphne, Arthur and a new grandchild due May 28th.

A Celebration of Leonard’s life will be held on, Friday, May 15th at 1:00 PM at Sherith Israel Synagogue, 2266 California Street at Webster, San Francisco, CA 94115.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Leonard Shlain Scholarship Fund at The Saybrook Graduate School and mailed as follows:

Att: Ed Patuto, Shlain Scholarship Fund
Saybrook Graduate and Research Center
747 Front Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

Any notes of condolences or wishes to the family should be sent to Judge Ina Levin Gyemant, 3701 Sacramento Street #333, San Francisco, CA 94118

To download a high resolution image of Leonard Shlain click here>
photo by Tim Porter

Statement from Al Gore:”Leonard Shlain was a personal inspiration to me and so many others. His ability to synthesize not only information but also genuine wisdom across multiple and disparate disciplines was extraordinary. His talent for communicating to the rest of us what he had discovered was a rare gift. His death is a loss to us all.”

Statement from Norman Lear: “Leonard Shlain was an extraordinary spirit and his was an extraordinary mind. He will be sorely missed. ”

42 thoughts on “Leonard Shlain, Best-Selling Author, San Francisco Surgeon Dies, May 11, 2009

  1. Albert Brooks

    A great man. A great life. A great legacy. He will be missed by all who were lucky enough to know him. Rest in peace pop.

  2. Michaela Calanchini

    To all of the Shlain family, I am so sorry for your loss. My father, Dr. Philip Calanchini, who
    was a long time colleague of Leonard’s passed away
    two weeks ago from a Glioblastoma. My heart breaks for your family.
    With deepest sympathy,
    Michaela Calanchini

  3. Bill & Kren Schneider

    We were fortunate indeed to have Lenny as a neighbor and friend for so many years. He enriched our lives. He will be missed.

  4. Loury Goldstick

    What a great loss for the family. Uncle Lenny touched so many lives. He was so supportive and genuinely cared for Julian and Allie ~ such a generous soul who certainly will be missed.


  5. elise calanchini

    to all of the Shlain family. i can’t find words to express to you how sorry i am for the loss of your father, husband, loved one.
    i only know the sorrow runs deep. my prayers are with you. best. elise

  6. Lorene Mills

    My heartfelt condolences to Ina, Kimberly and Albert, Jordan, Tiffany and the whole family. We have lost a great man! I was blessed to know him on his visits to New Mexico, and to have the opportunity to interview him on PBS. He had a mind like no other,a dazzling intellect, magnificent curiosity, and a talent for inspiring us all to soar! He will be much missed. He loved you all so much and he was so proud of you. God bless.

  7. Dave LaDuke

    I only knew Leonard Shlain from his books. What an original and brilliant mind. I am grateful to have encountered his work. My deepest condolences to his family. I am certain now that he and Leonardo will finally and truly connect.

  8. Loura Goldstick

    What a great loss for the family. Uncle Lenny touched so many lives. He was so supportive and genuinely cared for Julian and Allie ~ such a generous soul who certainly will be missed.

    Julian and Allie were deeply saddened to learn of their Uncle Lenny’s passing. He meant a great deal to them. Julian’s comment was, “he really liked me.” He made a difference in my children’s lives and for that I will be forever grateful.

    With Sympathy and love to Ina, Kimberly, Tiffany, Jordan and your families.


  9. Julian and Allie Goldstick family

    What a great loss for the family. Uncle Lenny touched so many lives. He was so supportive and genuinely cared for Julian and Allie ~ such a generous soul who certainly will be missed.

    Julian and Allie were deeply saddened to learn of their Uncle Lenny’s passing. He meant a great deal to them. Julian’s comment was, “he really liked me.” He made a difference in my children’s lives and for that I will be forever grateful.

    With Sympathy and love to Ina, Kimberly, Tiffany, Jordan and your families.


  10. Adam Werbach

    There are few people who have been an academic and intellectual inspiration at his level and still so focused on family. It’s probably not surprising for someone whose intellectual life was about breaking down artificial frames and borders to be able to achieve the same harmony in his own life.

    Thanks to the Shlain family for sharing him. Sending you all of our love right now.

  11. Lance Strate

    On behalf on the Institute of General Semantics, and the Media Ecology Association, I would like to offer our condolences, in addition to my own personal ones.

    Leonard Shlain was a passionate and insightful intellectual, and it was a pleasure to be in the audience for his featured presentations at three Media Ecology Association conventions–indeed, we were fortunate to have him with us just a little less than a year ago at our last meeting at Santa Clara University. Len also gave the 2007 Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture for the Institute of General Semantics, which was published in our journal, ETC, on our website, and in our annual, the General Semantics Bulletin.

    He was a marvelous speaker, and one of the few individuals I have seen who knew how to use PowerPoint effectively. His work, especially Art and Physics, and The Alphabet vs. the Goddess, represent significant contributions to the media ecology literature, and take their place in our canon next to those of Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Lewis Mumford, Alfred Korzybski, Susanne Langer, and Neil Postman.

    We will miss his intellectual acuity, his powerful multidisciplinary methods, his keen understanding of the human organism and its extensions, both aesthetic and utilitarian, and his creative flair.

  12. Muffie

    ….tears are flowing…for those of us who knew Lennie in anyway are the better for knowing him….a true life enhancer….sending love to all the family….muffie

  13. Steve Heilig

    He was larger than life, and still is. I always enjoyed seeing him through the years (and, of course, reading his words). It was so easy and fun to get quickly embroiled in a wide-ranging conversation with him… although, the last one I recall was mostly about how much he was enjoying his grandkids. My condolences to all.

  14. Shana Ting Lipton

    I am so devastated and saddened to hear of this loss, for his family and for humankind. “The Alphabet Vs. the Goddess” had a huge impact on my thinking and my life. Leonard was one of the few truly creative visionary thinkers that bridged generations.

    I was lucky enough to have gotten to interview him (though remotely) for a Salon.com article way back when. His words totally elevated the piece.

    He will be greatly missed but his books and ideas will live on.

  15. Carole Peccorini

    I am so sad to get this news. I feel blessed to have known Lennie. We gave talks together and loved creative ideas and the creative process. I had the privilege of reading and commenting on his first draft of The Alphabet Vs. the Goddess.

    Just this past week, I shared Art & Physics with a corporation president and recommended the best way to read it. Many years ago when I read Art & Physics, I suddenly realized I had lots of right hemisphere dominant people in my immediate family. It changed our world and I referred oodles of people to resources to build bridges across the hemispheres. I knew the truth of his theory immediately and we had some great conversations about this.

    How remarkable that Dr. Lennie blessed us and our world. A life well-lived.

    A poem for this time from a 12th C Rabbi

    ‘Tis a fearful thing to love
    What death can touch.
    To love, to hope, to dream
    And oh, to lose.
    A thing for fools. This
    But a holy thing. A holy thing to love.
    For your life has lived in me,
    Your laugh once lifted me,
    Your word was a gift to me.
    To remember this brings painful joy.
    ‘Tis a human thing, love
    A holy thing, to love
    What death can touch

    Judah Haleve, 12th C Rome

  16. Graham Burgess

    I was introduced to the works of Leonard whilst lecturing on symbology in California. His work is so important and IS part of my life.I never met him nor did I meet the English writer who wrote the following.

    I AM the family face;
    Flesh perishes, I live on,
    Projecting trait and trace
    Through time to times anon,
    And leaping from place to place
    Over oblivion.

    The years-heired feature that can
    In curve and voice and eye
    Despise the human span
    Of durance — that is I;
    The eternal thing in man,
    That heeds no call to die.

    Thomas Hardy

    Nothing is lost if we continue to celebrate them.

    Graham Burgess.

  17. Bert Monroe

    My condolences to all who were lucky enough to know Leonard Schlain. I met him at a booksigning years ago and was impressed by the spark of his curiosity and knowledge. I have enjoyed his books and they have deeply affected both me and my husband. I cried upon reading this announcement. He was a brilliant flame too early gone.

  18. Loretta Goodenbour

    I loved Leonard Shlain, without really knowing him. I heard him speak on a number of panels at CU-Boulder’s Conference on World Affairs, and what a brilliant, enthusiastic speaker he was!

    Several years ago, I saw him reading on the patio in front of the University Memorial Center. I introduced myself and asked him how on earth he had time for writing, since his duties at Cal-Pac Medical Center in San Francisco had to keep him quite busy. He smiled, then said, “It’s my passion. I HAVE to write.”

    Leonard was a most special human being. He will be missed.

  19. Gail Wheeler

    What a great man. His books shaped my thinking possibly more than any other author in my adult life–reading his words could make my brain feel as if were growing larger with each sentence. He will be missed. My sincere best wishes to the family…

  20. Don Albert

    The world lost a rare genius yesterday with the passing of Leonard Shlain. I will miss him like a friend, tho I never knew him except thru his boox and a few personal emails.

    My daughter introduced me to the Alphabet vs the Goddess when she was in college. I’ve read it 3 times, there is so much to absorb, learn, and think about. As an artist I learned more abut the true nature of art than from all the art history courses I took in college. I eagerly await the release of Leonardo’s Brain.

    My condolences to the Shlain family and friends. Rest in Peace, Shlain. The work you left us all is monumental.

  21. Kate Pabst

    I am so sorry sorry to hear the news of Leonard’s passing. I first met him at the Science and Consciousness Conference in New Mexico. He was a brilliant thinker, writer and speaker and I learned so much from him about thinking outside the box, driven by one’s curiosity about the mysteries of life. He taught me that you need not be an academic to pursue your truths—in fact I think it’s best not to be…to be driven by the questions in life and connecting the dots is a worthy goal.

    He was a great soul and I will miss his insights, his books and presentations–he has contributed greatly to all of us. I am so sorry for the pain, loss and grief you must all be feeling.

    Kate Pabst

  22. rebecca young

    Thank You, Leonard.
    Thank you for your profound inspiration.
    Your books have changed my life.
    My Warmest regards to the Shlain family

  23. Juanita Tumelaire

    I was fortunate enough to hear Leonard Shlain speak twice at the Memorial Arts for Healing Gala in Chattanooga. His warmth, humor and great intelligence made both occasions memorable. I am greatly saddened that his wit and creativity will not be brought to bear on future endeavors, and am so very sorry for your loss. You were fortunate to have had him with you.

  24. Bruce Wintroub

    For me, your father, father-in-law, husband Leonard was a dear friend who I saw far, far too infrequently. My thoughts are with you as are the thoughts of my bride Marya. He deserved a much longer life but he lived his seventy one years fully and joyously. Rest in peace Len.

  25. Kerthy Fix

    I just wanted to write and send our condolences from the entire team here. We all treasured your father and feel grateful that his gracious charm and deep intellect was generously shared with us. Please know that we are all thinking of you and your family.
    and the Who Does She Think She Is? team

  26. Ida Cicci

    My sympathies go out to Lenny’s family and friends.
    I worked with him in his early Resident days at Children’s Hospital,and later as well. He was a pleasure to work with and always had interesting conversations to listen and comment to.
    He will be well remembered.

    Ida Cicci

  27. Hilda Ruch

    Leonard’s wit, wisdom, and whimsey will forever reverberate throughout the universe! I mourn that he is no longer on this planet in a corporeal form, but rejoice that his creativity and passion will live on.

    With deepest sympathy,
    Hilda Ruch (big Leonard Shlain fan)

  28. David Finkle

    As one of the people whose life Leonard enriched at the University of Colorado’s Conference on World Affair, I shall miss his brilliance and camaraderie.

  29. paulina

    i miss him. my heart misses him. i am so grateful to have known him, and all of you who loved him so much.
    such an abundance of love…when has the world has seen such joy!
    thank you, lenny.

  30. Lois Flagstad

    Ina, We just heard about Lennie’s death. Please accept our humble thoughts, heartfelt prayers and encompassing love from our hearts to you and family.
    Lois, Jim & Anders

  31. Kevin Smokler

    I was fortunate to speak on the same bill twice with Dr. Schlain. And to share Michigan as our place of birth. I enjoyed and treasured his intellect, kindness and company in only the short time I knew him. And will miss him terribly.

  32. jerry parker

    Lenny was a mensch, a very rare quality today. A wise, good and loving soul. He will be missed.

    Sincere condolences to the family and his many close friends.

    Ann-Marie and Jerry Parker and family

  33. Alex Clemens

    Leonard Shlain – who I knew mostly through two of his three children, and met only a half-dozen times – led a grand, thoughtful, well-lived, remarkable life. Truly, we should all be so blessed to walk the earth as Dr. Shlain did – with gusto, curiosity, enthusiasm, love, success, family, and a remarkable intellectual legacy. We are truly diminished by his exit from the stage.

  34. milton dawes

    I keep remembering a brief conversation I had with Dr. Shlain at Santa Clara University last year. So sorry to hear that he has passed on. Dr. Shlain was one of those rare human beings. His example of ‘good human being’should have qualified him to live for as long as he wanted to…A pity that Universe does not work that way-yet.

  35. Grant Pound

    We are all so sorry for Len’s family and for ourselves. Len was one of the few geniuses I have met in my life. This weekend is the Artposium that we planned to have Len speak at. It will be dedicated to his memory.

    Grant Pound, CEO
    Colorado Art Ranch

  36. Roz Burroughs

    My thoughts and prayers go to family and friends of Leonard Shlain. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak and conversing with him at a book signing. I have read, reread, utilized and recommended his books. His bright spirit, intellect and connection to others through is writing will live on.

  37. Sonya Rapoport

    My heartfelt condolences to Leonard’s family, and incredible support for an incredible man. We all shall miss him for his never-ending challenge to the arts and sciences. Sonya Rapoport

  38. Nathan Wolfe

    In memory of Leonard Shlain. Someone I knew personally as a kind and generous friend, through Kimberly as a loving and devoted father, and through his books and talks, as a powerful intellect who made us all better more thoughtful people through his thoughts and his words.

  39. Dennis McNeil

    I only met Leonard once but that was all it took to know what a special man he was and what an incredible mind he had. We sat together at a lunch at the Bohemian Club. I was talking to the person on my other side when part of me started to eavesdrop into Leonard’s conversation which involved the brain and conductors and musicians! Well being an opera singer, he had my attention!! We had a wonderful talk and he broadened my horizons with his studies and philosophies. He kindly sent me a copy of his book, Sex, Time, and Power, which is such an out of the box concept and makes so much sense! We kept in slight touch via email and I am deeply sorry to his family for this great loss.

    Incredible how you never know who is going to touch you, but Leaonard left a lifelong impression on me and the way I look at life.

    As the Irish say, Safe Home, Leonard, Safe Home.

    Dennis McNeil

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