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.
Leonard 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.
Leonard 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. ”