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Norman Cousins, Who Promoted Healing Through Positive Thought, Dead at 75

December 1, 1990 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Norman Cousins, the longtime editor of the Saturday Review who battled back from a near-fatal illness by laughing at it and advised others to do the same, has died at age 75.

Cousins, whose studies of how humor and positive thinking help the body fight disease helped inspire the holistic health movement, died Friday of a heart attack. He was pronounced dead at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center.

After a distinguished career as a journalist and emissary to three presidents, Cousins found a new calling with the 1979 publication of his book ″Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient.″


The bestseller detailed his recovery from a life-threatening form of arthritis through a self-prescribed regimen of positive thinking, laughter and vitamin C.

Dr. L.J. West, professor and past director of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, said the failure of doctors to help Cousins led him to heal himself.

″He had a terrible illness and after the doctors gave up hope he took charge of himself,″ said West.

What he learned in the process prompted him to teach. He left the Saturday Review in 1978 to become a professor at UCLA’s School of Medicine, a post he held when he died.

″We are deeply saddened by the loss of Norman Cousins,″ said Dr. Sherman Mellinkoff, professor emeritus and former dean of the school. ″Cousins was an inspirational leader in trying to understand the grandeur of the human spirit and its promotion of health and resistance to illness.″

″If you had to put one word to him as an epitaph, it would have to be, ’Norman Cousins, humanitarian,‴ West said. ″All people were important to him.″

Cousins worked with cancer patients as part of a UCLA research project to determine how patients’ mental attitudes affected the course of their illness. His studies found that a patient’s sense of well-being could positively affect the function of the immune system and production of cancer-fighting T-cells.

″I think people have been miseducated about health,″ he said during an interview last year. ″We’ve been educated to be timid and fearful. We don’t understand how beautifully robust the human body is. ... The fact is that 85 percent of all illnesses are self-limiting; the body will right itself if given half the chance.″


Born in Union Hill, N.J., in 1915, Cousins briefly attended Columbia University. He joined the New York Evening Post as an education writer in 1934 and worked for the monthly magazine Current History.

He became editor of the Saturday Review at age 25, expanding the magazine’s scope to include book reviews, political coverage and arts reviews. He reported on the Berlin Airlift, the violent division of India and Pakistan and the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip.

Couisins also undertook numerous diplomatic missions on behalf of Pope John XXIII and Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. His groundbreaking negotiations with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev eventually led to a limited nuclear test ban treaty approved during Kennedy’s administration.

His 25 books included ″Modern Man is Obsolete,″ ″Head First: The Biology of Hope,″ ″The Celebration of Life″ and ″The Healing Heart.″

Cousins is survived by his wife of 51 years, Ellen. The couple had four children.