Inside the brain of Oliver Sacks

The renowned neurologist, who died today, sat down with Morley Safer in 1996 for one of 60 Minutes' most unforgettable profiles

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What do extreme weightlifting, ferns and swimming have in common? The obvious answer is absolutely nothing, yet they were all great passions of renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks, who died Sunday at the age of 82.

Morley Safer interviewed Sacks in 1996 for a 60 Minutes profile and remembers him as deeply -- and broadly -- curious. "He was passionate about everything that he was passionate about," Safer recalls, "which was everything."

Morley Safer visited Sacks' home on City Isla... 01:30

Sacks' most enduring passion centered on the mysteries of the human brain, what Safer describes in the piece as "that imperfect organ that defines us all." As a practicing neurologist, Sacks both studied the brain and wrote about it. He published 13 books, many of them bestsellers like "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," a series of case studies of his patients' sometimes bizarre afflictions, including Tourette syndrome and prosopagnosia, or face blindness, from which Sacks himself suffered.

"He was passionate about everything that he was passionate about, which was everything."

Sacks described his inability to recognize faces to Lesley Stahl in 2012. "People do think you may be snubbing them or stupid, or mad, or inattentive," he said. "That's why it's so important to recognize what one has. And to admit it."

How Oliver Sacks learned to recognize his own... 00:37

His own impairment no doubt helped Sacks connect with his patients, even those lost for years to illness. Sacks took Safer to Beth Abraham hospital in the Bronx, where the neurologist famously discovered dozens of patients once stricken with encephalitis and unable to interact with the outside world. On a hunch, he gave them large doses of a drug called L-dopa, which brought them miraculously back to life, though only for a brief time.

That experience inspired Sacks' 1973 book "Awakenings" and later a 1990 film, in which the late Robin Williams portrayed a fictionalized version of Sacks. Safer interviewed them side-by-side.

"The two are like an act," he said, "seeming to revel in each other's oddities." Sacks said seeing Williams take on his posture and fidgety mannerisms was "like having an identical twin." Williams, meanwhile, described Sacks as basically if Santa Claus took steroids" - a fitting label for the bearded, bespectacled doctor who could once squat-lift 600 pounds.

After Robin Williams' uncanny portrayal of Sa... 01:21

In February 2015, Sacks revealed in a New York Times op-ed that he was dying of cancer. While he described this as "unlucky," the piece is filled with his characteristic exuberance. "I cannot pretend I am without fear," he wrote. "But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude... Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."

How Sacks got a silent stroke victim to sing 01:57

60 Minutes' profile of Sacks was an adventure, too, framed by his quirky personality and numerous obsessions. 60 Minutes Overtime takes a look back at Safer's 1996 report in the video player above.