Daniel Carleton Gajdusek


Daniel Carleton Gajdusek : biography

September 9, 1923 – December 12, 2008


Gajdusek died December 12, 2008 in Tromsø, Norway, at the age of 85. He was working and visiting colleagues in Tromsø at the time of his death.

Early years

Gajdusek’s father, Karol Gajdusek, was from Smrdáky Kingdom of Hungary now in Slovakia and was an ethnic Slovak who was a butcher. His maternal grandparents, ethnic Hungarians of the Calvinist faith, emigrated from Debrecen, Hungary. Gajdusek was born in Yonkers, New York, and graduated in 1943 from the University of Rochester, where he studied physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics. He obtained an M.D. from Harvard University in 1946 and performed postdoctoral research at Columbia University, the California Institute of Technology, and Harvard. In the early 1950s, Gajdusek was drafted into the military as a research virologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In 1954 he went to work as a visiting investigator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. There, he began the work that culminated in the Nobel prize.

Child molestation conviction

In the course of his research trips in the South Pacific, Gajdusek had brought 56 mostly male children back to live with him in the United States, and provided them with the opportunity to receive high school and college education. He was later accused by one of these, now an adult man, of molesting him as a child.

Gajdusek was charged with child molestation in April 1996, based on incriminating entries in his personal diary and statements from a victim. He pleaded guilty in 1997 and, under a plea bargain, was sentenced to 12 months in jail. After his release in 1998, he was permitted to serve his five-year unsupervised probation in Europe. He never returned to the United States and lived in Amsterdam, Paris, and Tromsø. Gajdusek’s treatment had been denounced from October 1996 as anti-elitist and unduly harsh by controversial Edinburgh University psychologist Chris Brand.

The documentary The Genius and the Boys by Bosse Lindquist, first shown on BBC Four on June 1, 2009, notes that "seven men testified in confidentiality about Gajdusek having had sex with them when they were boys", that four said "the sex was untroubling" while for three of them "the sex was a shaming, abusive and a violation". One of these boys, the son of a friend and now an adult, appears in the film. Furthermore, Gajdusek openly admits to molesting boys and his approval of incest. The film tries to understand not only Gajdusek’s sexual mores, but also his deeper motivations for science, exploration and life.