As It Happens

Remembering a beautiful mind: Nobel Prize-winner John Nash dies

A beautiful and sometimes tortured mind is now at rest. John Nash, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician whose life story was told in the film A Beautiful Mind, died in a car crash over the weekend, along with his wife, Alicia.
Noble Laureate Professor John Nash (Getty Images) (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty)
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A beautiful and sometimes tortured mind is now at rest. John Nash, 86, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician whose life story was told in the film A Beautiful Mind, died in a car crash over the weekend, along with his 82-year-old wife, Alicia.

The world came to know about Nash's work and his struggle with schizophrenia though the Academy Award-winning film, which starred Russell Crowe.

Peter Klein

Journalist Peter Klein was one of the few people who got to know the real John Nash. He produced a rare interview with him for the CBS TV newsmagazine 60 Minutes.

"He and Alicia were just truly lovely people," Klein tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "I'm choked up thinking that they're gone and how they ended up dying — and frankly, thinking about their son, Johnny."

Nash's son is in his 50s, holds a Ph.D in mathematics and, like his late father, lives with schizophrenia. 

"Alicia was taking care of him because he was really still struggling with this disease," Klein says. "Now, his parents are gone and I don't know what's going to happen with him."

As a 60 Minutes producer, Klein visited the Nash family many times to secure an on-camera interview for the program.

"John introduced me to sherry," he says. "He loved sherry and he made me drink it every time we visited. It became an on-going joke that whenever I would walk in, he'd pull out the sherry bottle."

A scene from the '60 Minutes' interview shoot (from left) John Nash, reporter Mike Wallace and producer Peter Klein. (Courtesy of Peter Klein)

But securing the 60 Minutes interview was no easy task.

"He initially agreed, and then he called me up one day and he said, 'I don't want to do the interview anymore,'" Klein recalls. "John Nash didn't seem to suffer from delusions or the symptoms of schizophrenia at that point in his life, but he was a challenging person to deal with regardless."

One of the reasons that Nash was reticent to appear was that he didn't want to address rumours about his bisexuality. He eventually agreed to the interview, and denied being bisexual during the TV interview with reporter Mike Wallace.

In the interview, Nash also addressed anti-Semitic comments he made at the height of his struggles with schizophrenia.

"John was always very matter-of-fact," Klein says. "He had a Dr. Spock quality to him. Very rational. When Mike asked him [about this], he said, 'Sure, I had all sorts of odd notions about the world.' He really didn't defend himself... he also believed he was the emperor of Antarctica, and he also believed he was communicating with aliens [at the time]."

"He genuinely believed these things, but it was when he cycled out of [his schizophrenia], and could look back on it, he realized of course how absurd all of those things are -- whether it was his anti-Semitic rantings, or the aliens, or being the emperor of Antarctica."

In this March 24, 2002 file photo, John Nash, left, and his wife Alicia, arrive at the 74th annual Academy Awards, in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

Klein believes that Nash was rejuvenated by the recognition that followed his Nobel Prize win.

"On one level, John seemed like a very humble man who was perfectly happy knowing that he was brilliant and leaving it at that. I think in reality, he really wanted the acknowledgement."

"If you're at the top of your game and you're already getting acknowledgement from everybody else, the Nobel Prize is a nice extra. But for John, he went from the absolute bottom to getting that, and it brought him back to life and it re-engaged him with the world in a way that I don't think would've happened."

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