How did Oppenheimer die? Cause of death explained

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer and portrait of J. Robert OppenheimerUniversal Pictures/Creative Commons

How did J Robert Oppenheimer die? Following the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, here’s what you need to know about what happened to Oppenheimer after the events of the movie, including his cause of death.

Barbenheimer is here – the simultaneous release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, two movies that, despite their glaringly differing themes and aesthetics, will drop on the same day. 

While Barbie is a pink-hued fever dream, telling the story of the iconic doll as she experiences an existential crisis, Oppenheimer tells the true story of the physicist known as “the father of the atomic bomb.”

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Today, we’re here to focus on the latter, as we explore J. Robert Oppenheimer and how he met his demise in real life. 

How did Oppenheimer die? Cause of death explained

J. Robert Oppenheimer died on February 18, 1967, at the age of 62. The cause of death, contrary to the cataclysmic power of the atomic bomb he helped create, was the outcome of a prolonged battle with throat cancer.

The roots of Oppenheimer’s illness trace back to his early days, an era when the perils of smoking were not yet fully understood. Notably, Oppenheimer was said to have been a chain smoker since his youth, a habit that led to bouts of tuberculosis and most likely precipitated his diagnosis of throat cancer in late 1965. 

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Despite the advancement of medical sciences during his lifetime, the ’60s did not offer many effective treatments for such aggressive forms of cancer, particularly in advanced stages. 

Despite his illness, the physicist remained largely undeterred, displaying his characteristic determination and resilience. However, the severity of the disease gradually undermined his strength. 

An image of J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1946Creative Commons
J. Robert Oppenheimer died from throat cancer in 1967

Oppenheimer underwent surgery, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy, but unfortunately these were all unsuccessful, and he fell into a coma before passing away in 1967, his death marking the loss of one of the most consequential figures in modern science.

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He died in Princeton, New Jersey, where the funeral was also held, attended by more than 600 people, including his scientific, political, and military associates.

An excerpt from The New York Times’ original obituary reads: “A spokesman for the family said Dr. Oppenheimer died at 8 o’clock in his home on the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study. He had been ailing since early last year with cancer of the throat.

“The physicist took part in the development of the first atomic bomb. In 1954 he was stripped of security clearance by the Atomic Energy Commission because of alleged association with Communists.

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“The same agency nine years later awarded Dr. Oppenheimer the $50,000 Fermi award for ‘his outstanding contributions to theoretical physics and his scientific and administrative leadership.’”

Oppenheimer’s death was met with widespread reflection across the globe. His demise did not merely symbolize the end of an individual life, but marked the conclusion of a significant chapter in the annals of nuclear physics and world history. 

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now, and you can find more coverage below:

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