C. Everett Koop, the Only US Surgeon General Frank Zappa Sang About, Dead at 96

1916-2013.<a href="http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/QQ/B/C/T/C/">United States Public Health Service</a>

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


C. Everett Koop, the most famous Surgeon General the United States ever had, passed away Monday at his New Hampshire residence. He was 96.

Koop, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and served until 1989, was famous for the aggressive anti-smoking campaign he launched in 1984. A former smoker, Koop challenged the country to become “smoke-free” by the year 2000, and railed against cigarettes as “the most important individual health risk in this country.” His unprecedented action on AIDS awareness drove Reagan administration policy and kick-started a national conversation on sex education and safe sex. His initial report on the disease drew heated controversy for its frank discussion of sodomy, condoms, and his advocacy of teaching sex ed to kids as early as the third grade. (The government printed 20 million copies.) And although he staunchly opposed abortion on religious grounds, he declined to use his position to campaign against legal and safe abortion in America.

For these and other high-profile efforts, Koop became a household name (a level of fame unusual for a public health administrator), with some admirers referring to him as a “scientific Bruce Springsteen” and a “rock-star.” He is also the only US Surgeon General to, a) have had his own reality TV show, and b) have a Frank Zappa song written about him.

In 1991, Koop hosted a five-part documentary series on NBC called C. Everett Koop, M.D. The show, over which Koop exercised a good deal of creative control, focused on the future of health and medicine, as well as the shortcomings of the United States health care system. C. Everett Koop, M.D. also made Koop the first and only Surgeon General to win an Emmy Award. Critic Walter Goodman of the New York Times dubbed it a “painfully timely series,” and Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly wrote that “Koop has the presence of a natural TV star.”

Obviously not everyone was a gentle admirer of Koop’s: During a 1988 world tour, experimental rock artist Frank Zappa performed a hip-hop-tinged funk song titled “Promiscuous” that was harshly critical of Koop’s and other Republicans’ approach to the AIDS crisis. (You can hear part of the song here.) The lyrics are not quite safe for work; but here’s a verse:

Is Doctor Koop a man to trust?

It seems at least that Reagan must

(And Ron’s a trusting sort of guy –

He trusts Ed Meese

I wonder why?)

I WONDER WHY

WONDER WHY

Zappa’s opinion was evidently not the prevailing one: In 1990, Koop was presented with the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. And in 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate