Awakenings True Story: Real Life Doctor & Drug Experiments Explained

Awakenings is based on a true story, and here’s who the real doctor in charge was and the drug experiments the patients went through.

Awakenings is a drama movie directed by Penny Marshall and based on the 1973 memoir of the same name – and here’s the true story behind Awakenings, the doctor behind it, and what the drug experiments were about. In 1990, viewers were treated to a drama story starring Robin Williams (who even though played a more drama-oriented character still added a touch of his particular sense of humor to it) and Robert de Niro as doctor and patient in a story that’s equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Awakenings tells the story of neurologist Malcolm Sayer (Williams), who in 1969 while working at a hospital in the Bronx, begins extensive research on catatonic patients who survived the 1917-1928 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica. Sayer later learns of a new drug that helps patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease and believes it could be of use on catatonic patients as well. Sayer runs a trial on patient Leonard Lowe (de Niro), who completely “awakens” and starts to show major improvements, but the experiments soon come across some obstacles that threaten the life quality of the patients who were just starting to deal with a new life in a new time. As mentioned above, Awakenings is based on the memoir of the same name by Oliver Sacks, and the drug and experiments shown in the movie are actually real.

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