September 3, 1982

`Elephant Man' had more than neurofibromatosis

JAMA. 1982;248(9):1032-1033. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330090008003

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


No case history has ever catapulted a disorder into public prominence more than the remarkable saga of Joseph Carey Merrick, who has come to be known as the "Elephant Man."

As communicated by a Broadway play, a motion picture, and recent medical and popular writings, Merrick's tormented life has unquestionably contributed significantly toward greater knowledge of the progressive, familial disorder neurofibromatosis (NF).

But Merrick's tortured body also sheltered other secrets which have now, after 91 years, only just been revealed.

The young British man, who was extremely intelligent, had not one but possibly three different bone disorders that contributed to his severe disfigurement. In addition to the undisputed NF, he had a polyostotic form of fibrous dysplasia and pseudarthrosis of the left hip due to pyarthrosis or tuberculosis, claims Benjamin Felson, MD, professor of radiology, University of Cincinnati Hospitals.

Felson's conclusions, disclosed to the annual meeting of the American Roentgen