A Doctor's Famous Patient

In the long career of a physician, it wouldn't be unusual to have a famous (or infamous) patient, such as a well-known author or a mobster kingpin.

“No harm is done to history by making it something someone would want to read.”

—David McCullough

My physician-father had his share of “famous patients,” including one reputed New Jersey mobster kingpin. When dad asked what would happen if he owed him a lot of money and couldn’t repay, the kingpin replied, “Well doc, we wouldn’t hurt you, but we know where your family lives.”

But there was also Jim Bishop, a respected and colorful author and columnist, who was a patient of my dad’s for about 15 years in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bishop liked to reach way back in history with his writings. He wrote the first popular book—other than the Bible, of course—on the subject of the death of Jesus Christ. A 1957 bestseller, The Day Christ Died

(

HarperCollins) is a quick reading, 272-page tome. It is a historic, not religious, account of that fateful, 24-hour time period culminating on April 7, 30 AD. (Of course, Bill O'Reilly has made a fortune with his new “Killing” series of books on Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ.)

Other Bishop bestsellers included The Day Christ Was Born, The Birth of the United States, The Day Kennedy Was Shot, The Days of Martin Luther King, Jr., and The Day Lincoln Was Shot. The book on Lincoln's assassination, published in 1955, was the one that made him wealthy and famous, my dad told me.

Bishop also dined with and wrote about 3 US presidents and called John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, Jackie Gleason, and Jimmy Hoffa friends.

Bishop was also a prolific columnist for the Hearst Corp. for 25 years, syndicated in several hundred newspapers nationwide. Indeed, a June 1960 column by Bishop covered a visit to my dad’s medical office. The writer’s offering, entitled “Doctors Snare an Artful Dodger,” was a witty day-in-the-life account of his visit with 3 health care professionals—an internist, a radiologist, and a dentist.

Referring to my dad and his then-Red Bank, NJ, medical partner, Dr. George Sheehan, Bishop wrote:

“When they heard that I was coming they flipped a coin. Kelly lost. So he probed, punched, listened, weighted, regarded, opened, closed, hefted and said wearily: You ought to lose 25 pounds. Otherwise okay.”

Exhaustive as that examination may have been, Bishop recounts, the other two healers he saw that day were nearly as accommodating of him as was my dad.

The Jersey City, NJ, native died in 1987 at age 80. My father, who received free books from Bishop, said that despite all his celebrity, Bishop was a “regular guy” who always sought to help others.

“He was a self-made man, so fame never really changed him,” dad explained.