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Joseph Merrick
Joseph Merrick carte de visite photo, c. 1889.jpg
Merrick c. 1889
Joseph Carey Merrick

(1862-08-05)5 August 1862
Leicester, England
Died 11 April 1890(1890-04-11) (aged 27)
Whitechapel, London, England
Cause of death Asphyxia
Resting place Skeleton on display in Royal London Hospital
Other names The Elephant Man
John Merrick
Height 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)
  • Joseph Rockley Merrick (father)
  • Mary Jane Merrick (née Potterton) (mother)

Joseph Carey Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890), often incorrectly called John Merrick, was an English man with very severe face and body deformities who was first exhibited at a freak show as the "Elephant Man", and then went to live at the London Hospital after he met Dr. Frederick Treves, subsequently becoming well known in London society.

Merrick was born in Leicester, and began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life: his skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed enlarged lips, a bony lump grew on his forehead, one of his arms and both of his feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in permanent lameness. When he was 11, his mother died from bronchopneumonia, and his father soon remarried. Merrick left school at the age of 13 and gained employment at Freemans Cigar Factory in Leicester. Rejected by his father and stepmother, he left home and went to live with his Uncle Charles Merrick a hairdresser. In December 1879, Merrick, aged 17, entered the Leicester Union Workhouse.

In 1884, after four years in the workhouse, Merrick contacted a showman named Sam Torr and proposed that Torr should exhibit him. Torr agreed and arranged for a group of men to manage Merrick, whom they named the Elephant Man. After touring the East Midlands, Merrick travelled to London to be exhibited in a penny gaff shop on Whitechapel Road which was rented by showman Tom Norman. Norman's shop, directly across the street from the London Hospital, was visited by a surgeon named Frederick Treves, who invited Merrick to be examined and photographed. After that Merrick went to travel with Sam Roper's circus and finally toured Europe.

In Belgium, Merrick was robbed by his road manager and abandoned in Brussels. He eventually made his way back to London; and found himself at the doors of the London Hospital. Frederick Treves was in the hospital and Joseph was given a temporary bed in the hospital. Although his condition was incurable, Merrick was allowed to stay at the hospital for the remainder of his life. Treves visited him daily, and the pair developed quite a close friendship. Merrick also got visits from the wealthy ladies and gentlemen of London society, including Alexandra, Princess of Wales.

Merrick died on 11 April 1890, aged 27. Although the official cause of his death was asphyxia, Treves, who performed the autopsy on the body, said that Merrick had died of a dislocated neck. Joseph was found at 3pm by Doctor Sidney Hodges. Joseph was found stretched across his bed which indicated he was awake and trying to get up when he suffered an event which caused his death.

In absence of the possibility of genetic tests, the exact cause of Merrick's deformities has long been unclear, so that throughout much of the 20th century it was speculated that Merrick had been affected by other neurological syndromes. Only in 1986 was it presumed that he had Proteus syndrome, a very rare congenital disorder also known as Wiedemann syndrome. DNA tests on his hair and bones in 2003 in a study were inconclusive.

Merrick's life was depicted in a 1979 play by Bernard Pomerance and a David Lynch film in 1980, both titled The Elephant Man. In late 2014 and early 2015, Bradley Cooper starred in a Broadway revival of The Elephant Man.

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