C. Everett Koop, who raised the profile of the surgeon general by riveting America’s attention on the then-emerging disease known as AIDS and by railing against smoking, has died in New Hampshire at age 96.
An assistant at Koop’s Dartmouth institute, Susan Wills, said he died Monday in Hanover, where he had a home.
She didn’t disclose his cause of death.
Koop wielded the previously low-profile post of surgeon general as a bully pulpit for seven years during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.
An evangelical Christian, he shocked his conservative supporters when he endorsed condoms and sex education to stop the spread of AIDS.
He carried out a crusade to end smoking in the United States — his goal had been to do so by 2000. A former pipe smoker, he said cigarettes were as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
Koop’s impact was great, although the surgeon general has no real authority to set government policy. He described himself as “the health conscience of the country.”
“My only influence was through moral suasion,” Koop said just before leaving office in 1989.
Out of office, he switched to business suits and bow ties but continued to promote public health causes, from preventing childhood accidents to better training for doctors.
“I will use the written word, the spoken word and whatever I can in the electronic media to deliver health messages to this country as long as people
will listen,” he promised.
In 1996, he rapped Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole for suggesting that tobacco is not invariably addictive, saying Dole’s comments “either exposed his abysmal lack of knowledge of nicotine addiction or his blind support of the tobacco industry.”
Although Koop eventually won wide respect with his blend of old-fashioned values, pragmatism and empathy, his nomination in 1981 met a wall of opposition from women’s groups and liberal politicians.
Critics said Reagan selected Koop, a pediatric surgeon from Philadelphia, only because of his conservative views, especially his staunch opposition to abortion.