Medicine: Elephant Man

His illness afflicts thousands

Quasimodo probably had it. Digger Barnes of the television soap opera Dallas has developed the symptoms. In real life the most famous victim was John Merrick, the grotesquely deformed "Elephant Man," who became a sought-after celebrity in Victorian England.

The affliction is neurofibromatosis, a terrifying and, so far, incurable neurological disorder usually accompanied by varying degrees of deformity. Though most Americans had not heard of it before the Dallas episodes, or before The Elephant Man, a play about Merrick, opened in New York City this year, the ailment is surprisingly...

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