Mathematician John Nash, who inspired movie A Beautiful Mind, dies in car crash: 5 things about him

A file picture dated March 18, 2008, of Nobel Laureate, US mathematician John Nash attending a Meeting For Extraordinary Minds in Brescia, Italy. His life story was the basis for the Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind. -- PHOTO: EPA 
A file picture dated March 18, 2008, of Nobel Laureate, US mathematician John Nash attending a Meeting For Extraordinary Minds in Brescia, Italy. His life story was the basis for the Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind. -- PHOTO: EPA 

Mathematician John Nash, a Nobel Prize winner whose longtime struggle with mental illness inspired the Academy award-winning movie A Beautiful Mind, was killed in a car crash along with his wife Alicia, 82, in New Jersey on Saturday (May 23). He was 86.

A week before his death, Dr Nash, along with Louis Nirenberg, a mathematician from New York University, was given the Abel Prize, one of the most prestigious mathematic awards. The awards ceremony was held in Norway.

He and his wife were on their way back from the airport after receiving the award in Norway when the accident happened, according to the New York Times.

Here are five things you may not know about him.

1. Dr Nash received the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1978, and in 1994, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in game theory.

2. He was born on June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia. His father, John Nash Sr, was an electrical engineer. His mother, Margaret, was a Latin teacher.

Dr Nash wanted to become an electrical engineer like his father initially, but was put off by the regimented courses. Encouraged by professors who recognised his mathematical genius, he switched to mathematics.

3. Tall and good-looking, he became known for his intellectual arrogance while doing his doctorate at Princeton University. His odd habits also made him stand out. He paced the halls, walked off during the middle of conversations and whistled incessantly, according to The New York Times.

Before entering Princeton for his doctorate, he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, which was then known as Carnegie Institute of Technology.

4. Dr Nash's personal life was complex. A turbulent romance in Boston with nurse Eleanor Stier resulted in the birth of a son, John David Stier, in 1953. Dr Nash also had a series of relationships with men, and while working at global policy think tank RAND Corporation in 1954, he was arrested in a men's bathroom for indecent exposure, according to a biography by American journalist Sylvia Nasar.

In 1957, after two years of on-and-off courtship, he married Alicia Larde, an Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) physics major from an aristocratic Central American family and one of only 16 women in the class of 1955.

5. Dr Nash started having mental disorders in 1959 and this took a toll on him. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Dr Nash and his wife divorced in 1963, but she stood by him, and they later remarried. His biography, A Beautiful Mind, written by Nasar, was adapted into a film. Director Ron Howard was nominated for eight Oscars at the 2002 Academy Awards.

It won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Connelly played Alicia Nash in the film). Russell Crowe was also nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Dr Nash.

Sources: Rolling Stones, New York Times

jalmsab@sph.com.sg