C. Everett Koop, the Reagan-era surgeon general who pushed Americans to get serious about HIV and smoking, died Monday at his home in Hanover, N.H. He was 96.
Koop began his career in pediatric medicine, serving as surgeon-in-chief at a Philadelphia's Children's Hospital. He was a talented doctor and surgeon, separating conjoined twins and revolutionizing healthcare for children. He was also conservative and a vocal opponent of abortion. That was part of the reason Republican president Ronald Reagan nominated him early in his term. Koop was appointed in 1982 after he convinced liberal lawmakers he would not make decisions based on his Christian beliefs.
The imposing Koop surprised many when he emerged as a more liberal figure, especially when it came to the AIDS crisis. He published a scathing report in 1986 on the nation's inaction on the disease and pushed for sex-education, even in elementary school, and the use of condoms. Christian conservatives were furious, saying Koop was promoting a "gay agenda," but Koop pushed on and woke many up to the reality of AIDS. In 1988, Koop was advocating mailing out information on the disease to 100 million American households.
Aside from his tireless work on AIDS, Koop consistently reminded Americans of the dangers of smoking, calling it the nation's biggest health crisis. He pushed for warning labels on cigarette packs and told of the dangers of second-hand smoke.
In the late '80s, Reagan was pushing for the surgeon general to issue a report on the dangers of abortion. Koop said the health dangers were unconclusive but a report on abortion's health risks was still released — with his name on it and without his knowledge. Koop later resigned. He would go on to receive the Presidential Medal of Honor for his many accomplishments.
Born in New York City, Koop is survived by his second wife, Cora Hogue, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Read more about the man here.