From the moment I heard about John Nash and his wife Alicia’s fatal car crash, I immediately flashed to the first day I met them. I was surprised by John’s enduring passion for his subject. He was willing to explain the concepts behind his Nobel Prize–winning work to this math simpleton.
That day I began to see John as an artist. Sylvain Cappell from New York University explained John to me in another, very lyrical way. He posited that there are three types of geniuses pushing the boundaries of knowledge. One is the scientist mining the edges, finding nuggets, polishing them into proofs with little concern for their application. They toss them over their shoulders to the next group of innovators, who take the breakthroughs and find ways to use them. John, Cappell said, belonged to a third group: paratroopers dropped behind the lines into the darkness, with orders to fight their way back into the light. In John’s case, none of that would have been possible without Alicia, who shared with him a love tested by the hellish adversity that is acute mental illness. It is by that remarkable relationship that I will always remember them above all.
Howard won the Oscar for Best Director for the John Nash biopic A Beautiful Mind
This appears in the June 08, 2015 issue of TIME.