September 10, 2015 5:50 AM EDT

Science, too often, is practiced by the gray and the grim. And then, all at once, comes a happy warrior like Oliver Sacks, the physician, neurologist and author who died of cancer on Aug. 30 at 82.

Look at the picture of him on the cover of his book Musicophilia–listening to a song, eyes closed, a smile on his lips that seems ready to jump the traces into a laugh. That’s the face he showed the world. It’s not every scientist who has the ability to write a book about neurological disorders and give it a name like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It’s not every scientist who, days from death, would write a playful story about gefilte fish.

Sacks displayed a capacity for joy shared by our greatest science popularizers, like Carl Sagan. But Sagan told tales of the cosmos–a place that explodes with light. Sacks had a harder job, writing of the often dark corners of the mind. Yet he managed to find so many suns there–and he shared them with us all.

–JEFFREY KLUGER

This appears in the September 21, 2015 issue of TIME.

Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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