Politics & Policy

Five Things You Didn’t Know about Dr. Carson

Dr. Benjamin Carson
From his childhood to his film career

Dr. Benjamin Carson, the world-renowned Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who moonlights as an educator, philanthropist, and motivational speaker, has gained quite the political following in the week since his address at the National Prayer Breakfast. And for good reason. Carson stood five feet from President Obama and sang the virtues of the flat tax, condemned death panels, and warned that, like ancient Rome, America was in danger of being destroyed by “moral decay [and] fiscal irresponsibility.”

There are already murmurs about a political future for Carson, and you can see why. His personal story is awe-inspiring: He began life as a poor black kid from the Detroit ghetto, he was raised in a single-parent household led by a striving, semi-literate mother, and his superhuman work ethic and determination led him from a tenement house to a series of blue-collar odd jobs to Yale to Hopkins. And that’s just the surface. Here are five of the most interesting things about Carson.

1. He has an IMDB page.

Carson has achieved worldwide recognition as a bold pioneer in the surgical separation of conjoined twins. His path-breaking work also led to a Hollywood stint. In 2003, a mutual friend put Dr. Carson in touch with the Farrelly Brothers, the comedy-directing duo behind There’s Something about Mary. The Farrellys wanted Carson to play himself in their new project Stuck on You, starring Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as conjoined twins. Carson agreed, but on the condition that the Farrellys promised to host the premiere in Baltimore and use it to raise funds for his educational foundations. The directors agreed. Carson, along with his wife and two children, had cameos in the movie, and the Baltimore premiere raised over $400,000. And that wasn’t the end of Carson’s big-screen career. He appeared as an extra in Gifted Hands — a 2007 adaptation of his life story in which he was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.

2. He almost killed his friend over a radio-station selection.

As a child, Carson earned himself a reputation for having a violent temper. How violent? As a seventh-grader, he swung at a much bigger boy with a combination lock in his hand, after the boy had tormented Carson for being “dumb.” The blow tore a three-inch gash in the boy’s head. A year later, after another boy hit Carson with a glancing blow from a small rock, Carson grabbed a much bigger rock and winged it at the boy’s face, destroying his glasses and breaking his nose. In the ninth grade came the worst incident of all. While arguing with his friend Bob over which station to listen to on a transistor radio, the 15-year-old Carson took a camping knife from his back pocket and lunged toward Bob, miraculously snapping the blade in half on the boy’s belt buckle.

“In general I was a good kid,” Carson wrote in his autobiography. “It usually took a lot to make me mad. But once I reached the boiling point, I lost all rational control. Totally without thinking, when my anger was aroused, I grabbed the nearest brick, rock, or stick to bash someone. It was as if I had no conscious will in the matter.”

Carson was so terrified by the near-stabbing that he ran home and locked himself in the bathroom and tearfully read his Bible and prayed for God to take his temper from him. After a few hours, Carson says, a feeling of “lightness” came over him and he found himself a changed person. He never had a problem with his temper again.

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3. He was a teenage shrink.

Carson knew he wanted to be a doctor from the age of eight. But it was psychiatry, not brain surgery, that was his first love. His older brother Curtis had scrimped and saved to buy young Bennie a subscription to Psychology Today for his 13th birthday. Carson struggled with the articles but was enthralled, and read every book on the field he could get his hands on. All the headshrinkers on TV seemed so worldly and smart, and, as Carson puts it, he “figured that with so many crazy people living in the United States, psychiatrists must make a good living.” The teenage Carson grew so confident in his budding knowledge of psychology that he fancied himself Kid Analyst to schoolmates and friends. He’d ask them “What’s troubling you today?” and “Do you want to talk about it?” and many in his cohort confided their hopes and fears to him.

4. He was a medal-winning marksman and a dining companion of General William Westmoreland.

Despite having joined high-school ROTC a semester late, Carson was a superstar cadet, racking up medals in drill and riflery. He flew through the ranks, moving from private to second lieutenant in a year and change and then so thoroughly acing his field-grade exams (he set a new record) that he leap-frogged straight to lieutenant colonel, and then became one of three full-bird colonels in all of Detroit. In recognition of his achievement, a 17-year-old Carson was given the opportunity to dine with General William Westmoreland, the top U.S. commander in Vietnam, and was offered a full scholarship to West Point.

5. B.H.O. isn’t the first president he’s rubbed elbows with.

This week was Carson’s second appearance at a National Prayer Breakfast. He first addressed the gathering in 1997, when it was President Bill Clinton seated at his right (he got in a few un-PC digs there as well, bashing touchy-feely modern parenting and using the same U.S./Rome comparison). In 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush, who called Carson “a scholar, a healer, and a leader.” He is also a recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, which is given to extraordinary self-made Americans. Other recipients include Herman Cain, Bob Dole, and Phil Gramm, along with Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, and Ronald Reagan. Perhaps there is a trend here.

— Daniel Foster is news editor of NRO.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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