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Carl Djerassi, a creator of the birth control pill, dies at 91

Dr. Carl Djerassi, the scientist who has been called one of the many fathers of the birth control pill, died Friday. He was 91.

Djerassi, who had been ill from complications due to bone and liver cancer, died “peacefully and surrounded by loved ones” at his home in San Francisco, a Stanford University spokesman said in a post on the university’s website.

It was Djerassi, along with two colleagues, who patented the key ingredient that led to the development of the oral contraceptive in 1951. He was also instrumental in creating the first commercial antihistamines in the 1940s.

“Carl Djerassi was first and foremost a great scientist. Together with his colleagues, he transformed the world by making oral contraception effective,” Stanford President John Hennessy said. “Later in life, he became a great supporter of artists and a playwright whose plays entertained while they also educated.”

While he wrote more than 1,200 scientific articles throughout his career, Djerassi also found success as a novelist, poet and playwright.

He wrote five novels, four of which he described as “science-in-fiction,” which portrayed the lives of real scientists. His plays were, too, often incorporated the life and achievements of scientists and scientific advancements, and some of his poems also reflected his life as a chemist.

“You can become an intellectual smuggler by packaging the truth in a fictional context,” Djerassi said. “If it’s exciting enough, they’ll learn something.”

Djerassi, who was Jewish, was born in Vienna and later fled with his mother to Bulgaria at the start of World War II. In 1939, they emigrated to the United States

Djerassi is survived by his son, stepdaughter and grandson.

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