Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man)

When I used to visit my family in Central American the cable channels had limited movies they would used to show. So  I would see the same movies every night for weeks and one of those movies was “The Elephant Man” (1980) directed by David Lynch.

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I remember watching this movie maybe 20-30 times and every time I would cry because didn’t understand why he was so mistreated because he looked different. He just wanted to be loved and be accepted as the person he was on the inside but because of his physically self he never got it.

When I finally came home from Central America I took my first trip to the library in my town and was reading about this movie. I was kind of surprised to find out that this movie was based on a real person.

Joseph Carey Merrick was born on August 5, 1862. His father was a warehouse man and his mother was  a domestic servant and was cited as having a physical disability which probably was carried onto Joseph Merrick.

Joseph had two other siblings but died of scarlet fever and myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord). When Joseph was born there were no physical or emotional disorders or deformities but apparently as early as the age of 1 1/2 up to the age of 5  he started  showing physical deformities. Such a “lumpy skin that was grey similar to an elephant.” (source Wikipedia), swelled lips, a huge deformation growing out of his forehead, extremely large feet and his arms were growing and looking differently than each other. His left arm was extremely enlarged and his hand was deformed in contrast to his right arm. On top of that he suffered a fatal fall when he was a child that damaged his hip.


He struggle in school and left his education by the age of 13 and tried to find work in  countless factories or selling things on the streets but was unsuccessful because his physical appearance and the wear and tear on him emotionally.

Joseph Merrick ended up leaving his home and his family due to the beatings of his father and the countless feelings of being a burden on his family financially and perhaps emotionally in 1877.

Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man

Joseph Merrick spent countless years trying to work in warehouses and getting surgery for a huge lump on his tongue. The lump was preventing him from eating and at that point Merrick was getting pretty frustrated not really being able to work and decided to become a “curiosity” instead.

Through many hands of managers of Merrick’s curiosity career Tom Norman was the one who mostly display Merrick.


Tom Norman would often display Merrick  in the back of one empty shops in a room with an iron bed and a curtain. Merrick would also double his work space as a bedroom so Merrick would hardly leave that space let alone the shop. His life was confined to four walls, and no friends and family. It was a chance meeting of Sir Fredrick Treves a surgeon who specializes in anatomy and Merrick’s only friend.


Eventually through many hardships Joseph Merrick  including being robbed by his manager all of his money he had left, becoming homeless and getting bronchitis . He was admitted by Treves to the London Hospital. Merrick spent the last of his years there and died on April 11, 1890 at the age of 27. His cause of death was asphyxia. Due to the weight of his head Merrick usually fell asleep in his bed sitting up however he want to feel a bit of normalcy and tried sleeping on his back which cause his neck to break.


Joseph Merrick’s body is part of Queen Mary’s University of London. It is a sad ending for a man who just wanted to be a regular person all of his life. It goes to show you that even with all of Joseph Merrick’s physically deformities there still was a heart of a person who just wanted to be consider a person. We can learn so much from his life and I am glad that I was so entranced by  “The Elephant Man” movie because it taught me to show empathy for others and to myself.


Until Next time!!!


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