C. Everett Koop, the best-known surgeon general of the 20th century, died today in Hanover, NH, at the age of 96, the Washington Post reports. Recognized for his appearance—an epauleted uniform and grim expression that harked back to the Civil War—he also waged a fierce war on tobacco and surprised fellow conservatives by spreading information about AIDS during the Reagan years. "He was the only person in that administration who spoke the truth when it came to AIDS," recalled an AIDS activist. Liberals had staunchly opposed his confirmation, which took eight months to complete.
A surgeon during World War II, he pioneered pediatric surgery as chief surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He also improved hernia repairs and separated conjoined twins several times. In later life, he wrote an autobiography and launched a medical-information website that proved embarrassing because some of the data was paid advertising. Yet he remained a popular and easily recognized figure, the AP reports. "I was walking down the street with him one time" a few years ago, says a Philadelphia doctor. "People were yelling out, 'There goes Dr. Koop!' You'd have thought he was a rock star." (Read more C. Everett Koop stories.)