'Surgeon to the Stars' Dies at 98

Bjorn Thorbjarnarson was sued after gallbladder operation on Andy Warhol
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2019 8:38 AM CDT
'Surgeon to the Stars' Dies at 98
In this 1976 file photo, pop artist Andy Warhol smiles in New York.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Some called him a "surgeon to the stars"; most knew him as the doctor at the center of the controversy over Andy Warhol's death. Now, Bjorn Thorbjarnarson is once more in headlines, this time for his own passing at the age of 98. The New York surgeon's daughter confirmed his Oct. 4 death at a care facility in Warren, NJ, to the New York Times, which notes the roster of famous people who found themselves under Thorbjarnarson's care, including Warhol, Johnny Carson, and Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah of Iran. Thorbjarnarson grew up and trained in Iceland, where his own father was a doctor who visited patients on horseback. He moved to New York after World War II and started working in 1948 at what's now New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

He spent most of his career as a biliary tract surgeon, operating on the gallbladder, liver, and bile ducts. It was Warhol's case at the hospital that thrust Thorbjarnarson into the headlines: Warhol died at the age of 58 a day after what was supposed to be a "routine" surgery on his gallbladder in February 1987, and Warhol's estate brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and medical staff. The complaint alleged Warhol hadn't received adequate post-op care and had been flooded with IV fluids, leading to "internal drowning," per his lawyers. However, an autopsy found Warhol died of cardiac arrhythmia, and the hospital said Warhol's poor health pre-surgery led to his death. The hospital settled with Warhol's estate. Thorbjarnarson retired in 1989. (More obituary stories.)

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