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This article was prepared for the December 19, 2001 edition

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At the Movies

Universal Pictures has joined the ranks of those

who call John Forbes Nash Jr. "a living legend." Nash,

long-time

denizen of the Princeton University campus, was awarded the Nobel

Prize in 1994 for his inspired, youthful work on game theory which

overturned 150 years of economic wisdom.

Here in Princeton, his legendary status grew over decades. Students

in the 1960s knew him as "Woody," an odd, middle-aged

mathematician

who could be spotted striding aimlessly across campus, often dressed

in more than one plaid and wearing brightly colored sneakers, who

used tree trunks to knock the ash off his cigar.

"A Beautiful Mind," a feature film that claims only to be

"inspired by events in the life of mathematician John Forbes Nash

Jr.," opens on Tuesday, December 25, at the Garden Theater. A

benefit showing for Mercer affiliate of the National Alliance for

the Mentally Ill (NAMI) will take place on Sunday, January 6, and

includes an award dinner honoring Nash (call 609-777-9766).

The film’s creative team, producer Brian Grazer and director Ron

Howard,

had spent years looking for a project that would allow them to tell

the story of a brilliant individual who battles and conquers mental

illness. Nash’s unlikely story of a math genius struck down at 30

by paranoid schizophrenia, who yet recovered to work again, first

came to Grazer’s attention by way of a Vanity Fair article by Sylvia

Nasar, author of the Nash biography, "A Beautiful Mind,"

published

in 1998.

Although the film’s writer, Akiva Goldsman, took the broad outline

of Nash’s life from the Nasar’s book, he constructed a fictional

composite

of maths and mathematicians of the post-World War II era. The choice

of Russell Crowe, star of immensely successful "Gladiator,"

to play the embattled mathematician is a sure touch of poetic justice.

Jennifer Connelly plays his equally heroic wife, Alicia Larde Nash,

to whom many attribute Nash’s eventual recovery. Also featured in

the cast are Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch,

Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, and Christopher Plummer.

The film, which takes the audience from Nash’s arrival in Princeton

in 1947 to the Nobel Prize award ceremony almost 50 years later, was

shot here over three months this spring. Other New Jersey sites

included

the Garden State Cancer Center, Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne,

Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the New Jersey Performing Arts

Center. The MIT section of the story was shot at sites in New York

that included Bronx Community College and Manhattan College.

John and Alicia Nash were first married in Washington in 1957, but

divorced in 1963 as a result of Nash’s illness. They were married

for the second time on June 1, 2001, at a ceremony performed by Mayor

Carole Carson in West Windsor, where they have lived together since

1970. They are the parents of 42-year-old John Charles Martin Nash

(known as Johnny), also of West Windsor. A born mathematician, he

earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers in 1985 without receiving a high school

or college diploma. Nash is also the father of John David Stier, born

in 1953 to a woman with whom Nash had a relationship when he was on

the MIT faculty.

Nash’s own view of his mental illness is contained in

a brief autobiography he wrote upon receiving the Nobel Prize and

included in "The Essential John Nash," edited by Princeton

University mathematician Harold W. Kuhn, a longtime friend of Nash,

and biographer Sylvia Nasar, and published this year by Princeton

University Press:

"The mental disturbances originated in the early months of 1959

at a time when Alicia happened to be pregnant. And as a consequence

I resigned my position as a faculty member at M.I.T. and, ultimately,

after spending 50 days under `observation’ at the McLean Hospital,

traveled to Europe and attempted to gain status there as a refugee.

"I later spent times of the order of five to eight months in

hospitals

in New Jersey, always on an involuntary basis and always attempting

a legal argument for release . . . In the later ’60s I became a person

of delusionally influenced thinking but of relatively moderate

behavior

and thus tended to avoid hospitalization and the direct attention

of psychiatrists."

Nash continues his academic pursuits. "Statistically, it would

seem improbable that any mathematician or scientist, at the age of

66, would be able through continued research efforts, to add much

to his or her previous achievements," he wrote in 1994.

"However

I am still making the effort and it is conceivable that with the gap

period of about 25 years of partially deluded thinking providing a

sort of vacation my situation may be atypical. Thus I have hopes of

being able to achieve something of value through my current studies

or with any new ideas that come in the future."


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