Dr. Benjamin Carson, the world-renowned Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who moonlights as an educator, philanthropist, and motivational speaker, has gained quite the political following in the week since his address at the National Prayer Breakfast. And for good reason. Carson stood five feet from President Obama and sang the virtues of the flat tax, condemned death panels, and warned that, like ancient Rome, America was in danger of being destroyed by “moral decay [and] fiscal irresponsibility.”
There are already murmurs about a political future for Carson, and you can see why. His personal story is awe-inspiring: He began life as a poor black kid from the Detroit ghetto, he was raised in a single-parent household led by a striving, semi-literate mother, and his superhuman work ethic and determination led him from a tenement house to a series of blue-collar odd jobs to Yale to Hopkins. And that’s just the surface. Here are five of the most interesting things about Carson.
Carson has achieved worldwide recognition as a bold pioneer in the surgical separation of conjoined twins. His path-breaking work also led to a Hollywood stint. In 2003, a mutual friend put Dr. Carson in touch with the Farrelly Brothers, the comedy-directing duo behind There’s Something about Mary. The Farrellys wanted Carson to play himself in their new project Stuck on You, starring Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as conjoined twins. Carson agreed, but on the condition that the Farrellys promised to host the premiere in Baltimore and use it to raise funds for his educational foundations. The directors agreed. Carson, along with his wife and two children, had cameos in the movie, and the Baltimore premiere raised over $400,000. And that wasn’t the end of Carson’s big-screen career. He appeared as an extra in Gifted Hands — a 2007 adaptation of his life story in which he was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.
2. He almost killed his friend over a radio-station selection.
As a child, Carson earned himself a reputation for having a violent temper. How violent? As a seventh-grader, he swung at a much bigger boy with a combination lock in his hand, after the boy had tormented Carson for being “dumb.” The blow tore a three-inch gash in the boy’s head. A year later, after another boy hit Carson with a glancing blow from a small rock, Carson grabbed a much bigger rock and winged it at the boy’s face, destroying his glasses and breaking his nose. In the ninth grade came the worst incident of all. While arguing with his friend Bob over which station to listen to on a transistor radio, the 15-year-old Carson took a camping knife from his back pocket and lunged toward Bob, miraculously snapping the blade in half on the boy’s belt buckle.
“In general I was a good kid,” Carson wrote in his autobiography. “It usually took a lot to make me mad. But once I reached the boiling point, I lost all rational control. Totally without thinking, when my anger was aroused, I grabbed the nearest brick, rock, or stick to bash someone. It was as if I had no conscious will in the matter.”
Carson was so terrified by the near-stabbing that he ran home and locked himself in the bathroom and tearfully read his Bible and prayed for God to take his temper from him. After a few hours, Carson says, a feeling of “lightness” came over him and he found himself a changed person. He never had a problem with his temper again.