J. Robert Oppenheimer Passed Away at Age 62 — What Was His Cause of Death?

Haylee Thorson - Author

Jul. 21 2023, Published 11:35 a.m. ET

Portrait of American nuclear physicist Dr J Robert Oppenheimer (1904 - 1967), holding an open book, Berkeley, California.
Source: Getty Images

Following his death in 1967, the world is gaining insight into the highly-polarizing life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, aka “the father of the atomic bomb,” decades later.

Christopher Nolan’s Certified Fresh Oppenheimer details the creation of nuclear weaponry that ended World War II and killed approximately 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Inspired by real events that occurred in the theoretical physicist’s life, it’s no wonder viewers are curious about the man behind the Manhattan Project.

Here’s what you need to know, from Oppenheimer’s cause of death to his wife, children, and academic career.

Dr Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904 - 1967), American nuclear physicist and 'Father of the A-Bomb'
Source: Getty Images
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What was J. Robert Oppenheimer’s cause of death?

On February 18, 1967, Oppenheimer died at the age of 62 in Princeton, New Jersey. According to the Atomic Archive, the theoretical physicist passed from throat cancer.

The New York Times broke the news of the death of “the father of the atomic bomb” on February 19, 1967, writing, “A spokesman for the family said Dr. Oppenheimer died at 8 o’clock in his home on the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study. He had been ailing since early last year with cancer of the throat.”

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SFGate revealed that Oppenheimer had a habit of smoking five packs of cigarettes daily, resulting in a throat cancer diagnosis leading to his passing two years later.

“His cremated remains were scattered off St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the Oppenheimers had lived for a time,” the publication reports.

Who were J. Robert Oppenheimer’s wife and children?

Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh attend the "Oppenheimer" UK Premiere
Source: Getty Images

Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh attend the "Oppenheimer" UK Premiere

In November 1940, Oppenheimer tied the knot with his wife, Katherine “Kitty” Puening. And the story of their relationship was incredibly controversial at the time. Kitty was already on her third husband before marrying the mastermind behind the Manhattan Project.

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When the duo met in 1939 at a party, the German-American botanist fell head over heels for the theoretical physicist. Less than a year later, Kitty became pregnant with Oppenheimer’s child while still married to her third husband and subsequently filed for divorce.

Shortly after, the expecting couple wed, and Kitty gave birth to their son, Peter. Three years later, in December 1944, the Oppenheimers welcomed their second child, daughter Katherine “Toni,” in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Where did J. Robert Oppenheimer go to school?

Being tasked with the development of the nuclear weaponry that ended World War II required Oppenheimer to be an expert in his field. And his impressive academic accomplishments assisted with just that.

Before college, the theoretical physicist attended the Ethical Culture Society School in New York before starting his undergraduate career at Harvard in 1922.

In 1925, Oppenheimer graduated summa cum laude and proceeded to conduct research alongside British physicist J.J. Thompson at Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory in England.

From there, the atomic bomb creator obtained his Ph.D. at age 22 when he studied under German-British physicist Max Born at the University of Göttingen in Germany.

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