Who I Am

I. Kaufman Arenberg MD

I have always had a sense of awe in his persona, his art, and his most unusual character and his art since I was a kid and loved the movie, LUST FOR LIFE with Kirk Douglas. When I studied art history in college, I had Vincent posters in my dorm room and read his letters where he described his “attacks” as “vertige” in French which can only mean inner ear vertigo, a primary characteristic of Meniere’s disease. Inner ear disorders and Meniere’s disease became my major area of interest and expertise as a neurotologist (an ear specialist), as one of my best friends’ mother had a violent vertigo attack in her kitchen while she was hand churning some ice cream for “the boys” in high school. We were all aghast. The dad said, “It’s ok boys, do not worry. She just had another Meniere’s attack.” That was my first experience with violent vertigo and Meniere’s disease, but I decided then after that traumatic event to become a doctor and figure out how to conquer that terrible disease.

I had learned early on about vertigo and Meniere’s disease. So, when I was reading van Gogh’s letters as an art history student in college, I realized when he wrote that his attacks were “vertige,” that his attacks were not epilepsy but classical Meniere’s disease. That, along with an artist surgical patient of mine for inner ear surgery years later, who when I told her “preop” not to worry as an artist, she had an excellent chance that the surgery would eliminate her vertigo, unlike Vincent who also had Meniere’s disease but there were no treatments for him in the 1880s! Her surgery was successful. She was a co-author on our JAMA article.

Over the years, Vincent’s art, his life and his Meniere’s disease and other eclectic aspects have played a significant part in my life and careers. When I did my initial research on Vincent for JAMA, I never believed Vincent committed suicide. It did not make any sense, but I was very busy doctor and did not delve into the suicide versus murder story until after I saw the wonderful, animated movie, Loving Vincent. I walked out of that movie and said to my friend, Loving Vincent–Killing Vincent made sense and I committed to writing Killing Vincent. And thus, was born the initiative for the Killing Vincent Project which continues to this day!

The Author's Homage to Vincent

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of sharing dinner with a sweet six-year-old granddaughter of a dear old friend. When asked what she had learned in school that week, she told us excitedly, without any prompting, that she had learned about Vincent van Gogh in her first-grade art class. She relayed what she had learned to the table, quite articulately I might add, that Vincent was a very strange Dutch painter who suffered from fits that eventually drove him mad, to the point where he cut off his own ear and put himself into a funny farm. When he got out, he shot himself.

While understandably brief and simple, this is a typical example of how the common (mis)understanding of Vincent’s life and death takes root in the educational system only to be entrenched in general public opinion. It is my hope that this book, my homage to Vincent van Gogh, saturates the current landscape with a new narrative that resolves some of the mysteries surrounding the artist’s death and exonerates him from both the stigma and crime of suicide while redefining his legacy for generations to come, for over a century after his death, van Gogh remains a pivotal figure in art history and a staple of cultural discourse.

Until his death certificate is corrected and his legacy reinvented, I will continue to advocate for Vincent van Gogh. Over the years, I have made many pilgrimages all over the world to see exhibitions of his work in museums and special curated shows.

The young author and his first face-to-face homage with Vincent, 1966.


Another visit and sustained homage, 1990.


The author paid homage to Vincent at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on one of many tribute visits over the years, (1966, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1982, 1985, 1990, 1996, 2001, etc).


The author paid homage to Vincent at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on one of many tribute visits over the years, circa 2001.


The author standing before one of Vincent’s self-portraits at an exhibit in New York City, circa spring, 2019.

These photos document my age-old fascination with van Gogh’s life story and his art starting in the 1960’s. This ongoing fascination manifested in over forty years of research, beginning in the 1980s when I first delved deeper into Vincent’s history to correct the diagnosis for his violent attacks in his last years. I was limited, when I addressed the correct clinical diagnosis of inner ear vertigo (Meniere’s disease), to only three pages in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. On the day of the publication of this JAMA article, which coincided with the 100 year anniversary of Vincent’s death, I was invited to New York for a live interview with Paula Zahn on CBS This Morning (July 25, 1990).


Dr. I. Kaufman Arenberg interviews with Paula Zahn, CBS This Morning, July 25, 1990.


I have since wholeheartedly turned my attention to the Killing Vincent Project and its mission to exonerate the father of Expressionism from that mistaken concept of death by suicide. In overturning the suicide myth I have done his legacy justice. I have contributed, on several levels, to our better understanding of Vincent van Gogh by correcting the explanation and diagnosis for van Gogh’s “attacks” and hallucinations. My work in correctly identifying the artist’s inner ear vertigo (Meniere’s disease) as not epilepsy helped clarify what actually troubled him and that these attacks played no role in his death. The recent definitive suicide profile analysis by modern criteria dispels any remaining claims that Vincent was suicidal in his last weeks of life. I also have demonstrated that Vincent suffered from Aspergers syndrome, now categorized as a variant of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Despite the fear of creating a blasphemy against the legends of poor misunderstood Vincent, I will continue to diligently try to bring truth to our understanding of the life, loves and death of Vincent van Gogh! I welcome any open discourse on any level playing field to attain these goals.