Dr. William Close, Father to Glenn, Contributor to AIDS Research, Dies at 84

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday February 9, 2009

The father of actress Glenn Close, Dr. William T. Close, who worked to bring health care to African nations and played a peripheral role in AIDS research, died at age 84 last month.

According to The New York Times obituary for Dr. Close, published Feb. 7, Close had played a key role in containing the first known ebola epidemic.

Dr. Close had been President Mobuto Sese Seko's personal doctor, as well as the chief army physician for the country of Zaire (renamed the Congo since then) when, in 1976, the Ebola epidemic occurred.

Dr. Close was "indispensable" in containing the outbreak, according to Ebola co-discoverer Dr. Peter Piot, who until his recent retirement served as the United Nations AIDS program's director general, the New York Times article said, due to his clinical expertise and also his ability to arrange for immediate governmental support

"He impressed everybody," said Dr. Piot of Dr. Close. "I thought, 'This man is more than Mobutu's physician.'"

The critical natrure of containing the threat was later indicated by the Wolrd Health Organization; in a 1978 publication, the WHO described the Ebola outbreak in chilling terms, writing, "No more dramatic or potentially explosive epidemic of a new acute viral disease has occurred in the world in the past 30 years."

The outbreak struck 318 people, with an 88% fatality rate, the article said.

The numbers may well have been higher, but under Dr. Close's direction, the medical personnel responding to the crisis adapted protocols to stop the spread of the virus, the obituary said.

Samples stored by Dr. Close were later used for work that helped make it possible for researchers to determine that AIDS rates in Africa outside of urban centers was "stable and low at 0.8 percent," according to Dr. Joseph B. McCormick, who is now the dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Texas, and who also investigated the 1979 outbreak.

Said McCormick of Dr. Close's advocacy for health care in Africa, "He made a real effort to get public health support into rural Zaire."

Ms. Close was cited in the obituary as saying that Dr. Close left that country in 1977.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.