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Clive Wearing
Born (1938-05-11) 11 May 1938 (age 85)
GenresEarly music
Occupation(s)Musicologist, conductor and keyboardist (until 1985)

Clive Wearing (born 11 May 1938) is a British former musicologist, conductor, tenor and keyboardist who developed chronic anterograde and retrograde amnesia in 1985. Since then, he has lacked the ability to form new memories and cannot recall aspects of his memories, frequently believing that he has only recently awoken from a comatose state.

Musical career

Clive Wearing is an accomplished musician who edited the works of Orlande de Lassus. Wearing sang at Westminster Cathedral as a tenor lay clerk for many years and also had a career as a chorus master and worked as such at Covent Garden and with the London Sinfonietta Chorus.

In 1968, he founded the Europa Singers of London, an amateur choir specialising in music of the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries. It won critical approval, especially for performances of the Monteverdi Vespers. In 1977, it gave the first performance in the Russian Cathedral of Sir John Tavener's setting of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with Roderick Earle as bass soloist and subsequently made a recording (Ikon Records No. 9007). The Europa Singers also competed in the XXXII Concorso Polifonico Internazionale in Arezzo in 1984 and provided choruses for operas staged by the London Opera Centre, including Lully's Alceste and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, which was performed at Sadler's Wells.

Wearing also organised The London Lassus Ensemble, designing and staging the 1982 London Lassus Festival to commemorate the composer's 450th Anniversary.

While he was working at the BBC, Wearing was made responsible for the musical content of BBC Radio 3 for much of 29 July 1981, the day of the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. For that occasion, he chose to recreate, with authentic instruments and meticulously researched scores, the Bavarian royal wedding that took place in Munich on 22 February 1568. The music by Lassus, Padovano, de'Bardi, Palestrina, Gabrieli, Tallis and others was performed by the Taverner Consort, Choir and Players and the Natural Trumpet Ensemble of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, conducted by Andrew Parrott.


On 27 March 1985, Wearing, then an acknowledged expert in early music at the height of his career with BBC Radio 3, contracted herpesviral encephalitis, a herpes simplex virus that attacked his central nervous system.[1] Since then, he has been unable to store new memories. He has also been unable to associate memories effectively or to control his emotions, exhibiting unstable moods.

Wearing developed a profound case of total amnesia as a result of his illness. Because of damage to the hippocampus (an area required to transfer memories from short-term to long-term memory), he is completely unable to form lasting new memories. His memory for events lasts between seven and thirty seconds.[2] He spends every day 'waking up' every 20 seconds or so, 'restarting' his consciousness once the timespan of his short-term memory has elapsed. During this time, he repeatedly questions why he has not seen a doctor, as he constantly believes that he has only recently awoken from a comatose state. If he is engaged in conversation, he is able to provide answers to questions, but he cannot stay in the flow of conversation for longer than a few sentences and is angered if he is asked about his current situation.

Wearing remembers little of his life before 1985. He knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but he cannot remember their names. His love for his second wife, Deborah, whom he married the year before his illness began, is undiminished. He greets her joyously every time they meet, believing either that he has not seen her in years or that they have never met before, even though she may have just left the room momentarily. When he goes out dining with his wife, he can remember the names of food, but he cannot link them with taste, as he forgets what food he is eating by the time it has reached his mouth.[3][better source needed]

In a diary provided by his carers, Wearing was encouraged to record his thoughts. Page after page was filled with entries similar to the following:

8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.

Earlier entries were usually crossed out, since he forgot having made an entry within minutes and dismissed the writings. He did not know how the entries were made or by whom, although he did recognise his own handwriting.[4] Wishing to record 'waking up for the first time', he still wrote diary entries in 2007, more than 20 years after he started them.

Wearing can learn new procedures and even a very few facts, not from episodic memory or encoding, but by acquiring new procedural memories through repetition. For example, having watched a certain video recording multiple times on successive days, he never had any memory of ever seeing the video or knowing the content, but he was able to anticipate certain parts of the content without remembering how he learned them.[5]

Despite having no memory of specific musical pieces when they are mentioned by name and an extremely limited recall of his previous musical knowledge, Wearing remains capable of playing complex piano and organ pieces, sight-reading and conducting a choir.[6]

In a documentary broadcast in 2005, Wearing was interviewed about the experience of his condition:

You're the first human beings I've seen, the three of you. Two men and one lady. The first ... people I've seen since I've been ill. No difference between day and night. No thoughts at all. No dreams. Day and night, the same – blank. Precisely like death.

Is it very hard?

No. It's exactly the same as being dead, which is not difficult, is it? To be dead is easy. You don't do anything at all. You can't do anything, when you are dead. It's been the same. Exactly.

Do you miss your old life?

Yes. But I've never been conscious to think that. So I've never been bored or upset. I've never been anything at all, it's exactly the same as death. No dreams even. Day and night, the same.

When you miss your old life, you say, 'Yes, I miss my old life', what do you miss?

The fact that I was a musician. And in love.[7]


Wearing's wife Deborah has written a book about her husband's case entitled Forever Today.[8]

His story was told in a 1986 documentary entitled Equinox: Prisoner of Consciousness, in which he was interviewed by Jonathan Miller. Neurologist Oliver Sacks mentions the documentary in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. An updated story was told in the 2005 ITV documentary The Man with the 7 Second Memory (although Wearing's short-term memory span can be up to 30 seconds).

He was also featured in the 1988 PBS series, The Mind, in Episode 1, In Search of the Mind.[9] A follow-up episode was aired in 1998 on the second edition of The Mind as Life Without Memory: The Case of Clive Wearing.

He also appears in the 2006 documentary series Time, where his case is used to illustrate the effect of losing one's perception of time.

His story was also told in episode No. 304 – 'Memory and Forgetting' on the show Radio Lab on New York Public Radio, WNYC.[10]

He appears in Eric Kandel's holiday lectures on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.[11]

Sacks wrote about Wearing himself in a chapter in his 2007 book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and an article in The New Yorker titled "The Abyss".[6]

Sam Kean also discussed Wearing's life in the twelfth chapter of his 2014 book, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons.[12]

Wearing's story was also featured on an episode of the TLC series Medical Incredible.

See also

Other neurological trauma/damage cases

Other areas


  1. ^ Wearing, Deborah (12 January 2005). "The man who keeps falling in love with his wife". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008.
  2. ^ "Video on Demand – The Mind: Teaching Modules – Clive Wearing, Part 2: Living Without Memory". Annenberg Learner. Archived from the original on 16 March 2011. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  3. ^ BBC
  4. ^ The Mind, BBC series, Part 1
  5. ^ The Mind, BBC series, Part 2
  6. ^ a b Sacks, Oliver (17 September 2007). "The Abyss". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  7. ^ Jane Treays (director) (19 September 2005). The Man with the 7 Second Memory (Television documentary). ITV.
  8. ^ Wearing, Deborah (2006). Forever Today: A Memoir of Love and Amnesia (Paperback) (Updated ed.). Corgi. ISBN 0-552-77169-4.
  9. ^ Johnson, George (2 October 1988). "TELEVISION; Closing the Gap Between the Brain and the Mind". The New York Times. p. 31. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  10. ^ "Radiolab | WNYC Studios | Podcasts". wnycstudios. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  11. ^ "Neuroscience | HHMI BioInteractive". Archived from the original on 24 June 2013. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  12. ^ MacGowan, James (27 May 2014). "The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean: review". Toronto Star. Retrieved 28 April 2018.