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Leo Rangell, psychoanalyst who explored Watergate and ‘Nixon Syndrome,’ dies

Leo Rangell, a leading psychoanalyst who argued forcefully that theoretical fads and factions threatened to erode consumer confidence in the field founded by Sigmund Freud more than 100 years ago, died May 28 at a hospital in Los Angeles of complications from surgery. He was 97.

A clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California at San Francisco, Dr. Rangell wrote more than 450 published papers as well as several books, including “The Mind of Watergate” (1980), “My Life in Theory” (2004) and “The Road to Unity in Psychoanalytic Theory” (2006).

He held the highest positions in his discipline, serving twice as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association and the International Psychoanalytical Association.

Dr. Rangell also was named honorary president of the international group, a distinction that previously was held by Freud’s daughter Anna.

A practicing psychoanalyst since the 1940s, Dr. Rangell was seeing patients until shortly before his death.

His chief contribution was championing a comprehensive theory of psychoanalysis to counter the waves of new schools of thought that emphasized one approach over all others and divided the profession into warring camps of Adlerians, Jungians, Kleinians, Reichians and others.

“Is it acceptable,” Dr. Rangell wrote in “The Road to Unity in Psychoanalytic Theory,” “that a patient should turn out to have an Oedipal conflict or a problem with self-cohesion depending on which analyst he is with?”

The oldest of four children of Russian and Polish immigrants, Dr. Rangell was born Oct. 1, 1913, in New York. He earned a scholarship to Columbia University and studied medicine at the University of Chicago, graduating in 1937. He practiced psychiatry and neurology in New York until World War II began. He spent the war years as a psychiatrist in the Army Air Forces.

After the war, he moved to Santa Monica, Calif., and studied at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute, producing a thesis on a man with a doll phobia that was published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

Dr. Rangell wrote influential papers on a number of topics, including anxiety, unconscious decision making and the role of friendships in mental health. “The Mind of Watergate” explored the public pathology that he said gives rise to corruption; he called it the Nixon Syndrome.

“The fact is that Nixon was sick in the realm of integrity,” Dr. Rangell wrote. “This is an area in which the mental sciences have lagged.”

A computer-savvy nonagenarian, he blogged for the Huffington Post on topics that included the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and an unusual malady he developed about 15 years ago.

While recuperating from heart bypass surgery in 1995, he began to hear music — Hebrew chants at first and then a hit parade of sentimental standards such as “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

It caused him some anxiety when he realized no one else heard the music that he heard nearly all the time. The “musical hallucinosis,” as he called the involuntary tunes, became a fixture of his life, although he learned to control and, eventually, accept it.

“I have become familiar with a new dimension of me,” he wrote in a 2006 blog post. “The songs come on their own, and I listen. I am listening to me.”

Dr. Rangell’s wife of 58 years, Anita Buchwald Rangell, died in 1997; a son also died. Survivors include three children; a sister; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

— Los Angeles Times

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