MILTON WEXLER, 98 Hollywood psychoanalyst

Milton Wexler, a prominent Hollywood psychoanalyst whose efforts to find a cure for the disease that killed his wife led scientists to pinpoint the Huntington's gene, died March 16 of respiratory failure at his home in Santa Monica, Calif., his daughters said.


Though trained in law and psychology, Dr. Wexler spent much of the past three decades unlocking the mysteries of Huntington's disease, a rare, incurable genetic disorder that slowly killed his wife, her father and three brothers.

Dr. Wexler launched what is now known as the Hereditary Disease Foundation in 1968, when his wife, Leonore Wexler, got the Huntington's diagnosis. That meant the couple's daughters, Alice and Nancy, had a 50 percent risk of also inheriting the disease.


In the early 1970s, he began to recruit young scientists to help find a cure. The freewheeling workshops, inspired by his therapeutic sessions with artists, stressed brainstorming and were innovative in biomedical research.

In 1983, the scientists nurtured by Dr. Wexler -- and later also by Nancy, a clinical psychologist -- found the genetic marker for Huntington's. In 1993, they located the gene itself.

Dr. Wexler was born in San Francisco in 1908 and grew up in New York City, where he trained as a lawyer before becoming a psychoanalyst in the 1930s.

In 1946, he joined the staff of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kan., where his success treating schizophrenics gained attention. He moved to Los Angeles in 1951.

Dr. Wexler found success treating clients who were well-known in Hollywood, even sharing a screenplay credit with director Blake Edwards for the movies The Man Who Loved Women and That's Life!

More recently, he appeared in Sidney Pollock's documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry, and was described in a Los Angeles Times review as "a winning, charismatic presence."