Joseph Adolph Sonnabend was born on January 6, 1933 in Johannesburg and grew up in Bulawayo in what was then Rhodesia.
His mother Fira, who grew up in Russia and studied in Italy, was a general practitioner, one of the first western-trained doctors in Rhodesia and an advocate of birth control. His father Heinrich, originally from Germany, was a professor of psychology and sociology. They filled the house with art and music – including piano lessons for Joseph – and worked together for social and racial justice.
Joseph graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1956 and the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh in 1961.
He trained at the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill, a suburb of London, and worked with colleagues who made important discoveries about interferons, naturally occurring proteins that interfere with viruses.
He moved to New York and continued that research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. He’s been in the moonlight of the New York Department of Health tracking outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases.
When he opened his clinic and started treating people with AIDS, the cooperative board in his building tried to evict him, saying the troop of AIDS patients through the lobby would lower property values. Dr. Saturday and five of his patients sued and won one of the first AIDS-related civil rights cases.
After 35 years in New York, he retired and moved to London.
Complete information on survivors from Dr. Saturdays were not available. He was briefly married and had two sons from other relationships. His sister Yolanda Sonnabend, a renowned set designer, died in 2015.