Tribute For David Sackoff, 71, ‘Survivor’ Who Battled Mental Illness, Dies


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

David Sackoff had, by any measure, a troubled life. He spent most of his adulthood with untreated schizophrenia. He lived on the streets, in prison, in psychiatric facilities and, for the past 18 months, in a senior housing facility in the Bronx.

Mr. Sackoff didn’t talk much. He had a violent history that scared some people. While living in an S.R.O. in Brooklyn in 1989, Mr. Sackoff killed a fellow resident. He was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for manslaughter.

Despite all this, his sister, Judith Sackoff, said in a phone interview, “I wanted people to know that he was loved.”

Ms. Sackoff, who is three years younger than her brother, became his champion, especially after their parents died. Whatever facility her brother was admitted to, she would call to let the counselor there know he had somebody in his life.

“I can’t say exactly how that feeling emerged, but once my mother died, I knew I was going to be that person for David,” Ms. Sackoff said. “I felt a huge responsibility to not allow David to be invisible.”

Mr. Sackoff fell ill in late May and died on June 9 at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx of complications of the novel coronavirus, Ms. Sackoff said. He was 71.

David Maxwell Sackoff was born on Sept. 20, 1948, in Brooklyn, to Ruth (Hoffman) Sackoff, a bookkeeper, and Jack Sackoff, an office manager.

Ms. Sackoff said she and her brother grew up in a middle-class Jewish home in Brooklyn. She recalled listening with him to the disc jockey Murray the K on the radio in the bedroom they shared as children. Mr. Sackoff graduated from Erasmus Hall High School.

Mr. Sackoff’s mental illness emerged when he was in his 20s, and he became erratic and belligerent. He lost his job as a counselor at a methadone clinic. His marriage ended in divorce. He became homeless and lived on the streets for a decade. And then he was incarcerated.

The structure and routine of life in prison, where Mr. Sackoff worked as a janitor, seemed to settle him, his sister said. Upon his release, in 2013, he was sent to South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island, where for the first time he received sustained treatment.

After several years there, Mr. Sackoff expressed the desire to live by himself. In 2018 he moved to Tres Puentes, a supportive senior housing development in the Bronx. There, Ms. Sackoff said, he “achieved what I would not have thought possible.”

Mr. Sackoff lived in his own studio apartment. He bought his own MetroCard, rode the bus, went to the post office and did his own weekly shopping at the Western Beef supermarket, buying hot dogs, hamburger meat and rolls to make dinner.

Ms. Sackoff was grateful for each of her brother’s achievements, and for what they revealed about his life.

“At the risk of sounding facetious,” she wrote in an email, “his particular talent was for survival.”



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