Renowned headache expert Dr. Seymour Diamond, who embraced transgender actor-grandson, dead at 94
Zach Barack came out as his ‘Papa’ turned 90. The doctor’s daughter says: ‘My dad called Zach and told him he loved him no matter what . . . He got everything he could read on transgender issues and educated himself.’
Dr. Seymour Diamond, founder of the nation’s first private headache clinic, treated sports stars and other celebrities including actress Carolyn Jones, who played Morticia on the campy 1960s TV series “The Addams Family.”
Dr. Diamond, 94, who died at home in Chicago Oct. 11, helped change old attitudes that migraines were psychosomatic or just a socially acceptable term for depression — or a made-up excuse to turn down unwanted invitations.
He enlightened people about possible triggers, such as alcohol, food, stress and genetic or hormonal factors and introduced patients to new medications and biofeedback.
Then, at 90, he decided he needed to learn something new, after his grandchild Zach Barack came out as transgender.
“My dad called Zach and told him he loved him no matter what and that he would always be there for him,” his daughter Dr. Merle Diamond said. “He got everything he could read on transgender issues and educated himself. How many 90-year-olds would do that?”
Earlier this year, Zach Barack became the first out trans actor in a Marvel Studios film when he appeared in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
When he was contemplating coming out, “I felt nervous because I have heard people say, ‘I respect you but. . . .,’ ” Barack said. “There weren’t any ‘buts’ in his respect.
“He pulled me aside and was, like, ‘I just want you to know I’m going to love you no matter what and respect how you want to be respected,’ ” Barack said.
Later, Barack said he heard from a relative about a gathering at which someone called him by his old name: “My grandfather banged on the table and said, ‘It’s Zach, dammit.’ ”
Young Seymour grew up in Albany Park and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He attended Loyola and DePaul universities and Central YMCA College. He earned a medical degree from what’s now known as Rosalind Franklin University, according to his daughter.
He met Elaine Flamm after her mother Rose asked her brothers, who were surgeons, “Can’t you fix Elaine up with somebody?”
“They went to a little Italian restaurant downtown and got caught in the rain and ended up in a little club on Lake Shore Drive and talked and talked for hours,” their daughter said.
By the late 1940s, they were married. They raised their three daughters in Evanston.
Merle Diamond joined him in his medical practice. Their daughter Judi Diamond-Falk became an architect. Amy Diamond worked in newspapers and magazines and helped publish Dr. Diamond’s books.
He had a healthy ego, Merle Diamond said. His autobiography, published in 2015, reflected that. Titled “The Headache Godfather,” it was one of 35 books he wrote.
Merle Diamond said her parents “both instilled in us is you could do anything, that gender should not be the thing that assigns what your career is.”
Dr. Diamond was known for a comforting bedside manner with patients, his daughter said. “He would look them in the eye and make them feel heard and hold their hands. He just listened.”
For years, the Diamond Headache Clinic operated at 5214 N. Western Ave., later moving to 1460 N. Halsted St.
Dr. Diamond bought the phone number he wanted so people could call the clinic at 1-800-HEADACH. “That was my dad,” Merle Diamond said.
He also helped found the nonprofit National Headache Foundation, his daughter said, as well as a 43-bed in-patient unit at St. Joseph Hospital for people with disabling headaches.
Dr. Diamond owned a silver-topped walking cane, and he liked to introduce himself to the staff at the restaurants he frequented, Barack said. “He wanted every Chicago restaurant to think of him as a special customer,” he said.
An expert bridge player, he once looked into finding a parrot. His family found out he’d wanted to train it to cuss at a fellow player, Barack said.
He loved Cracker Jack, even keeping his eyeglasses in a needlepoint case that resembled a box of the treats.
Dr. Diamond was featured and quoted often in news reports around the world about headaches.
Services have been held. In addition to his wife, three daughters and grandson, Dr. Diamond’s survivors include his sister Idell Appelbaum, five more grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
After his grandfather’s death — on National Coming Out Day — Barack tweeted: “I came out as trans four years ago, when he was turning 90 — at his birthday party he pulled me aside & said he’d always love me,” he said. “Never f----- up my name or pronouns even once, even when he was losing a bit of his clarity after 94 years, after knowing me for 19 years as a different name and different pronouns. So, no, it’s not that hard. It’s not confusing. Support matters. My grandfather knew that. Love you and miss you already, Papa.”