Plastic surgery founding father Ivo Pitanguy…Goodbye!

Ivo Pitanguy, the world’s most famous plastic surgeon who helped make Brazil a popular destination for the rich and famous to get work done, died. He was 90.

During my career, I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing the 3 big (P)s of Brazil: Pitanguy, Pelé and Paolo (Coelho)….
Famous throughout the world, legend in his native Brazil, he was eclipsed in public recognition only by the soccer god, Pelé.
Since 1963 kings, queens, presidents, movie stars and socialites have gathered at his impressive but discreet doors looking for youth again. Pitanguy was said to have a long list of international jet-set types who he operated on, though he was also careful not to release names. However, beauty can never be kept secret. From the Duchess of Windsor, François Mitterrand, Hassan II of Morocco, Hussein of Jordan … to Joan Crawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren … have been among those who apparently went under “the Michelangelo of the scalpel” .

Pitanguy’s death came one day after he carried the Olympic flame at Rio’s Maracana Stadium on Saturday, while sitting in a wheelchair.

With his father being a surgeon, Pitanguy saw many accident victims and patients with genetic deformities. “They were treated, their bones were reset and they were sent home, with little regard for how the disfigurement would affect their psyche”, he recalled.


After a residency in a local medical school in Rio, he traveled to Cincinnati to further his studies, completing a fellowship and then studying with leading surgeons in London and Paris where the field of plastic surgery was developing rapidly. He returned to Rio in 1952. When a circus tent caught alight in 1961 one of Brazil’s worst fires, he rushed to the scene to save lives and later carried out surgery on the victims.
Everything became history afterwards…
“I believe that you should correct the aging process with elegance and distinction. You should not overdo, because if you overdo, you are only creating a mask without expression, a mask of death. That should be avoided. I try to bring naturalness.” Getting older is often most difficult for beautiful women. “They don’t feel it is natural to age, but if you help them with a distinguished proper operation, they will be much happier.”
He used to say. “As long as you can tolerate yourself, you don’t need a surgeon.”

While his private clinic catering to the elite, he also took an interest in those at the other end of the spectrum. In 1960 he opened a charity wing at Santa Casa, where he and his team used to perform, every week, free reconstructive surgeries on needy patients who suffer from birth defects or have been deformed by accidents. The team also performed cosmetic operations—from calf implants to breast augmentations—at low cost for middle-class people who could not otherwise afford them. In Rio, where the sun shines about 300 days a year and people practically live on the beach, such operations are viewed almost as necessities. Called the “philosopher of plastic surgery, he always repeated that “beauty is well-being. To be happy with yourself is by no means a superficial desire. My operations are not just for my patients’ bodies. They are for their souls.”

After our TV interview in 2003, he invited me to visit his private island “Ilha dos Porcos Grande” (Big Pigs Island) and his own ecological sanctuary not far from Rio where we flew by helicopter and had a couple of caipirinhas.
We met again Gstaad, Paris and London on several occasions.

Pitanguy’s death came one day after he carried the Olympic flame at Rio’s Maracana Stadium on Saturday, while sitting in a wheelchair.

Speaking about life and death, he once said: “Life teaches me every day. I believe that the sad thing about dying is to stop feeling this desire to always learn a bit more”.
He will always be remembered for his outstanding skills, his generosity, his smile and definitely for one of his signature surgeries which earned the nickname the “Brazilian butt-lift”.

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