Born in 1862, Joseph Merrick was known as the Elephant Man. He said that when his mother was pregnant she was knocked over by an elephant at the circus, thus causing his condition. He willingly put himself on display as a medical oddity and only lived to the age of 27, when he died of asphyxiation in his sleep.
"He often said to me that he wished he could lie down to sleep 'like other people' ... he must, with some determination, have made the experiment ... Thus it came about that his death was due to the desire that had dominated his life—the pathetic but hopeless desire to be 'like other people'."—Frederick Treves
His tragic life has been much documented in plays and movies. David Bowie took up the role in 1980 and refused to wear make up or props when he played him in the show. Rather, he contorted his face and body to make it appear distorted, believing that he could better portray the sensitive man inside the grotesque form.
Here is what Joseph Merrick's skeleton looked like.
Here is an interview with footage from the Broadway play. I remember when he was playing in Denver. I really wanted to go but didn't. I've regretted it ever since.
'Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man.
—poem used by Joseph Merrick to end his letters