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Tributes to Dr. Joe

Larry Gatlin - The Gatlin Brothers ~~

Grammy Award-winning trio



I love the words to This old hymn:






I have 3 wonderful physicians in my life in addition to the Great Physician Jesus. Dr. James Toombs, who was there at my birth, and helped give me life...Dr. Robert Ossoff who performed 4 vocal chord surgeries on me, and in so doing, saved my career, and, Dr. Joe Pursch, who along with the Great Physician Jesus, saved my life... Literally.


Larry G.

From the Dear Doc Celebration of Life: "Doc said, 'Give your guitar to me. Playing your guitar is the way you cry. I want you to cry real tears.'”

Thomas Henderson ~~


The Man who helped me to change my life, passed away yesterday. He was 92 years old. Dr. Joseph Pursch "Psychiatrist". If not for him, I'd be long dead. Met him 37 years ago at the Care Unit in Orange California. I had been taken there by my friend and Attorney Arnie Gold. He had found me Smoking Crack in my efficiency apartment. I had no idea where he was taking me. I'm glad he took me because I would've never taken myself.  I am still sober............

I will never forget you, Dr. Pursch. You pointed me in the right direction 37 years ago. I came to you broken in a million pieces. Step by step I recovered. I will miss you. Save me a spot over there. 

About 100 friends, colleagues, and family assembled to remember him. It was emotional and fun. I cried, realizing that if not for him and others I'd be long dead. Thank you, Joe. TH

Moe BandyCountry Music Legend


When I went to OCC 37 years ago, I was physically and mentally broke. Dr. Joe helped to restore my sanity and my life. When he told you something, you not only heard it, you felt it. He helped to save so many lives. I’m thankful I met him. God rest his soul.

Larney Fowler --


My very dear friend Joseph A. Pursch, MD, the doctor who treated me in June 1983 for substance abuse, passed away today at age 92 in Laguna Beach, CA. I was fortunate enough to spend time with him yesterday at his bedside holding his hand, kissing his forehead, and telling him how much I and thousands of others loved him ( including PJ, Thomas H, Larry G, Moe B, Ballard S, Buzz A, David G, Ted F…to name just a few).

Dr. Ron Smith ~~

Captain Joseph A. Pursch, Naval Officer, Psychiatrist, Flight Surgeon, Patriot, My greatest Mentor, Professor, Teacher, Role Model, Friend, Father/Brother/Son (at times) had his last flight at 1030 PDT Sunday. The picture above was taken in 1978 at the first of our many conferences on Physician Impairment.


Joe and I had the greatest run in the history of Addiction Treatment. Every Ship in the Navy has an AA meeting and he "carried the message" all over the world. Joe changed the face of addiction, proved recovery was possible and a joy. He taught the responsibility to those in recovery to family, work, reparations, service to others.


He leaves the world a better place than he found it. His Chutzpah, Gravitas, Command Presence, Humor, opened doors to the White House, Pentagon, Capitol Hill....any doors needing his class, dignity and lightning-fast diagnosis and treatment plan.


Fair Winds and Following Seas, Open Skies, Fly well Great Captain!

Join Dr. Ron Smith and Dr. Judi Hollis as they pay tribute to their friend and mentor Joe in this video contribution to the History of Treatment project underway by LuceProductions and Bulldog Ohrstrom


Dr. Ron Smith

Psychoanalyst at Private Practice and at Department of Defense - Navy

Dr. Judi Hollis

For more than thirty years, Dr. Judi Hollis has been featured on CNN and has taught at universities, hospitals, and community agencies, including the US Navy’s treatment programs, the FBI, Betty Ford Center, Hazelden, Omega, and Esalen Institutes.

On June 20, 2021, we lost a true leader and legend in the field of addiction treatment - Dr.Joe Pursch.  He played a pivotal role in the treatment of former First Lady Betty Ford, astronaut Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the moon), Billy Carter (brother of former President Jimmy Carter), country singer Larry Gatlin, and many others. Dr. Pursch changed the face of understanding, about alcoholism as a treatable disease.  RC2C host Neil Scott pays tribute to Dr. Pursch, with clips from his films;  along with an interview Neil did with him a few years ago; plus comments from Thomas 'Hollywood' Henderson, Grammy-winning country superstar Larry Gatlin, and Susan Bales Ford, daughter of former First Lady Betty Ford. Plus friends and colleagues John Frederick and Len Baltzer share memories, as well. And we also will hear from Joe Pursch, Jr., Doctor Pursch's oldest son.

"My main referral during my 25 years with United Airlines at LAX. We have lost an icon in Addiction Medicine, and one who, in my opinion, was the gold standard for the specialty. Farewell

I owe my career to Joe and his insights about recovery and life in general.  Even after he “retired” Joe would call me with humorous recollections.   Joe’s life was so meaningful to so many.


Andrea--Thank you for the privilege of being invited to be part of the celebration of such a personable, caring, and devoted individual. Joe was and is central to my life and will forever remain in my prayers." 

~~ Bob Elliot- Senior consultant for the FAA, Navy Flight surgeon, Psyd

“I met “Dr. Joe” in July 2019, standing in line to get a Peet’s Coffee, when I ran into an entertaining man pointing at the humor in the activities of the coffee line. After that moment I met him for coffee 3 or 4 days/wk. What a joy and treasure to have spent that time with Joe!” ~~ Stuart Shelly

Mick Meagher ~~


​I am sad to report Dr. Joseph Pursch, Capt. USN M.C. (Ret.) passed away last Sunday.  For those of you who knew Joe, no words could ever fully express the profound impact he has had on the addiction recovery community. Joe ran the Navy Alcohol Rehab Service at Long Beach hospital, where numerous men and women began their journey into recovery.  He trained numerous physicians to recognize alcoholism and learn the road to recovery, making his impact worldwide.


Joe adopted me into his recovery orbit as a very young Marine. His generous giving of his wisdom and his time helped shaped my life into one of meaningful service to others.


Many of the early civilian addiction treatment centers were staffed by those who had the opportunity to learn from Joe. 


Rest easy Dr. Pursch, we have the watch. Fair winds and following seas!

                                               A bit of history...I first met Joe  in 1972, I                                                            believe, in Washington DC, where we were both                                                        attending a world wide conference.  After hearing                                                    him speak, I remember thinking..."I am going to put                                                 that man in the movies." Two years later I had the                                                      opportunity, when I made the first 'recovery' film, the                                               Class of 76.  He was featured, along with many other personalities in the relatively new alcoholism field. 


Whenever I feature a person in a film, I always think..."How can I best present him or her". He was at Long Beach Naval Hospital then.  After watching him at work, it hit me --This is a man in motion on a mission.  So for much of his footage, I caught him walking, practically sprinting around the place.  He would get in at 5 AM to catch the DC crowd, and stay till 7 so he could call Hawaii and the other side of the world. 


I got a call from one of the athletes in my book, someone who had never heard of Joe Pursch.  When he began to talk about the book, the first thing he said was, "Hey, that doctor you wrote about, he had a helluva story didn't he?" Indeed he did, and it told me that there is still an audience out there who can be moved and inspired by him. I was hoping that would be the case.  He really does not fit in a book with movie stars, sports heroes, politicians and military war heroes.  I thought your dad was a hero of another type, and I did not want to write a book without him in it.

We had much success and a lot of fun besides. He taught me a great deal, and we were a good team.


“I met Dr. Joe in July 2019, standing in line to get a Peet’s Coffee, when I ran into an entertaining man pointing at the humor in the activities of the coffee line. After that moment I met him for coffee 3 or 4 days/wk. What a joy and treasure to have spent that time with Joe! I was just a coffee buddy for breakfast, admittedly every day and an amazing joy in my life and I believe his too for a period, but we mostly stuck to ourselves, laughed and discussed all manner of things, from AA to life, the war, politics … anything that we thought was funny at the time!

~~ Stuart Shelly

"I met CDR Pursch in 1968 in Rota, Spain. Worked with CAPT Pursch at Long Beach Navy ARS from 1973 to 1975. He spoke the truth. He could back you in a corner and chew you out, but you knew you were loved. It didn’t matter if you were a patient or a staff member. He was just a joy to be around." ~~ Len Baltzer

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