C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general of the United States who started the government’s public discussion of AIDS during the Reagan administration, died Feb. 25 at his home in Hanover, N.H. He was 96.

A spokeswoman for the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth confirmed his death but did not disclose the cause.

Dr. Koop was the most recognized surgeon general of the 20th century. He almost always appeared in the epauleted and ribboned blue or white uniform denoting his leadership of the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. With his mustacheless beard, deep voice and grim expression, he looked like a Civil War admiral or, as some cartoonists suggested, a refugee from a Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

The theatrical appearance, however, masked a fierce self-confidence, an unyielding commitment to professional excellence and a willingness to challenge the expectations of his patrons.

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