Thomas Noguchi

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Thomas Noguchi
Thomas Noguchi at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Las Vegas conference 2016.jpg
Thomas Noguchi at the AAFS 2016 conference at Las Vegas
Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner for the County of Los Angeles
In office
Preceded byTheodore Curphey
Succeeded byRonald Kornblum
Personal details
Thomas Tsunetomi Noguchi

(1927-01-04) January 4, 1927 (age 93)
Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan
ResidenceLos Angeles, California
Alma materNippon Medical School
OccupationCoroner, medical examiner

Thomas Tsunetomi Noguchi (野口 恒富, Noguchi Tsunetomi, born January 4, 1927) is the former Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner for the County of Los Angeles from 1967 to 1982. Known as the "coroner to the stars", he determined the cause of death in many high-profile cases in Hollywood during the 1960s and 1970s. He performed autopsies on Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy, Sharon Tate, Gia Scala, William Holden, Natalie Wood, and John Belushi.


Noguchi was born in Fukuoka Prefecture, raised in Yokosuka and graduated from Tokyo's Nippon Medical School in 1951 before interning at The University of Tokyo School of Medicine Hospital.[1] Shortly thereafter he emigrated to the United States. He then served a second internship at Orange County General Hospital and a series of residencies at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, and Barlow Sanatorium in Los Angeles.[2] He was appointed a deputy coroner for Los Angeles County in 1961.

In 1967, he became Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner for the County of Los Angeles (CME), replacing his mentor Theodore Curphey. As CME, Noguchi came to public attention for a series of autopsies which he performed or supervised on a range of celebrities and public figures that included Albert Dekker, Robert F. Kennedy, Sharon Tate, Janis Joplin, Inger Stevens, Gia Scala, David Janssen, William Holden, Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe, and John Belushi. His autopsy of Kennedy concluded that the fatal shot was fired into the back of Kennedy's head, behind the right ear, from an upward angle, and from a distance of no more than 0.5 to 3 inches (15–75 mm) away. Such a finding has given rise to conspiracy theories regarding the assassination, as no witnesses reported seeing the convicted assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, any closer to Kennedy than 1 meter away and in a position to fire such a shot. Noguchi himself points out in his memoir Coroner that he has never officially ruled that Sirhan fired the fatal shot.[3]

He developed a high profile as CME, and was often accused of speaking too freely to the media, particularly following the November 1981 deaths of William Holden and Natalie Wood, which, along with moonlighting and alleged mismanagement, led to his demotion from coroner to physician specialist in 1982.[4] His autopsy of Wood's death as an accident has since been questioned. A former intern of Noguchi at the time of Wood's death stated that he saw bruises were substantial and fitting for someone who gets thrown out of a boat. He claimed that he made those obverservations to Noguchi, who reacted strangely as if he was involved in a cover-up.[5] He was later appointed Chief of Pathology at the University of Southern California and then as Administrative Pathologist for Anatomic Pathology services at the USC Medical Center.

Noguchi was appointed professor by both the University of Southern California and UCLA. He is a past president of the American National Association of Medical Examiners. In 1999 he was honored by the Emperor of Japan who awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasure for his "outstanding contributions to Japan in the area of forensic science".[6] He retired the same year.

As of 2017, Noguchi is the president of World Association for Medical Law (WAML), which is a medical body founded in 1967 to encourage the study of health law, legal medicine, and bioethics.[7]


  • Coroner, 1983. A best selling memoir written with Joseph DiMona. (Published in the UK as Coroner to the Stars)
  • Coroner at Large 1985. A book about historical coroners and famous deaths. (NYT review.)
  • Unnatural Causes, 1988. A detective novel written with Arthur Lyons.
  • Physical Evidence, 1990. A detective novel written with Arthur Lyons.

Film and other media[edit]

  • He has appeared in the documentary The Killing of America (1982).
  • He appeared as himself in the film Faces of Death (1980).
  • In 2000, Noguchi appeared in Michael Kriegsman's autopsy-related documentaries, "Autopsy: Through the Eyes of Death's Detectives"; and "Autopsy: Voices of Death", wherein Noguchi takes the viewer through a complete autopsy.
  • He is said to have been the inspiration for the TV series Quincy, M.E. (1976–1983), which starred Jack Klugman.[8]


  1. ^ Robert, Lindsey (March 12, 1982). "MAN IN THE NEWS; A CHASTISED 'CORONER TO THE STARS'". The New York Times. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Sr. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  2. ^ "Thomas T. Noguchi Receives the R.B.H. Gradwohl Medallion". American Academy of Forensic Sciences. April 2, 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  3. ^ truTV Crime Library: The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy Archived May 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Noguchi Begins New Job". Reading Eagle. April 29, 1982. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Duquesne/Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law -- bio Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ World Association for Medical Law Executive Committee, accessed August 18, 2017.
  8. ^ Thomas Noguchi

External links[edit]