Leo Rangell was born in Brooklyn, New York, October 1, 1913, the child of recent immigrants from Eastern Europe. He graduated from Boys High School and became a premed student at Columbia, where he earned his BS with honors in 1933. After completing medical school at the University of Chicago in 1937, he returned to New York for internship and residency. He became interested in psychoanalysis, his lifelong passion, during a neurology residency at Montefiore Hospital. As a psychiatry resident at Columbia Physicians and Surgeons, he worked with Dr. Margaret Mahler on the first paper to examine Tourette's syndrome from an analytic, psychosomatic perspective and became deeply interested in the work of Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel. In 1939, he married Anita Buchwald, his lifelong companion and the mother of his four children.
Rangell worked briefly at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute before joining the US Air Force, where he provided psychiatric care for pilots who had been shot down and injured, and for former prisoners of war. After the war ended, he moved to California, where he served as clinical professor of psychiatry at both UCLA and UCSF, in addition to a busy private practice. His colleagues recognized his charismatic leadership, exemplified by his presidencies of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychoanalytic Association, and International Psychoanalytic Association. His writing encompassed a wide range of topics, from the problem of conversion to child development to the impact of presidential misconduct on the American psyche to the meaning of free will in the context of the Freudian unconscious. While recovering from heart bypass surgery in 1995, he began experiencing auditory muscial hallucinations; although these phenomena initially caused him concern, he soon embraced them as rich additions to his inner life and wrote about them in Music in the Head.
In his final book, The Road to Unity in Psychoanalytic Theory, Dr. Rangell undertook the heroic task of creating a unified Freudian synthesis of the multiple different psychoanalytic schools — Adlerian, Sullivanian, Kleinian, Kohutian, Reichian - a project which many considered impossible, but which he saw as critically important to reestablishing the credibility of the field .
Leo Rangell died May 28, 2011, in Los Angeles, of complications following a surgical procedure. He was 97 years old.