Surgeon Franklin L. Ashley, Noted for Work on Stars' Faces, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Franklin L. Ashley, a plastic surgeon known equally for his restoration of famous faces and his reshaping of crippled and maimed bodies, died Thursday at his Florida home outside St. Petersburg.

Ashley was 69 and had been battling cancer for two years, said May Mann, who had been working with the Los Angeles-based surgeon on his autobiography.

Although ethically prevented from publicly identifying his better-known clients, Ann-Margret, John Wayne and Phyllis Diller took that responsibility from him by publicly acknowledging his contributions to the extensions of their careers.

Ann-Margret was particularly effusive after he repaired the facial damage she suffered in a 1972 Lake Tahoe nightclub accident when she fell 22 feet from the stage.

When he was not working at UCLA Medical Center, where he established the plastic surgery department in 1959, or on patients at Good Samaritan, St. John's, Hollywood Presbyterian and other hospitals where he was on staff, Ashley was flying to Africa.

Originally, said Ashley in interviews over the years, he went there to hunt. But once there he found that instead of shooting animals he was tending to children who, because of birth deformities, had been abandoned in the bush to die.

He explained that some tribes traditionally take their deformed sons deep into the jungle while trading their crippled daughters for cows or supplies.

Some of those children he brought to this country for surgery while others he treated in Africa, returning periodically to check on their progress.

Ashley and his friends also donated money to feed and clothe those children and helped arrange housing for them while they were recovering.

Ashley first became interested in medicine when he was a law student at the University of Texas and a sister died after surgery.

He switched his major and was accepted at Northwestern University, where he worked at odd jobs to pay his medical school tuition.

After receiving his medical degree, he went into the Navy and was aboard the Hornet when that carrier suffered scores of casualties in a Japanese attack. He became, he later said, an instant expert in reconstructing bodies, determining then to concentrate on plastic surgery when the war ended.

He became a surgical instructor at Cornell University and then a consultant for the Veterans Administration and City of Hope here, where he began to attract celebrity patients from around the world.

The attention brought its financial rewards. In 1980 the New York Times ranked him among the wealthiest and best-known plastic surgeons in the world.

Ashley spent most of his next years in the Santa Barbara area, surrounded by 35 acres of orchards and vegetable gardens. His wife Rosemary occupied her time supervising the remodeling of an old home for which she imported stained glass from Italy.

Each day he left his wife, son Franklin Jr. and daughter Lisa for a nearby airstrip where he flew his twin-engine Beechcraft Baron on the 30-minute flight to Los Angeles. He often was in surgery by 7:30 a.m.

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