This is not Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man, but rather actor John Hurt made up as him for the movie.
John Merrick was a disfigured man who lived in Victorian London. The cause of his deformities was a serious case of Proteus Syndrome. He worked in a freakshow for a while billed as "The Elephant Man" which is the name most people remember him by today.
Joeseph Merrick (1862-1890). It is thought he suffered from Proteus syndrome. After an early life of mistreatment by his parents and disreputable circus promoters, he was given a home at the London Hospital when we was 24. He was very proficient at making cardboard and paper models and a model of the church across from his window is on display at the hospital. He was found dead at age 28 lying on his bed. He slept sitting up and it was though he asphixiated after sliding down the bed.
Elephant Man's speech: Meet The Elephant Man: Ruth Epstein and John Rubin attempt to understand how the Elephant Man's speech was formed by studying Joseph Merrick's bone structure and applying the same constraints to an actor.
Brian Richards. Dude from Delaware (I believe). Pretty cool. Has the same condition that the Elephant Man might have had (Proteus Syndrome).-- found out by the discovery channels video. Meet The Elephant Man. He is standing next to Joseph Merrick's skeleton. Even though he lives every day with complications due to the syndrome. He never let's it get him down.