John Kendall Cannizzo

July 16, 1957December 30, 2018

Dr. John K. Cannizzo passed away Sunday, December 30, 2018. John was born in Austin, Texas on July 16, 1957 to John and Jeanine Cannizzo. He moved to Deming, New Mexico in 1958 and graduated from Deming High School in 1975. He graduated from the University of New Mexico with a double major in astrophysics and mathematics (B.S., 1979), and received his PhD (1984) in theoretical astrophysics from the University of Texas at Austin, with a thesis on the theory of accretion disks. John then worked at Harvard College Observatory (Massachusetts), McMaster University (Ontario, Canada), Kenyon College (Ohio), the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (Bavaria, Germany), and the Laboratory for Astronomy and Solar Physics (Maryland), before coming to the Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics at Goddard. His research interests included interacting binary stars, active galactic nuclei, accretion disk theory, N-body simulations, LIGO, and time series analysis.

He will especially be remembered for his love of his family; for his kindness, generosity, and sense of humor; for his great enjoyment of science; and for his glee on the tennis courts.

He is survived by his wife, Catherine Asaro of Columbia, Maryland; daughter, Catherine Cannizzo of Oakland, California, brothers Louis Cannizzo (Patricia) of Ogden, Utah, James Cannizzo (Laura) of San Antonio, Texas, sister Emma “Gina” Cannizzo (James Leckinger) of Lebanon, New Jersey, nephew John D. Cannizzo and niece Lilah Cannizzo, both of San Antonio, Texas. He was preceded in death by his parents.

A Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, February 17, 12:30–3:30 at the Gary Arthur Community Center, 2400 State Route 97, Cooksville, MD 21723. Please RSVP to

In lieu of flowers, and to honor John’s commitment to advancing women in math and science, the family asks that donations be made to the Association for Women in Mathematics. For more information, see

From Catherine Asaro: I was blessed to have John as my husband for thirty-two years. He truly was a gentle giant with an immense heart and inner strength, the love of my life, the finest human I’ve ever known. I thank all of you who have posted your thoughts here; it helps to ease the great loss of his passing.

From Catherine Cannizzo: My father was the sun in my life. His joyous humor endeared him to me like a giant teddy bear. Through him and my mom, I saw what true love looks like. I am eternally grateful for such a wonderful man as my dad. Thank you all for your comments; they mean so much."

From the colleagues of Dr. Cannizzo: Our colleague John Kendall Cannizzo passed away on December 30 2018, at age 61. John was a member of the Physics Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory in the Astrophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, having been at Goddard for 25 years. He was a longtime member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) science team and of the Swift gamma-ray burst telescope. John was born in Texas and he studied physics at the University of New Mexico as the recipient of several academic scholarships. He continued post graduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin under the tutelage of Craig Wheeler and received his PhD in 1984 on "The vertical structure and stability of alpha model accretion disks," setting up the equations that determine the structure and evolution of the accretion disks of Dwarf Novae.

Following the completion of his thesis, John continued with a post-doctoral position at the Harvard Smithsonian Observatory (1986), where he met his wife, Catherine Asaro. He then had a position at McMaster University (1990) in Canada, followed by a visiting professor position at Kenyon College. He continued to develop his models of X-ray novae, and of accretion disks produced by the tidal disruption of a star passing in the vicinity of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

In 1992, John went to the Max Planck Institut fur Astrophysik as the recipient of the prestigious von Humbolt fellowship. During 1993, he moved to the Laboratory for Astronomy and Solar Physics at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. In 1995, he went to the Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics, where he oversaw the operations of Rossi X-ray Transient Explorer and continued developing his models for accretion onto neutron stars and black holes. His expertise with the physics of accretion onto compact objects earned him positions in the Swift and LIGO teams, which proved to be quite appropriate and timely, with the later discovery of tidal disruption events in the X-ray band by Swift and the discovery of merging black holes and neutron stars by LIGO.

John was kind and soft-spoken, always willing to listen and accept without criticism, charitable to all, and thus easily accepted into everyone’s confidence. His professional association with a large number of academic institutions and locations familiarized him with a broad section of both the astrophysics and local cultural communities, providing a source of many amusing stories that he recounted at lunch. John was an avid and talented tennis player, on the courts almost daily wielding his remarkable spin shots. He was also an expert Scrabble player. We are all grieving at his loss. John will be deeply missed as a good friend and colleague in the Goddard and astronomical communities.


  • Memorial Service/RSVP at the web address Sunday, February 17, 2019

John Kendall Cannizzo

have a memory or condolence to add?

Dave Leisawitz

March 19, 2019

I'm deeply saddened to hear of John's passing. John and I entered the UT Austin astronomy program together in 1979 and, as fate would have it, were among the few in our class whose astrophysics careers flourished. Fate brought us together again at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where we pursued different interests but were always glad to see each other and share memories of Austin and the friends we held in common. John's cheerfulness was contagious, and I will always remember and admire him for his kindness and good humor. I will truly miss him and would like to extend my sincere condolences to his family members. Dave Leisawitz

Paul Barrett

March 8, 2019

I was saddened to hear of Johns' passing, but the memories that I have of him will always bring a smile to my face. His Science Fiction Writers and Rocket Scientists parties were always interesting and the tennis matches always challenging. I learned that the best chance of beating John at tennis is to play on foggy mornings because then he was handicapped by foggy eyeglasses.

Clare Kent/Kendall

February 17, 2019

John was my cousin. I can see from all the tributes here how much he was valued as father, husband, brother, friend and colleague. Reading the comments makes me wish I could have known him better. I met him as a child in Deming when we enjoyed meals together and trips out to his father's mines looking for turquoise. Once I visited him at his university when he introduced us to his girlfriend Cathy. Over the years his proud mother often wrote to me about his brilliant academic achievements. I did not meet him again until his trip to England for his daughter's graduation in Cambridge. When he spoke to me in his kind slow gentle voice I felt the years in between fall away. He was the same John, so easy to communicate with. Now I will not be able to talk with him again which is very sad. We must make the most of our loved ones while we can and I know his lovely wife and daughter did just that right up until the end. I am praying for him and for all his family especially this Sunday. May he rest in eternal peace.

Anne Wilford

January 29, 2019

I was so sad to hear about my cousin John’s death. I always remember our wonderful summer holidays in New Mexico with John, his Mum and Dad, Louis, Jimmy and Gina. Sitting in the back of the Cannizzo pickup truck on the way to the turquoise prospect was so exciting! I met John again many years later at a lunch in Cambridge to celebrate his daughter’s graduation. He seemed like a lovely man and the way he spoke reminded me of my Dad, John’s uncle Jim. My thoughts are with Catherine, Cathy and the Cannizzo family at this sad time.

Tom Llanso

January 18, 2019

I only had the pleasure of knowing John over the last three years when he became a regular part of our Saturday tennis group at the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory. He was so much fun to play with -- his big smile, humor, wicked spin shots, and, of course, the pies he regularly brought to our matches! He will be greatly missed.

Lawrence Dickerman

January 18, 2019

I remember that we lost touch and you had all the fancy computer and kept coming up blank and I ended up doing it with a flip phone(shame).
But, Dude, your visit in 2/12, sure picked up my spirits after my Mom passed away on 8-11. My mother always said that she hoped to see you again!
I knew that you, your wife and daughter were all cat people, but when you got to my and I had twelve dogs: American Bulldog, Pitbulls, Corgis, Jack Russell and that mean Little Augster, the gangster, I was impressed that you didn't bat an eye. Thanks for your kindness of sorrow when Spiffy died last February. She feel in love with you, Dude.
I bet you never saw that many dogs sitting around a BBQ grill and Never go for a'sample taste!

Jean-Pierre Lasota

January 16, 2019

I was shocked to learn today about John's death. I have lost a younger colleague with whom I have interacted for many years and whose research inspired mine, but I also have lost a dear friend whose kindness and fantastic sense of humour I admired and enjoyed. I will miss him.
Rest in peace, John.

Cynthia Froning

January 16, 2019

I am saddened to hear of John's death and I want to extend my condolences to his family and loved ones. I know John from years of meetings at conferences and e-mail exchanges. I work on observations of cataclysmic variables and X-ray binaries and John's models of disk instabilities and predictions of observational signatures was a key part of my research. What I remember most about John, however, is his kindness, openness, and geniality. It was always a pleasure to talk to him. He will be missed.

Sally Bales

January 16, 2019

I have shared news of John's passing on facebook with Deming friends. Many condolences have been offered. Hope his family will gain comfort from the outpouring of support.

Deming Old Timers Group
(public group on should be able to peruse)

Allen Shafter

January 15, 2019

Dear Catherine and Cathy, I was stunned and saddened to learn today of John's passing. As anyone who knew him would agree, he was a unique and wonderful human being, the likes of which come along so very rarely. You've lost a beloved husband and father, and I've lost a special and long-time friend.
Johnny, you'll be missed...