Dr. Louis Leithold


A former Pepperdine University mathematics professor, who at the age of 82 was still teaching college level calculus classes at Malibu High School, died Friday.

Dr. Louis Leithold was found dead in his Pacific Palisades home after Leithold failed to arrive at the high school that morning.

“This is the guy who literally wrote the textbook on calculus,” one saddened Malibu teacher said.

Leithold’s 1968 “The Calculus With Analytic Geometry” is in its eighth edition, translated into many languages and is, by some accounts, the most-used textbook on any subject in the world.

“He was a rock star among mathematicians,” said colleague Robert Barefoot of Scottsdale, Ariz., recalling audiences of 2,000 screaming Leithold fans, many wanting their textbooks autographed, at calculus lectures in universities in Central America.

Barefoot and Leithold together taught summer clinics for high school calculus teachers for several years at Fordham University in New York and at Pepperdine.

Leithold began his career in 1955 at Phoenix College, and then wrote his seminal textbook while teaching at California State University Los Angeles. He taught at Pepperdine for 17 years before retiring in 2000, serving as an adjunct professor at the Malibu university’s liberal arts division, Seaver College.

In 1998, at age 76, Leithold began teaching calculus at Malibu High.

“He made listening to a lecture about calculus interesting and engaging,” said MHS senior Danielle Horn.

“Calculus was the love of his life, everything he taught he taught with great enthusiasm,” said another MHS senior, Anne Carol Cruz. “The school lost a great man, he was so passionate.”

Fellow MHS math teacher Brian Corrigan said Leithold got his students “convinced that their calculus class was the most important class. That wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t passion.”

“He was revered on campus,” said Malibu High Principal Mark Kelly.

The principal said an extremely high percentage of Leithold’s advanced placement students passed the final tests to gain college credit because “he lived and breathed calculus, for him it was a piece of theater.”

Teachers called Leithold’s students over the weekend and discussed his passing at a special Sunday afternoon class at the high school. The sad news was delivered on the weekend that students were studying for the advanced placement calculus final exam, scheduled statewide for Tuesday.

“The kids know that the best thing to do in these circumstances is to do well on the test. That didn’t have to be said,” Kelly said.

Leithold surprised many Malibu students with an encyclopedic knowledge and vivid enthusiasm of the film industry, and was advisor to the school’s Film Club. He collected and sold vintage movie posters and was as well known in that community as he was in the world of mathematics.

“He was a national treasure,” Barefoot said in Arizona. “He always said that if his textbook washed up on a desert island, someone could learn calculus just from picking up and reading that one book.”

Leithold is survived by a brother and two grandchildren. Funeral services were pending at the time this paper went to print.