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Jose Castillo, 81, physician

Jose Castillo, 81, of Center City, a physician and plastic surgeon who was active in the Latino community, died of liver disease Monday at his home.

Jose Castillo, 81, of Center City, a physician and plastic surgeon who was active in the Latino community, died of liver disease Monday at his home.

A native of Mexico, Dr. Castillo came to Philadelphia in 1970 when he was appointed assistant professor of surgery and chief of the burn service at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He left Jefferson in 1979 to establish a practice in Center City in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

He was affiliated with Methodist, Episcopal, and Cooper University Hospitals, and Neumann and St. Agnes Medical Centers. He retired from plastic surgery in the late 1990s but continued to practice general medicine until earlier this year, said his daughter, Isela.

Patients called him Dr. Pepe, his daughter said. Pepe, a nickname for Jose, was also appropriate because he had a high energy level, she said.

Dr. Castillo helped establish a free clinic in Kennett Square for Mexican migrant workers and was a volunteer with the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness.

In the early 1980s, he co-founded the Society of Ibero Latin American Medical Professionals and served on the board of the Mexican Cultural Center in Philadelphia.

In 1996, he received the Ohti Award, given by the Mexican government for services to the Mexican American community. In 2007, he received the man of the year award from the Mozart Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Philadelphia.

In the 1990s, Dr. Castillo hosted Dr. Castillo y Su Salud (Dr. Castillo and Your Health) on WTGI-TV, Channel 61 (now WPPX). The director Jonathan Demme saw the program in 1993 when he was casting his film Philadelphia. Demme hired Dr. Castillo for the role of the father of Tom Hanks' gay lover.

Dr. Castillo later told a reporter that he was initially reluctant to take the part, explaining that he hosted the TV show not as an entertainer but "in order to educate the Hispanic community on the issues of health."

In 1997, a federal court jury found Dr. Castillo guilty of surgically trying to alter the appearance of a drug kingpin, Richie Ramos. Dr. Castillo's attorneys argued that the physician did not know Ramos was a fugitive and had treated him for burns.

At Dr. Castillo's sentencing in federal court, his supporters argued that he treated the area's poorest and neediest who showed up at his doorstep at all hours and were never turned away.

U.S. District Court Judge Marjorie O. Rendell sentenced Dr. Castillo to a year of house detention, two years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $35,000 fine. At the time, he thanked his supporters and said, "I accept everything that has happened to me with a purity of heart. I have nothing to be ashamed of."

After graduating from the University of Mexico Medical School in Mexico City in 1954, Dr. Castillo traveled by burro and bicycle to care for patients in rural areas near his hometown of Chalco.

In 1955, he participated in a foreign-exchange program in St. Louis, where he met his future wife, Nelia Teran, also a native of Mexico. They married in 1956. He completed a surgical internship at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis and then spent six years as a plastic surgeon resident there before establishing a practice in Mexico.

During the Vietnam War, he volunteered for six months in 1966 in that country to care for wounded civilians under a program sponsored by the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. He then was on the staff of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City before joining Jefferson.

Every year, Dr. Castillo sang at the Mexican Independence Day celebration on Penn's Landing. He loved to sing and party and could light up a room, his daughter said.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Castillo is survived by a son, Arturo, and two sisters.

Friends may call from 2 to 4 and after 6 p.m. today before a memorial service at 7 at Bringhurst Funeral Home, 225 Belmont Ave., Bala Cynwyd.

Donations may be made to the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness, Jose Castillo M.D. Memorial Fund, 802 N. Broad St., Box 15010, Philadelphia 19130.