Richard Lopez was born into a Spanish-speaking Mexican-American family and grew up in an impoverished neighborhood near Los Angeles. He graduated from high school in 1958 when he was 18, and tried to enlist in the army. An examining physician questioned him closely after he had answered "yes" to a question asking if he were exceptionally nervous. According to Richard, the army doctor told him in a loud voice in front of many other young men, "You might flip your lid," and he was rejected. Richard became very angry at the doctor but did and said nothing.
Two months later he recounted the incident to a resident psychiatrist in a psychiatric clinic. He explained that he had been very nervous for a long time and that his hands and knees shook when he was with a girl or when someone near him would chew food