JFK A Sick Man For Most of His Life?

I read that John F. Kennedy, despite his efforts to appear strong and virile, was a very sick man. He had suffered the loss of his adrenal gland function (Addison’s disease) as a teenager, and was treated with massive doses of steroids. these caused damge to his spine, and all kinds of glandular problems.
According to Seymour Hersch (“The dark Side of Camelot”), JFK was getting progressively worse, and was receiving almost daily doese of painkilling drugs.
Does this explain his rather bizarre behavior as president? I mean, he was always looking for sex, and frequently cheated on his wife.
I wonder if his brain was being affected by his drug used-was he actually a train wreck,(instead of a robust football-playing guy)?

Are you suggesting that cheating on one’s wife and looking for sex is bizarre behavior for men with great power and wealth? Because it seems like it’s par for the course to me. (With a nod to Dinsdale.)

In what way is that bizarre behaviour for a (male) politician?

EDIT: ninja’ed

I think the two are separate questions, frankly. I don’t think there is any question that Kennedy was in bad health, and no question that he fooled around. Had he been healthier, though, he likely wouldn’t have been a choir boy - the other male members of his family generally weren’t.

You don’t need drugs to explain that. If you have a cite for really bizarre behavior, like incoherent rambling or delusions, that would be convincing. This isn’t.

I’ve heard some people say that the Addison’s disease might have killed JFK before he left office even if he hadn’t been assassinated. I’m doubtful of this, but I’m not a doctor. I do know that he was diagnosed with Addison’s when he was 30 (this is on Wikipedia), so I don’t know about the claims he was sickly in his entire life. I do see that he had his appendix out, which is nothing unusual, and was later diagnosed with colitis.

I believe the speculation was that the reckless behavior was due to the amphetamines he was taking, not the painkillers. He was very sick most of his life and almost died from a back surgery he had for back pain.
In my opinion an accurate reading of his biography is that his reckless behavior predated his medications and was the results of his temperament and upbringing.

Kennedy’s health ailments were largely unknown until after his death. He not only had Addison’s disease but also hyperthyroidism, suggesting a genetic auto-immune disorder. He also had a bad back which initially kept him out of the Navy. While serving in the pacific in 1943, his patrol boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer causing further injury to his back.

Indeed. Polyglandular Autoimmune Syndrome (type II).

For those wanting a good (online) source about JFK’s health issues (and impressive medication list), this PBS page is excellent.

Somewhere, online, there is a really funny recording of one of his sessions during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he’s just a chattering idiot! It’s pretty funny, because the person that posted it used it as evidence that JFK was a speed freak, and just buzzing along incoherently when he may be called on at any minute to launch a nuclear war. It may have been the usual rambling that we all do when there are about 15 geniuses in the room, and we are collecting our thoughts, but, in that context it sounded hilarious!

Best wishes,

I once worked in a Defense Department job. My deskmate, an elderly gentleman who had worked in the field since WWII, and had held clearances waaaay above anything I ever had (and I had a pretty high one), was fond of telling stories about the Old Days. I suspect that most of the rest of the office thought of him as a garrulous old fart, but I was fascinated by them.

One of the most interesting stories, about which I have never been able to find any corroborating evidence other than his tale, regarded Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

His claim was that, due to his Addison’s disease and the various medications he was taking, Kennedy would mentally shut down during times of stress. He claims to have seen a picture of Kennedy sitting in his rocking chair, vacant of eye and slack-jawed, while, in the background, Bobby Kennedy and the rest of the staff huddled around the table, working out the appropriate response to Khrushchev.

Bobby Kennedy is generally credited as the brain behind much of the Missile Crisis response, including the so-called “Trollop Maneuver”, where the administration responded to an earlier, more reasonable communique from Moscow, and pretend they never received the later, much more hardline one. This is considered a brilliant diplomatic coup by political historians.

Aside from that, this story about JFK’s supposed incapacity is totally unconfirmed by any other source. It is certainly easy for a picture snapped at an inopportune moment to make an Einstein look like an idiot. On the other hand, the story has a certain plausibility, given JFK’s lifelong health issues.

This sounds like hot stuff, but, didn’t the administration actually tell the Russians that the US would go ahead and dismantle the Turkey missiles, and add the pledge not to invade, in return for removal of the missiles, thus making the Maneuver a moot point?

A good, dramatized movie in re the Crisis is ‘The Missiles of October.’
Great stuff, and heady times.

Best wishes,

I wonder to what degree JFK’s health problems influenced Joe Kennedy’s insistence on RFK being named AG. As bad as the nepotism looked (& people tend to forget how bad it did look), it would definitely help to keep JFK’s problems “in the family”.

Thanks, I for one don’t see JFK’s actions during the “Cuban Missile Crisis” as those of a rational man. Why did he even allow things to get to the point of crisis?
True Kruschev was not the brightest bulb…but Kennedy blew a golden chance to de-escalate the ideological conflict between the US and the USSR.
Kenney was unableto realize that Kruschev was a real break with the past…imagine the trillions of $ that could have been saved, if Kennedy and Kruschev had been able to sit down and negotiate (an arms control treaty).

What makes you think that a thug like Khrushchev who supported Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, suppressed the Hungarian Freedom Fighters in 1956 and built the Berlin War was “a real break from the past”? He was better than Stalin in the sense that Goering was probably better than Himmler (Fat Hermann did not want the 50 members of “The Great escape” shot) but the old shoebanger was still a willing leader in an horribly oppressive system.

Holy prescription drug cocktail, Batman!

I’ve been on some of those medications, and I couldn’t do much more than sit on the couch and watch The People’s Court.


A number of those drugs mentioned are either ones you’d use as-needed (the sleep meds, possibly the muscle relaxants, probably paregoric), and with the sleep meds, you’d be taking it before bed. Codeine, demerol, methadone, paregoric, phenobarbital – I’m skeptical that he was taking these simultaneously (the first four being painkillers, where they tend to give you one or the other, and the phenobarbital being dangerous to mix with said painkillers).

Bottom line, I’m skeptical that he was “out of it” on a regular basis. Also, upthread, amphetamines were mentioned – where do those fit in?

I would be very concerned about having a man like Kennedyin charge of launching a nuclear war-the man was a pill popping junkie.
I hope there are some checks (today) to prevent a man with such disability, from being president.