JFK (Died at 46, gunshot wound)
Ailments – Scarlet fever; measles; jaundice; colitis; anemia; severe weight loss; hypothyroidism; overuse of steroids; possible STI; back injury; possible malaria; Addison’s disease; depression; mass amounts of medicine and gunshot wound.
It’s kind of a miracle that JFK was still standing.
During his lifetime Kennedy received the Last Rites a total of five times.
- The first was when he was only a toddler in 1920 and had contracted scarlet fever, on the same day his mother had younger sister Kathleen. Two year-old Kennedy was so ill that he was brought to Boston City Hospital through family connection and was given Last Rites. He spent six weeks recovering in intensive care.
- The second was in 1948, when Kennedy had been diagnosed with Addison’s disease in London. He was so ill on the ship home that a priest performed Last Rites as they crossed the Atlantic.
- The third was in Tokyo during a trip with brother Robert. Kennedy’s Addison’s flared up and he was placed in a coma with a severe fever. A priest was called once again.
- The fourth was during back surgery in 1954. He was told that he could be in a wheelchair without the surgery, but his Addison’s made it risky. After the surgery, he contracted a UTI made worse by his illness. Once again, a priest was called in.
- The fifth and final was when he was wheeled into Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas. He wasn’t dead yet, but he certainly wasn’t going to live.
Kennedy’s back issues stemmed from a war injury, in which he had to pull his injured men to shore after their tugboat was sunk. He had to wear a back brace- something that propelled him upright during his assassination and allowed the headshot. Kennedy was on a myriad of drugs for his various illnesses and injuries- so much so that the Nixon campaign attempted to break into his doctor’s office in 1960. Most worryingly, he was pretty high during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Yep, high during one of the only two times that DEFCON was put up to 2.
Even if he weren’t assassinated, Kennedy might not have made it to 1968, or even 1964 for that matter. He was a very ill man who was lucky to live past college. There’s no telling what could have caused his death.
FDR (Died at 63, cerebral hemorrhage)
Ailments – Polio/Guillain-Barre syndrome; hypertension; anemia, possible melanoma; GI issues; cardiomyopathy; cholecystitis; massive weight loss; possible angina and cerebral hemorrhage.
Franklin Roosevelt was at a family holiday in Canada when he was struck by illness. Symptoms included facial paralysis, fever and bladder issues. Roosevelt was in such poor condition he was thought to have nearly died. After the illness had disappeared, he was left essentially paralyzed. He could barely walk unaided, requiring the use of others, leg braces or a wheelchair.
Initial diagnosis led to polio, though it is now believed by some that he had Guillain-Barré syndrome. His illness was hidden by those closest to him as it was feared it would derail his political career.
Roosevelt was fairly healthy until the end of his third term. A decline was certainly noticeable to those closest to him. It was deemed essential that FDR run for a fourth term and that his VP would be prepared for the likelihood of him dying.
The public first became aware of how ill FDR was when he went to the Yalta Conference. Images of him showed a hollowed-out shell of a man sandwiched between Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. Press conference images showed the same.
Still, it was a shock when Roosevelt died in April 1945. The public were just not aware of how bad Roosevelt was- a combination of denials and media censorship. He’d been posing for a portrait at his Georgia estate of Warm Springs when he complained of a terrific headache. Roosevelt fell unconscious and died three hours later.
William Howard Taft (Died at 72, heart problems)
Ailments – Head injury; typhoid; obesity; perineal abscess; voice strain; sleep apnea; eye injury; fell off a horse; lumbago; goat; car accidents; hypertension; pink eye; TMJ headache; writers’ ache; digestive issues; afibrial fibrillation; inflammation; cystitis; prostate issues; knee problems; inflamed liver; high blood pressure and heart disease.
Quite the laundry list, right?
Mocked as the most obese president – which was true – William Howard Taft also found himself to be an accident-prone man.
Taft did take great pains to improve his weight and he soon trimmed down after regular exercise and a diet. Unfortunately, he’d accrued a few health problems in his time. His most painful problem was his gout, which badly pained both feet. Taft denied the problem to others.
He nearly died in a car accident in 1910 and had various accidents over the years. Taft also struggled with sleep apnea and heart/blood issues.
Unlike many Supreme Court Justices, Taft decided to resign instead of dying in office. His mental decline was as obvious as his poor health. The likely cause of his death was a mix of heart and blood problems.
Andrew Jackson (Died at 78, dropsy and heart failure)
Ailments – Slobbering; scarred by a sword; severe smallpox; depression; shot more than once; carried a bullet inside him; severe blood loss; malaria; dysentery; bullet removal; chronic stomach pain; dropsy and heart failure.
Andrew Jackson’s health issues started when he was only a boy. He and his brother contracted smallpox while held captive by the British during the revolutionary war. By the time they were released, both were near death. His brother Robert died, Andrew barely lived.
A notable dueller, Jackson didn’t escape injury. Two separate duels had given Jackson a bullet in the body. Both caused agony for him, the second nearly caused his arm to be amputated. The removal of the second bullet years provided no health problems. It is believed that it may have caused lead poisoning- an explanation for Jackson’s temper.
Jackson suffered from dropsy in the final years of his life. It was this and heart issues that led to his death.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (Died at 78, congestive heart failure)
Ailments – Appendicitis; infected cyst; melanoma; arthritis; Crohn’s disease; seven heart attacks; fourteen cardiac arrests; bowel obstruction; gallbladder infection; intestinal obstruction; prostate enlargement and heart failure.
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s heart was certainly working overtime.
His 1955 heart attack was serious and though the public knew about it, a lot of the information was carefully crafted. While in office, he also had a stroke and a serious bowel obstruction.
During his retirement, Eisenhower was a frequent hospital visitor. Eisenhower had no less than four heart attacks and fourteen cardiac arrests in the space of four months. He had three other heart attacks on top of this, including the aforementioned ‘55 event. Those four months in 1968 saw his health decline massively. The following year, Eisenhower died of congestive heart failure.
Ronald Reagan (Died at 93, Alzheimer’s complications/pneumonia)
Ailments – Severely short-sighted; pneumonia; femur fracture; prostate stones; TMJ headache; arthritis; hay fever; shot; hearing loss; colon cancer; colon polyps; skincare; laceration; prostate enlargement; Alzheimer’s; epidural hematoma; hip fracture and pneumonia.
Ronald Reagan is a strange one. He lived to an advanced age, yet suffered from a number of ailments. Reagan’s short-sightedness made him ineligible to serve during WW2, so he remained stateside and worked in the entertainment sector. When Reagan was shot in 1981, it was said that it was his remarkable health that stopped him from dying. It was a serious injury and he was sixty. This is again quite strange – he was physically robust, but simultaneously ill.
His hearing was very poor and he required hearing aids in both ears.
His Alzheimer’s disease was apparently evident even during his Presidency, though doctors who treated him during the time disagree. He would often forget names but before anyone could say anything, he would snap back to normal. Rumours circulated but nothing was confirmed until 1994. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s was so severe that he only recognised his wife Nancy and a few others.
Reagan died of pneumonia, complicated by Alzheimer’s, aged 93.
Woodrow Wilson (Died at 67, stroke complications)
Ailments – Learning disability; hardened arteries; poor dental health; four strokes; cerebro-vascular issues; severe headaches and heart issues.
Woodrow Wilson was a very educated man; he attended Princeton and got his PhD from Johns Hopkins. This was despite his struggle with reading at an early age, which many think could have been an undiagnosed learning disability. Another President to struggle with literacy early in life was Andrew Johnson.
Wilson’s most notable health issue was his strokes. He had three in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from which he apparently recovered. The most serious, however, occurred in 1919. Wilson was paralysed completely on his left side and lost vision in the right eye. Instead of informing the public and delegating activities to the Vice President, First Lady Edith Wilson performed the administrative tasks. The public was later made aware, but still not told how serious it was.
Wilson was left completely debilitated by the stroke. He was physically weak and his behaviour had dramatically altered. Still, he wanted to run for a third term but was prevented. He died three years after leaving office and five years after his severe stroke.
Theodore Roosevelt (Died at 60, pulmonary embolism)
Ailments – Asthma, severe myopia; knocked unconscious during sports; bleeding tendency; shot; obese; blind in left eye; ear infection; rheumatism; abscess; deaf in left ear; insomnia; tropical illness; severe weight loss and pulmonary embolism.
Theodore Roosevelt was a force of nature but he also suffered from a lot of problems. As a child, he was extremely sickly but managed to beat his asthma. Roosevelt was an extremely active adult who rode miles on horseback and took long jogs. He was very much a fan of the outdoors.
Roosevelt was blinded in one eye during a White House boxing match. He then took up the “safer” option of judo.
In 1912, Roosevelt was shot in the chest while at a campaign rally. Whilst the bullet penetrated his skin, it was prevented from going any further by the folded speech in his breast pocket. Roosevelt assessed that he was alright as he was not coughing blood so continued the speech. Surgeons decided it was too dangerous to take it out so it remained inside him.
Roosevelt’s life was severely shortened during a trip down the Amazon. He came down with a severe tropical illness that gave him fevers and chest pain. The infection wasn’t helped by the bullet lodged in him. He also lost fifty pounds. Roosevelt eventually recovered from near death, but the experience still caused him issues years later.
He predicted that the illness would shorten his life by a decade, and he was correct. At the age of only 60, Roosevelt was struck by a pulmonary embolism and died.
Abraham Lincoln (Died at 56, gunshot wound)
Ailments – Possible hereditary cancer syndrome; nearly drowned; concussion; head injury; lacerations; malaria; frostbite; possible Marfan syndrome; depression; eye problems; jaw fracture; feet problems; constipation; smallpox and gunshot.
Abraham Lincoln suffered from both malaria and smallpox, common illnesses back in the day. His second bout of malaria was serious and he seemed to be very ill with smallpox too.
It is commonly believed that Lincoln suffered from depression throughout his life. The medication he took was believed to be for depression (or melancholy, as it was called then), though historians aren’t 100% convinced. The Civil War clearly prematurely aged Lincoln and also impacted his mental health.
Lincoln was shot in April 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. It would have been impossible to survive; the bullet was a direct hit to the head and damaged a lot of brain tissue. He never regained consciousness and died the next day. Historians and medical professionals disagree on whether he’d survive such a wound in the modern day. Many believe he couldn’t survive such a wound, whilst others think modern technology could help. Nearly all agree that if he survived, he’d have severe cognitive deficits.
James Madison (Died at 85, heart failure)
Ailments – Chronically frail; voice problems; possible epilepsy; frostbite; chronic gallbladder inflammation; arthritis and bedbound
James Madison is another strange one. He never had any severe illnesses or injuries, but he had poor health throughout his life. Madison himself was a hypochondriac, so he may have exaggerated his illnesses, but he was chronically frail.
Unlike other Founding Fathers, Madison was too ill to serve in a military role. He is believed to have some kind of seizure disorder, likely epilepsy, as he suffered from them sporadically throughout his life. Gallbladder inflammation plagued him in the last half of his life.
Despite his hypochondria and illnesses, there’s no record of Madison ever having the common diseases of the day, such as malaria and smallpox. He also lived to 85, very impressive for the time. Perhaps he isn’t wasn’t as sick as he thought?