The mortal presidency : illness and anguish in the White House



Transcription of Annotations

Notes on front endpapers: Dr. Max Jacobson. Underlinings/notes: Drs. Janet Travell, Daniel Rug. Dwight D. Eisenhower Library exploring late President's voluminous medical records. Atrial fibrillation--stress, exercise, excessive caffeine--up to 150 beats/minute. Bush collapsed in London hotel room, bleeding ulcer. President's friends indicate internalized tension. Focus--physical/psychological dangers of office rather than powers/responsibilities. Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan. Consideration should be given to downsize responsibilities as chief administrator of the United States. Presidents of the US die prematurely. Lincoln--age 56, Garfield--age 49, McKinley--age 58, Kennedy--age 46. 33/40 presidents college graduates, 25/40 lawyers. Of 35 deceased presidents, 25 died prematurely. Longest-lived presidents--first 10. Lyndon Johnson--22 January 1973, age 64, 10 years short of life expectancy. Zachary Taylor, 12th President, second to die in office--do not know exact cause of death. Cause--of 7 presidents who died prematurely, but of natural deaths in the 20th century, cardiovascular disease responsible for death of 6 of them--Johnson, Coolidge, Harding, Wilson, and 2 Roosevelts. Persons with excessive drive, aggressiveness, ambition in association with competitive creativity, vocational deadlines--significantly more subject to heart disease than individuals with personality traits running counter to these. Presidents, who accomplished most, better in reputation/longevity of life than less successful counterparts. Harding--tormented by ineptitude. Died after 2 years in office--age 57, 10 years short of life expectancy. Zachary Taylor died at 65, 9 years short of expectancy. Attit. toward work, ability to cope with stressful demands, have psychological, physiological consequences. Congress--1970 study--Members of Congress longer-lived than general population.1. Presidency charact. by type/degree of pressure that does not devolve on other 2 branches of government. 2. Members of Congress/Court--able to forget about legislative/judicial responsibilities. Link=Stress/Illness. Stress, cardiovascular illness. Cancer--stress plays role in dev. of carcinoma. Dr. Hans Selye--president of International Institute of Stress--severe distress can trigger the disease. Ulysses S. Grant--ineffective president, died of cancer of the throat in 1885 at the age of 63. 1. Presidents short-lived. 2. Presidents disadvantaged in terms of longevity of life. 3. Cardiovascular disease more freq. in certain personality types. Tension may reduce immunity to most diseases. Wilson--in midst of speaking tour--suffered stroke that brought presidency to an end. Died at 67, seven years short of life expectancy. Coolidge--inviolate schedule--8 am breakfast, work from 9 'til until lunch at 12:30, back to desk at 3:00, end of day 4:00 pm. 11 months into presidency, son, Calvin Jr. died of blood poisoning. Deaths and Coolidge's upbringing produced profound vulnerability that made it impossible to transcend grief--destroyed his presidency. Nov. 1918--elected gov. of Mass., moderately liberal Republican. Coolidge nervous, irritable, short-tempered, impatient--presidency got on his nerves--image of taciturnity/silence--highly irascible/explosive in temperament. In WH--various bouts of physical distress--stomach trouble, indigestion. 11 hours of sleep--ceased to live up to own admonition--lost himself/problems in sleep. FDR--1921 polio. Image control, media management. Cardiovascular disease--death no way sudden, unanticipated. Yalta, 1945. 1912 Typhoid, 1913 severe stomach distress,1915 appendicitis and lumbago, 1916/1917 serious throat infections, 1918 double pneumonia, severe influenza. President's arterial deterioration so advanced, funeral directors difficulty preparing body for lying in state. Cancer--possible that Dr. Frank Leahy, discovered cancerous tumor that had metastasized--advised not to run for 4th term. Crippled by polio; afflicted by sinusitis, colds, bouts of flu, hypertension, pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure. Hear ailments concealed from nation. Eisenhower's life filled with pain/illness. Presidency--heart attack, abdominal surgery, stroke, unpublicized medical problems. Medical info. actively suppressed. 1949 heart attack. Deliberately misdiagnosed to avoid damaging his political career. Had smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day. 1950 told Clare Booth Luce that he gave up smoking due to a little heart trouble. 1955--series of calls from Sec. of State John Foster Dulles disturbed his golf game several times--so angry that his veins stood out like whipcords. Gave adult life to country, done enough, not going to run again. John Foster Dulles--architect of US foreign policy during President's convalescence, major ramifications. 1955--directed attorney general to formulate constit. Amend. for presidential disability. House Speaker Sam Rayburn opposed proposal--indicated Pres. Eisenhower about to turn over his duties. Eisenhower hired maid from whom son contracted fatal case of scarlet fever. Stomach disorders became severe soon after son died. On verge of nervous breakdown long after boy's death. JFK--sad, ironic enduring symbol--rocking chair. Man beset by illness/pain--impact of medication--Cortisone, desoxycorticosterone, steroids. Ronald Reagan--oldest Pres. 1981 Assassination attempt/1985 cancer surgery--significantly affected administration. Success of first term, owed to assassination attempt, Reagan's heroic response to it. Cancer surgery contributed to Iran-Contra scandal. 4 killed, of 39 presidents who completed terms--4,10% assassinated. Tension--related to diseases/physical indispositions. 4 died. 4 died in office: William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia; Zachary Taylor /Warren Harding tormented presidents died in office likely from cardiovascular disease; Franklin Roosevelt. 1841 John Tyler. Presidential Disability Amendment of 1967. Impossible to remove tensions/frustrations of presidential responsibilities.


Gilbert, Robert E, “The mortal presidency : illness and anguish in the White House,” One Book. One Author. One Hour., accessed October 7, 2022,


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The mortal presidency : illness and anguish in the White House


Gilbert, Robert E


Program air date: January 24, 1993.


Robert Gilbert's account of death and illness in the White House.


"Presidents--United States--Health."


Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection
Gift of Brian Lamb, 2011.


George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives


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