Ten years ago, a determined historian transformed our picture of John F. Kennedy. Robert Dallek had finally got his hands on the president’s medical records and discovered just how big a part JFK’s constant health problems played in his life. Instead of a young, fit, athletic leader, Dallek revealed a man racked with pain, suffering from Addison’s disease and excruciating spinal damage and swallowing a daily pharmacy of drugs and potions.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, when his finger hovered over the nuclear button, he was pumped full of steroids and antibiotics, amphetamines and testosterone, ritalin and sleeping pills. He had been given the last rites on three occasions before he was 35. By the time he came to Dallas, this energetic, charismatic, unstoppable force of nature had spent more of his time in hospital or convalescing than the 1,036 days he spent as president.