Presidential candidates are under more scrutiny now than I believe ever before in history – from personal conduct to physical health. However, many past U.S. presidents suffered from unusual health conditions during their elected terms. Here are three of the most interesting examples:
George Washington was never painted smiling, and I have to wonder if that set the standard for ‘serious’ presidential portraits. But much like Mona Lisa, George’s smile (or lack of one) hides a secret – due to poor oral hygiene, by the time he became president, he only had one real tooth left in his mouth! During his inauguration as the first president of the United States, Washington actually wore a pair of dentures made from gold and carved hippopotamus ivory.
A man often characterized as courteous and sensitive, James Buchanan’s reputation may have had more to do with his eyesight than his personality. Farsighted in one eye and nearsighted in the other, the unusual condition caused him to tilt his head slightly forward and sideways when talking to other people – a gesture mistakenly attributed to his demeanor.
John F Kennedy
The seeming poster-child for youth and vigor, the 35th U.S. president was hospitalized more than three dozen times in his life. Suffering from Addison’s Disease, by the time John F Kennedy was president, he was taking ten to twelve medications a day – antispasmodics for his bowel, muscle relaxants, pain medications, testosterone, and sleep aids. He was also getting injected sometimes six times a day, six places on his back, by the White House physician, just to enable him to face the day. JFK also wore a back brace, which some argue contributed to his death by keeping him erect after the first shot was fired.
While I have no doubt the stress of the job contributed to the ill health of some of our past presidents, many of their conditions were pre-existing. Today, their illnesses may even have kept them from being elected.