Happy Birthday, Mr. President!
Today, John F. Kennedy would have been 98 years old. His tragic assassination in 1963 – over 50 years ago – shocked the nation and the world.
Known as the United States’ first TV President with the quintessential “American Family,” JFK continues to be one of the most popular world leaders of the 20th century.
People around the world continue to read his biographies, listen to his speeches, admire his presidential mojo and theorize assassination conspiracies. His death rattled the nation, and to many, it was the death of the American Dream, which rattled the nation.
JFK was an Icon
Here are 11 interesting facts about the 35th president that you may not know:
1. John F. Kennedy schooled Richard Nixon in the first televised presidential debates.
JFK knew how to sweat out the competition… literally! On September 26, 1960, the first televised presidential debate was held between JFK and Richard Nixon. Nixon looked pale, sickly and tired, while JFK looked young and confident.
Kennedy knew how to keep it cool.
2.Kennedy was a WWII Navy hero and the only President awarded a Purple Heart.
Read more about the “PT-109 incident” here.
3.Kennedy loved Cuban Cigars.
JFK loved ‘em so much that the night before he signed the 1962 trade embargo in Cuba, he had his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, secure as many Cuban cigars as he could.
Like a mob boss’s right hand man, Salinger “made some calls” and returned to the President’s office in the morning with no less than 1,200 Petit Upman cigars, giving the Cuban economy a nice little bump before he signed the trade embargo.
4. He helped produce a movie about a coup d’etat… that was based on his own administration.
“Seven Days in May” was a political thriller based on a novel by the same name. In the movie, a fictitious president is overthrown by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were furious after the president signed a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union.
Talk about realism…
Kennedy, who at times was known to be openly fearful of a coup d’etat in his own administration, loved the idea of the film so much that he left the White House voluntarily so the crew could film there for a few days.
5. Like a true Bostonian, Kennedy was a wicked fast talker.
I’m not joshin’ ya – sticking true to his Bostonian roots, Kennedy could out-talk the best of them. At a speech he gave in 1961, Kennedy was recorded speaking at 327 words per minute, the fastest rate of public speaking in history.
6. He was afraid of Mitt Romney’s dad.
Kennedy expressed major concerns about running against moderate Republican Michigan Governor George Romney in 1964. Yet he didn’t see the eventual Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, as a real threat.
If only Mitt could be as scary as his dad these days.
7. The death of his son drew him closer to his family.
In 1963, only three months before Kennedy was assassinated, he and Jackie lost their son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy from Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome – just after two days. According to friends and family, the incident prompted Kennedy to devote more time to Jackie and his other children.
8.Canada named a mountain after him.
After his death, the Canadian Government named Mount Kennedy after him. It was Canada’s highest unclimbed mountain, and his brother, Robert Kennedy, climbed the mountain shortly after his death in 1965.
9. He got the American people onboard for the Space Race with the Soviet Union.
Early on, Kennedy proposed a joint mission with the Soviet Union. He felt that man’s first flight to the moon should not be a competition. He said, “Why should the United States and the Soviet Union, in preparing for such expeditions, become involved in immense duplications of research, construction and expenditure.”
But after Sputnik, all bets were off – and Kennedy pledged to get a man on the moon.
10. John F. Kennedy was a sick man.
During the time of his presidency, it was widely known that Kennedy suffered from chronic back pain. What was less known, was that one of his legs was shorter than the other, contributing to this pain.
It wasn’t until decades after his death that Kennedy’s family associates finally allowed his medical records to be closely examined. Renowned historian and author Robert Dallek, who was allowed to inspect them, found that Kennedy also suffered from digestive issues, a life-threatening adrenal problem and had three fractured vertebrae from osteoporosis.
As a result, he was on more drugs than the Grateful Dead. According to his medical records, he regularly took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormones to literally keep him alive; and injections of a gamma globulin to combat infections.
11. Kennedy donated his Congressional and Presidential salaries to charity.
Did you know Kennedy was an ardent philanthropist? At the time, he was the richest man ever to win the White House, and he gave all of his Congressional and Presidential salaries to charity – the latter amounting to $100,000 a year.