A short breakdown: Much of Kennedy's early years were spent in a series of hospitals (his intestinal problems were so severe that doctors thought he had freaking leukemia), and in 1954 he almost died after back surgery. His osteoporosis got so bad that he couldn't reach across his desk or put on his own shoes, and he often had to be carted around in a wheelchair. Sometimes JFK had to be lifted into Air Force One in a cherry picker crane, simply because he couldn't climb the stairs.
By the time he was elected president, JFK was on a truly terrifying cocktail of drugs. By 1961, he was being injected with powerful painkillers two or three times a day, on top of daily amphetamine injections from a questionable German character called Dr. Feelgood.
We suspect that might not even have been his real name.
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For camouflage, the nation soon made drug use mandatory for all citizens.
JFK was briefly put on antipsychotics during the Cuban missile crisis to combat his terrible mood swings. It has frequently been speculated that his bizarrely poor performance at the Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev was due to his heavy amphetamine use. Hell, one theory even supposes that Kennedy's notorious sex drive was a side effect of the steroids he was taking. That's how bad off he was -- even the sex he was having was considered just another symptom of disease.
All of this was carefully kept secret from the American people, because Kennedy (reasonably) thought it would hurt his chances as a career politician if the public found out their legendary leader was not so much a "standup dude" as he was a "veritable pinata stuffed full of painkillers and misery."
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Related Reading: For some trivia on the crazy things that fix American elections, click here. The Halloween masks matter, shockingly. Oh, and did your history teacher mention that LBJ was a dong-waving sex machine? Presidents are more badass than their suit-wearing modern descendants would suggest. Andrew Jackson straight murdered fools.
And be sure to pre-order Cracked.com Head Writer Dan O'Brien's book, How to Fight Presidents, to better prepare yourself for your next presidential run-in. In stores March 18th!