January 21, 2019

View as List The Least Healthy U.S. Presidents

  • The Least Healthy U.S. Presidents

    Being in charge of the United States is a stressful gig, so it's perhaps no surprise that more than a few U.S. presidents have experienced ill health—sometimes seemingly by chance, and sometimes as the result of seriously unhealthy lifestyle habits. In fact, some of these fellows endured so many ailments it's remarkable that they could get out of bed each day, much less serve as the head of the executive branch. Here are eight presidents who had more than their fair share of health problems—including one whose morbid obesity foreshadowed a problem that would sadly become commonplace in our modern times.

  • 1

    James Monroe (1817-1825)

    In addition to suffering a life-endangering bullet wound during the Revolutionary War—the bullet remained in his shoulder for the rest of his life—the fifth president also contracted malaria, suffered at least one major seizure that nearly killed him, and later suffered from what many historians suspect was pulmonary tuberculosis.

  • 2

    Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

    Jackson contracted smallpox when he a young teen, as did his brother, who sadly died from the disease. A notorious hothead, Jackson was also shot several times in duels; suffered from both malaria and dysentery during his military campaigns; chewed so much tobacco that he famously brought spittoons to the White House; self-medicated with what we now know are toxic chemicals that led to mercury and lead poisoning; and had excruciating edema (swelling) in the months leading up to his death in 1845.

  • 3

    William Taft (1909-1913)

    Reportedly the heaviest individual to ever occupy the Oval Office, Taft—who stood 5' 11" tall— weighed more than 300 pounds at one point during his presidency. He also suffered from sleep apnea, likely due to his obesity, for much of his life. Excruciating gout in both feet, high blood pressure, an abnormal heartbeat, and gallstones (dozens of them) round out the picture of a 27th president in a near-constant state of duress.

  • 4

    Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

    Years before he became president, Wilson suffered the first of a series of strokes in 1896. Ten years later, in 1906, a stroke left him blind in one eye. A decade after that, in 1919, he was hit with a massive stroke that put him into a wheelchair, his left side paralyzed. For the next two years, unbeknownst to the American public, Wilson's wife, Edith, was constantly by his side, vetted the huge amount of material he had to deal with as commander in chief.

  • 5

    Warren Harding (1921-1923)

    Warren Harding was only 57 when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in August 1923 during a tour of the West Coast, in the middle of his first term as president. Long before his death, though, Harding had complained of and been treated for high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and chest pains. He was also overweight for much of his adult life. An addiction to tobacco— he smoked at least two cigars a day, along with cigarettes and chewing tobacco—only added to his health problems.

  • 6

    Franklin Roosevelt (1932-1945)

    A case of polio when he was 39 left FDR with a leg disability that would require him to use a wheelchair for much of the rest of his life. But the illness to which the 32nd president ultimately succumbed, in 1945 (during his fourth term), was a stroke. His doctors had known for some time that he had very high blood pressure, but this was passed over as “normal” for a man of his age. One of his doctors urged him to smoke less, but only in hope of curing his cough. Neither FDR, nor the public, ever realized how ill he was.

  • 7

    Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961)

    While famous as America's "golfer in chief," reportedly playing more than 800 rounds while in office, Ike was also an incredibly heavy smoker, at one time sucking down as many as four packs a day. He later quit, but his decades of smoking might have helped bring about his later heart troubles. Eisenhower also suffered from Crohn's disease, had his gallbladder removed a decade after he left office, and suffered multiple heart attacks from the mid-1950s right up until his death in 1969.

  • 8

    John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

    While he and his wife Jackie were often seen as a vibrant youngsters, JFK was in fact in daily pain for most of his adult life. As a child and a teenager he survived measles, whooping cough, and scarlet fever, as well as numerous respiratory infections, allergies, and jaundice (twice). In 1947 he was diagnosed with Addison's disease, and endured back operations and years of drug cocktails to try and alleviate the resulting discomfort. He also suffered from colon and prostate problems, sleeplessness, and high cholesterol.