Sick as Your Secrets: 5 Times Presidents Tried to Hide Their Health Conditions
Politicians lie. This is nothing new. But when presidents lie about something so fundamental as their health – which inevitably affects their ability to govern – it’s particularly harmful to the American public. We’ve all seen this firsthand over the past week with President Trump testing positive for coronavirus – and then putting on a tough-guy act and gaslighting the whole world about the severity of COVID-19 (which has killed over 1 million people, not that we’re counting…)
But Trump isn’t the first Commander-in-Chief to deceive the public about his wellbeing. Here are five times presidents tried to hide their health conditions. As previous presidents have shown, the truth comes out eventually. It’s only a matter of time.
Cover Photo: Win McNamee / Staff (Getty Images)
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President Trump got coronavirus – or did he? If he did, it sure came at a convenient time, just days after his tax records were released and the same week as the worst presidential debate in history. Was this a distraction tactic or an actual illness? TBD.
The story we’ve been fed is that he tested positive and was admitted to the hospital, where doctors pumped him full of steroids and an anti-malaria drug, then released him back to the White House, where he immediately made of show of removing his mask. When his symptoms started, when he was actually diagnosed, and how severe his experience with COVID-19 was all remain shrouded in mystery. But given that he has several risk factors – including his age (Jurassic), sex (male, tiny penis), and weight (obese) – that tend to make the disease more deadly, it’s possible that there will still be another twist in the road to recovery.
President Reagan was shot in the chest by a mentally ill man only two months after taking office in 1981. TV cameras caught the prez walking through the doors of a nearby hospital, but didn’t witness him collapse once he made it inside. The public had no idea how close Reagan came to dying that day until 30 years later, when it was revealed that he lost nearly half his blood volume. More secrecy surrounded the mental decline of the president, who was losing his memory and awareness during his 1984 re-election campaign. Four years later, he mispronounced his vice-president’s name, yet again the press gave him a pass. He was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.
John F. Kennedy was the youngest president ever elected to office, but he was far from the healthiest. Chicken pox, measles, ear infections, and scarlet fever marred his childhood. As an adult, he suffered from fevers as well as stomach, colon and adrenal gland problems. He also had the endocrine disorder Addison's disease and hypothyroidism. But while he was in office, the press was none the wiser. When JFK needed treatment, the company line was that he had chronic back pain, a remnant from his time in the Navy during WWII. The full extent of his illnesses was unknown until decades after his assassination.
President Roosevelt suffered polio as a child and used a wheelchair most of his life – but good luck finding photos of him in it back in the day. Secret Service agents helped him hide his paralysis from the public – and when journalists managed to snap a pic, the images were confiscated and destroyed. FDR also used tricks like wearing leg braces and gripping the lectern while giving speeches, carrying a cane, or leaning on someone to stand upright. When Roosevelt died in office in 1945, many were shocked to learn he had a disability.
While in office, President Wilson suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire left side and could have killed him. "From that point on," writes historian Thomas J. Knock, "Wilson was but a frail husk of his former self, a tragic recluse in the White House shielded by his wife and doctor." Yet somehow, he managed to govern for another 17 months, though rumors have swirled that it was actually First Lady Edith Wilson who ran things behind the scenes.
Photo: Topical Press Agency / Stringer (Getty Images)
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