Hi, it's Greg, like most of you, I'm always trying to find a great podcast series to dive into I can't get enough. And with the newest Spotify original from podcast, I found my next favorite. It's called Very Presidential with Ashleigh Flowers. And it highlights the wilder side of the American presidency. Every Tuesday through the 2020 election, host Ashleigh Flowers uncovers the most damning details about history's most high profile leaders from love affairs and coverups to blackmail schemes and even murder.
She'll expose the personal and professional controversies you may never knew existed. Ready to dive in? Check out this exclusive clip from the first episode on The Secret and not so secret exploits of President John F. Kennedy. If you want to listen to the full episode, follow very presidential with Ashley flowers free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Hi, guys, I'm Ashley Flowers, and if you've heard my podcast, Crime Junkie or Supernatural, you might know me as a true crime lover, but there's another interest of mine that I'm excited to share with you guys.
And depending on who we're talking about, there's even a little true crime esque in there, too. If you grew up in the U.S., you probably grew up with this image of the former presidents as these serious, dignified, insanely boring old men who never had any fun in their lives. And there's a reason this is all the history books tell us, because the truth is, well, it's embarrassing for the country and almost too wild to believe.
The White House has been full of scandals, secrets, drama and even a little bit of true crime from the very beginning. And the more you learn about what was really going on in the Oval Office, the more you'll have to wonder, how did we make it this far?
Welcome to very presidential APAs Cast Original in this podcast, I'm going to be looking at 15 presidents who'd be on the Mount Rushmore of bad behavior. And today I'm starting off with one of the most beloved presidents in American history, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In less than three years, JFK was involved in more scandals than most people could hope for in a lifetime. He basically turned the White House into the Playboy mansion, accidentally slept with not one but two spies, met with foreign leaders in a drug addled haze and nearly started a nuclear war because he wanted to look good in the press.
For decades, the public didn't have a clue about any of this.
But the facts we have now call into question everything we thought we knew about the Kennedys.
John F. Kennedy was a rock star at 43 years old, he was the youngest president ever elected and arguably the hottest.
Every woman in America was swooning over his boyish good looks, tousled hair and casual self-confidence. And even though the Kennedys were one of the richest families in America, he was seen as sort of an underdog. He was the first Catholic president ever elected, which was a big deal for the Irish Catholic community. More than anything, Jack, as his friends called him, was a breath of fresh air. He was young, energetic, a family man. His wife, Jackie, was already becoming a fashion icon.
His brother Bobby was appointed as the new attorney general, which let's just say was a bit of a controversial choice. But love them or hate them.
The Kennedys were America's new royalty. Of course, though that image was carefully crafted. Even after his death, the Kennedy family went to extreme lengths to hide anything that might compromise Jack's reputation. And there was a lot let's start with that youthful vigor that was one of his main selling points just 15 years before. In 1945, FDR had died in office after a long period of illness. So everyone was worried that the same thing might happen again, which is why throughout the 1960 campaign, Jack insisted that he was in perfect health.
But this was a complete lie. JFK's health problems are no longer a big secret today, but most historians still kind of tend to skim over how serious they actually were and what he did to cope with them. It's literally a miracle that Jack was still alive to be president at age 43. I mean, he'd been extremely deathly ill his entire life. He'd actually been so close to dying that he had his last rites administered. On four separate occasions, he was eventually diagnosed with colitis, which is this chronic disease of the large intestine.
And he also had Addison's disease, which causes hormone deficiencies. And as a side effect of the steroids that he had to take, he had back problems that caused him to be in constant pain. Now, none of this sounds too serious in terms of how it affects someone's decision making. I mean, sure, it's distracting to be in pain all the time, but he was still mentally sound, right? Well, he would have been. But to deal with his pain, Jack was taking basically every drug known to pharmacology.
I mean, we're talking morphine, sedatives, barbiturates, narcotics. He was even on four kinds of steroids daily, including anabolic steroids. And that's the same kind athletes use for muscle building. And they're known to cause paranoia, mania and aggression after long term use. Essentially, if Jack had to take a drug test, he would have been fired from any government job and probably referred to a rehab center.
And yet here he was with his finger on the nuclear button, making decisions that would affect the entire globe. Now, a lot of biographers insist that Jack's health problems and medications didn't have any effect on his leadership. But psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi, who reviewed Jack's medical files, said that claim was hard to accept biologically, especially when you look at his actual behavior in office, which was an endless parade of disasters.
On day three in the White House before he even had time to settle in, Jack got a visit from the CIA director. There was one little thing that needed the president's attention. The CIA had been training a guerrilla army to invade Cuba and overthrow the government. The U.S. wasn't a fan of Cuba's prime minister, Fidel Castro, because he was a socialist and this was the Cold War. But Jack wasn't totally convinced that staging a coup was the best answer, mostly because if anyone tied it back to the U.S., it'd be a whole international crisis.
But the CIA says, listen, don't worry about it, we're going to invade.
Yes, but it's not going to look like an invasion. We've recruited over a thousand Cuban rebel fighters for the job. So we play our cards right. No one will have any idea that the U.S. was ever involved. So Jack says, OK, fine, let's let's do it. But just to be extra sure that it doesn't fall back on us, U.S. forces are not allowed to participate in the invasion at all in any way, shape or form, ever the end.
But the 1500 Cuban guerrillas send them on their own with no backup. And let's just see what happens. And, of course, what happens is a complete disaster. When the invasion takes place on April 17th, the guerrilla fighters barely make it onto shore. One hundred and eighteen of them are killed, over 300 are wounded, and the rest are all captured. And not only does the Bay of Pigs invasion fail miserably, but it's obvious that the U.S. was behind it.
The biggest consequence for Jack is that he kind of looks like a bumbling idiot, both at home and abroad. Everyone's worst fears were confirmed. Maybe JFK is just a pretty face and he's too young and too inexperienced to actually lead.
The next night, Jack is meeting with a couple advisers in the Oval Office when he suddenly breaks off midsentence and walks out into the Rose Garden. He spends an hour just walking around silently by himself. The next morning, his press secretary finds him crying in his bedroom. And then over the next few days, he keeps just muttering to himself, how could I have been so stupid? Of course, it might have had something to do with the FBI storage lockers worth of drugs that he was taking.
And despite all the meds, his underlying conditions were only getting worse.
In fact, just a month later, in May of 1961, he threw out his back during a tree planting ceremony. I mean, so bad that he couldn't even walk. This was a problem because in a couple of weeks, he was supposed to fly to Europe to meet the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev. In the Cold War, perception was everything. He couldn't show up, hobbling around on crutches. He'd look like a weakling in front of the whole world press.
So he decided to call this guy Dr. Max Jacobson. Dr. Jacobson was sort of a mad scientist, doctor to the stars. He treated everyone who's anyone, and he had this miracle shot that gave his patients so much energy and euphoria that they actually called him Dr. Feelgood, which just as an aside, maybe never go to someone called Dr. Feelgood. So with this summit coming up, Jack invites Dr. Feelgood to the White House without consulting any of his regular doctors.
After one injection, Jack is practically leaping across the room without his crutches. He feels on top of the world clear-headed no pain. So he even asked Dr. Jacobson to come with him to Europe in case he needs another fix. So you're probably asking what was actually in these magic injections, mostly amphetamines. So if you're keeping score, the president is now shooting up speed, he's on Royds Downer's narcotics and whatever else was in Dr. Jacobsen's shots, because even today, no one is totally sure what the full recipe was.
But Jack said, I don't care if it's horse piss, it works. The thing about amphetamines, though, is when they stop working, you're in a world of trouble, especially if you're trying to negotiate a peace treaty with the Soviet premier. When Jack arrived in Vienna for the summit, Dr Jacobson gave him a quick injection and then he was off to the races. I mean, he was even described as bounding down the steps of the embassy.
He looked like he could run laps around the 67 year old Khrushchev. But as soon as they got to talking, Jack was clearly not functioning at 100 percent. He bumbled his way through the whole afternoon without accomplishing really anything by dinnertime. Even reporters who saw Jack leaving the building could tell that his energy was crashing. And by the end of the second day, well, it's generous to assume that he was going through withdrawals because the only other explanation is that he just straight up lost his mind.
During their very last meeting, Khrushchev threatened it is up to the U.S. to decide whether there will be war or peace. And Jack replied, Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be war. It will be a cold winter.
Now, this was the exact opposite of what the U.S. was hoping to get out of this event, Jack said it best himself in an interview immediately after the meeting.
Worst thing in my life, he savaged me for a minute. It looked like Khrushchev might have rhetorically beaten him to death. A week or two after he gets back to the White House on June 16th, Jack comes down with a fever. I mean, he can't even get out of bed.
He has to cancel all of his appointments. His doctors are on red alert because when you have Addison's disease, any small infection can potentially be life threatening. So they decide to pump him full of antibiotics and steroids and narcotics even more than usual. But his condition just keeps getting worse for a whole week. By June 22nd, he nearly dies. All the while, the press is being told that he has a mild viral infection. The public has no idea that the commander in chief is basically on his deathbed.
Miraculously, Jack's health finally starts to turn around. He makes a slow but steady recovery. And when the tests come back, they all finally find out what caused this near fatal infection.
Aaron Baktir Clacy, a bacteria that outside of a hospital setting is usually sexually transmitted.
So the president just almost died of an STD and the burning question, pun intended, is who gave it to him? Well, it's a little hard to narrow down because in his downtime between creating international crises and shooting up enough drugs to kill a racehorse, JFK was sleeping with just about every woman in the Beltway. To find out what happens next, listen to very presidential with Ashleigh flowers free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.