In leadership positions, an air of strength, power, and authority is required for success. So when a presidential hopeful, or the President himself, is diagnosed with a disability, it’s understandable why they would make every effort to keep it secret. But the United States has elected quite a few presidents with chronic health issus. Whether the American people knew about it is a different story. Even some of the world’s most notorious leaders endured ailments unbeknownst to the general public.
Who are these people and what disabilities did they hide from us? Here are 15 presidents and famous leaders who concealed their health problems.
1. Woodrow Wilson
- Hypertension and paralysis
The 28th president of the United States secretly suffered from hypertension, headaches, double vision, and a series of strokes. Multiple strokes left him blind in his left eye and paralyzed on his left side.
Wilson tried to keep this paralysis hidden from the public once he was forced into a wheelchair, but when news broke that his wife had been managing the presidency in secret, the 25th amendment was created. It mandated that the vice president would assume power should the president die, resign, or relinquish duties due to disability.
Next: A president with a hearing problem
2. Ronald Reagan
- Hearing impairment
The nation was concerned when the White House announced Ronald Reagan would begin wearing a hearing aid in public. But what they didn’t know was that he’d been struggling with high-pitch frequencies for decades after someone fired a pistol too close to his ear on a movie set years earlier.
In addition, the 40th president suffered from severe myopia (nearsightedness) but chose not to correct it so he wouldn’t have to wear glasses. Instead, he wore a contact lens in just one eye to observe audience reactions during speeches and read notes with the other eye.
Next: This man couldn’t spell at all!
3. George Washington
The fact that George Washington likely had a learning disability similar to dyslexia was likely not a concern to the American public since he was their first ever president and they had no one else to compare him to. Still, the man was a terrible speller.
According to Richard Lederer’s book More Anguished English as reported by Mental Floss, the first American president once wrote: “we find our necessaties are not such as to require an immediate transportation during the harvist” while discussing a supply shortage during the Revolutionary War.
Next: JFK’s hidden secrets
4. John F. Kennedy
- Addison’s disease, dyslexia, and a myriad of other health issues
The public knew all about John F. Kennedy’s chronic back pain, but they were blissfully unaware of the other health issues and disabilities the president suffered from. In fact, previously disclosed medical records now show he was in far more pain, endured many physical ailments, and took much more medication than people knew at the time.
He also suffered from dyslexia, but most of his efforts were an attempt to hide his frequent hospitalizations, the eight daily medications he took to thwart pain, and discount speculation of a disability that many believed could have hurt his presidential chances.
Next: One of the most famous presidents with a disability
5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FDR was paralyzed by polio in 1921, but he was determined not to let the public view him as a president with a disability who couldn’t suitably lead the country. Before taking a stab at the presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was rarely photographed wheeling around. Once in office, his White House press secretary banned anyone from snapping photos of FDR in his wheelchair and he rarely exited limousines in view of the public.
Next: A leader addicted to painkillers
6. Adolf Hitler
- Hypochondria and possible Parkinson’s disease
Adolf Hilter was extremely unhealthy during his reign. But he took every measure to hide his problems from the public so they wouldn’t see him as weak. Hitler’s mental and physical health deteriorated, and he became dependent on methamphetamine injections, morphine-based painkillers, and other substances to keep him active and alert. There is also footage of Hilter dealing with a severe tremor, indicating he had advanced stage Parkinson’s disease.
The fact that his brother was also rumored to have a disability after living just seven days is thought to be an influential factor in Hitler’s decision euthanize patients suffering from life-threatening disabilities.
Next: A man in severe pain
7. Abraham Lincoln
- Severe depression and Marfan Syndrome
Abraham Lincoln’s battle with depression was easier to keep under wraps back when news outlets weren’t yet tracking the president’s every move. Depression caused Lincoln severe pain — so much so that it’s believed he also suffered from Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue and how the body grows and develops.
Of course, he kept his health problems secret from the public, especially since he ran on a platform of health and vitality. But by his second term, he was so deteriorated, he held cabinet meetings from his bedroom.
Next: A man with a mission
8. James Madison
Though unknown at the time, the Father of the Constitution was a president with a disability. According to History, James Madison was “plagued by recurring bouts of ‘bilious fever’ and what he described as ‘a constitutional liability to sudden attacks, somewhat resembling epilepsy.’”
Still, the former president endured seizures and launched a successful political career. He also became the first graduate student at Princeton University.
Next: This world leader may have autism
9. Vladimir Putin
- Asperger’s syndrome
USA Today reported a secret 2008 Pentagon study which concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin has Asperger’s — a high-functioning form of autism. Though the Pentagon can’t confirm their findings without actually testing his brain, researchers believe Putin’s “neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy” and he carries a neurological abnormality that’s virtually unknown to the outside world.
Russian spokesmen deny this assumption, claiming American intelligence leaders trying to diagnose foreign leaders from afar is “stupidity not worthy of comment.”
Next: A President with a secret illness
10. Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Crohn’s disease and dyslexia
The Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and the 34th president of the United States may have had a learning disability in the form of dyslexia. Officials close to Dwight D. Eisenhower warned him not to seek reelection in 1956 after a string of heart attacks left him weak the year before. His heart attacks were public knowledge, the fact that he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease just months before the election was not.
Next: This president could barely speak in public
11. Thomas Jefferson
- Dyslexia and a stutter
Thomas Jefferson’s inability to learn in a traditional school setting caused his mother to pull him out of the classroom, making him almost completely self-taught. Some historians believe he also had a severe stutter, meaning he rarely spoke in public.
He kept his insecurities hidden and had his secretary deliver annually written messages to Congress instead of appearing in person. Allegedly, Jefferson only made two public speeches himself during his entire presidency, thanks to his debilitating social phobia.
Next: An unsurprising, yet speculative diagnosis
12. Muammar Gaddafi
- Borderline personality disorder
Allegedly, a CIA psychological profile diagnosed the former Libyan dictator with borderline personality disorder. The report notes that Muammar Gaddafi often exhibited bizarre behavior and faulty judgment when under severe stress. It’s unlikely the public was aware of Gaddafi’s mental disability, but given his brutal and violent leadership style, we think few people would be surprised to hear of this.
Next: No one knew about this man’s asthma
13. Theodore Roosevelt
- Blindness and severe asthma
A White House boxing match rendered Theodore Roosevelt nearly blind in one eye. This only worsened his eyesight since Roosevelt was extremely nearsighted as a teenager.
The fact that Roosevelt also suffered from chronic asthma was virtually unknown to the public because he was often seen engaging in physical activities during his political career. For example, he acted as a lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War and scaled the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps with his wife on their honeymoon.
Next: A hidden hearing aid for this popular president
14. Bill Clinton
- Hearing impairment
It took a while for the American public to be clued into former president Bill Clinton’s hearing deficiency. Doctors eventually fitted him for two hearing aids in 1997 to combat hearing loss that resulted from “too many hours of band practice in his youth.” His physicians went to great lengths to make sure the device was not visible to the naked eye when worn during public events.
Next: This president worried about his disability
15. Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson attempted to thwart assumptions that he was unacademic by asking others close to him to summarize and prepare proposals on paper during his political career. He is one of the many presidents diagnosed — officially or unofficially — with dyslexia and he often struggled with spelling and reading.
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