Martin Waker

Sixties Man Incarnate Had a Headache Coming On

President Kennedy: A Profile of Power


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‘I wonder how it is for you, Harold,’ said the young President Kennedy to Harold Macmillan at their Bermuda summit in 1961. ‘If I don’t have a woman for three days, I get terrible headaches.’

There we have it, the characteristic voice of the young American playboy who brought us that dizzily Dionysian spasm that we recall as the Sixties. Now almost as remote and unfathomable as the Roaring Twenties, that decade of American supremacy and American excess which Kennedy inaugurated has descended into American mythology as the macho but innocent ‘Good’ Sixties of his Presidency, and the ‘Bad’ Sixties of the Vietnam War and urban riots under his successors, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

The great merit of Reeves’s rambling sprawl of a book is the way in which it confronts that mythology and destroys it. In his indiscriminate sexual appetites, and in the bewildering cocktail of drugs he took for his back pain and Addison’s disease, from cortisone to cocaine, Novocain to amphetamines and the occasional precoital puff of marijuana, Kennedy was Sixties man incarnate. On the night of his inauguration, he slipped off between formal balls for a couple of quick private moments with Hollywood’s Angie Dickinson. Possibly he felt a headache coming on.

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