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Theodore Sorensen, Top JFK Aide, Dead at 82
Advisor, Speechwriter and 'Alter Ego' to Kennedy Died After a Stroke
Theodore C. Sorensen, special counsel, advisor,
speechwriter and "alter ego" to John F. Kennedy, died
today at the age of 82 at a New York hospital from
complications of a stroke he suffered last week.
Sorensen, who is survived by his widow, Gillian
Sorensen, had also suffered a stroke in 2001 that left
him with poor eyesight and hindered his ability to
write his autobiography.
A key aide during his 1960 presidential campaign,
and special counsel and speechwriter to Kennedy
between 1961 and 1963, Sorenson was a close
confidant, rivaled only by JFK's brother Robert,
throughout the Cold War, the growing civil rights
movement and the Cuban missile crisis.
"I was so saddened to learn that Ted Sorensen
passed away," President Obama said in a statement
released this morning. "I got to know Ted after he
endorsed my campaign early on. He was just as I
hoped he'd be -- just as quick-witted, just as serious
of purpose, just as determined to keep America true
to our highest ideals.
"Even as I mourn his loss, I know his legacy will live
on in the words he wrote, the causes he advanced,
and the hearts of anyone who is inspired by the
promise of a new frontier," he added.
Born in Nebraska in 1928 to Christian A. Sorensen, a
progressive politician and future attorney general of
Nebraska, Ted Sorenson received both his Bachelor's
degree and law degree from the University of
Nebraska in Lincoln, where he finished at the top of
"I consider it one of the great privileges of this job
that I got the chance to know Ted, hear some of his
amazing stories, and seek advice from the best
speechwriter who ever lived. Truly an extraordinary
life," White House chief speech writer Jon Favreau told
ABC News today.
By the time he was 27, Sorenson was researching and
drafting Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning
autobiography, "Profiles in Courage." A controversy
ensued over his role in working on the book, with
many claiming that he was the sole writer. In his 2008
autobiography, "Counselor," he wrote that it was in
The closeness and remarkable trust that developed
between the two, along with Sorenson's gift for
writing, led to a collaboration that would last for the
rest of Kennedy's life.
The majority of Kennedy's memorable speeches and
declarations were born out of his collaborations with
Sorenson, including his promise to put a man on the
moon and his inaugural address, when he famously
challenged Americans to "Ask not what your country
can do for you; ask what you can do for your
While Kennedy referred to Sorensen as "my
intellectual blood bank," presidential secretary Evelyn
Lincoln said that "Ted was really more shadow than
ghost, in the sense that he was never really very far
Initially focused on the administration's domestic
agenda, Sorenson was asked by Kennedy to enter the
foreign policy realm after the Bay of Pigs invasion. He
wrote Kennedy's correspondence with Soviet Union
leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Sorenson said he was devastated by Kennedy's
assassination in 1963. He initially submitted a letter
of resignation to Lyndon Johnson the day after
Kennedy was assassinated, but decided that he would
stay on through the transitional period, and he wrote
Johnson's first address to Congress, as well as the
1964 State of the Union address.
"[It was] the most deeply traumatic experience of my
life. ... I had never considered a future without him,"
he said of losing Kennedy.
"Sometimes," Sorensen he said to an interviewer in
2006, "I still dream about him."
In his 2008 biography, "Counselor," Sorensen calls
his 11 years with Kennedy "the cornerstone of my
professional life; and the cornerstone of our
relationship was mutual trust. JFK brought me into his
inner circle, confiding in me secrets that -- had I
discussed them with others -- might have done
serious harm to his political career, his public image,
or perhaps his marriage."
"What's striking about Sorensen was not just his
unique partnership with JFK," said ABC News' John
Hendren, "but also his staggering humility and loyalty
-- a loyalty that has shown him quietly abstaining
from joining in the chatter on the most controversial
topics related to JFK."
After resigning from the Johnson administration,
Sorenson began his legal career at Paul, Weiss,
Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, which saw him
through the next four decades.
He also dabbled on the fringes of politics, advising
Robert Kennedy in his 1968 presidential campaign
and running for the Democratic nomination for the
Senate in New York in the early 1970s.
In 2008 he threw his support behind Barack Obama's
Presidential bid, often drawing comparisons between
Obama's and Kennedy's presidential campaigns.
Sorenson wrote four books throughout his life,
including his 2008 autobiography "Counselor,"
"Decision Making in the White House" in 1963,
"Kennedy" in 1965 and "The Kennedy Legacy" in
In addition to his wife Gillian, Sorenson is survived
by his sons Eric, Stephen, and Philip, and his
An extraordinary man, and one of the last surviving men who shaped America's Cold War policies. Rest in peace, Ted.