Photo of the Day

Marilyn Monroe with President John F. Kennedy, centre, and Robert Kennedy left, at a Democratic fundraiser on May 19, 1962, at a home in New York City. Monroe had come straight from Madison Square Garden, where she had sung sultry “Happy Birthday” to the president. (CECIL STOUGHTON/AP)

The Strange Saga of JFK and the Original ‘Dr. Feelgood’

In 1962, at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, a man “peeled off his clothing and began prancing around his hotel suite.” His bodyguards were cautiously amused until the man “left the suite and began roaming through the corridor of the Carlyle.”

The man in question was delusional, paranoid and suffering a “psychotic break” from the effects of an overdose of methamphetamine. The man was a pharmaceutical miracle, with his own speed connection on the Upper East Side.

He was also the President of the United States.

The man who supposedly made him so was Max Jacobson, a doctor who had invented a secret vitamin formula that gave people renewed energy and cured their pain, and was given the code name “Dr Feelgood” by Kennedy’s Secret Service detail.

Dr Max Jacobson fled Nazi Berlin in 1936 and set up a medical practice in New York on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The location couldn’t have been more perfect. He had a lifelong interest in treating multiple sclerosis, but he made his name developing booster shots for healthy patients, first among other European émigrés, then in New York’s theatrical community, and eventually in Hollywood and Washington. Sloshing and mixing amphetamines, vitamins, enzymes, tranquillizers, placenta, and anything else that inspired him into what he called an “IV Special,” Jacobson came up with concoctions to pump up stressed-out celebrities.

Mind-bending: ‘Dr Feelgood’ Max Jacobson had America’s elite in his thrall in the early 1960s

His rich and famous patients dubbed him “Miracle Max.” The Secret Service code-named him “Dr Feelgood” because of his unorthodox medical treatments for President John F. Kennedy.

Jacobson was known for an elixir he created that he officially referred to as his “miracle tissue regenerator” or his “vitamin energy cocktail.” He’d inject 30- to 50-mg shots of this mixture that rapidly melted away pain and made his patients feel elated with boundless energy. This mood-elevating therapy was supposedly a mix of amphetamines, hormones, animal organ cells, goat and sheep blood, enzymes, bone marrow, solubilized human placenta, painkillers, steroids, and multivitamins.

Max knew that he was only supplying short-term relief that merely concealed his patient’s symptoms, which were typically pain or low energy. Long-term use of amphetamines in the large doses Jacobson used to administer can cause paranoia and conditions such as schizophrenia. What’s more, discontinuing amphetamines suddenly often causes deep depression.

Other potential side effects of amphetamine use include impaired judgment, hyperactivity, nervousness, and wild mood swings. But the extreme rush and ultimate high Max’s injections created kept his clients coming back for more and more and more. All of his patients swore by the doctor’s energising, pain-relieving, pick-me-up potion. The effect was immediate; it made his patients suddenly feel stronger and more alert and it temporarily relieved any type of pain the patient was suffering. It was also highly addictive and could lead to dependence and drug abuse.

But that didn’t bother the good Dr Feelgood. He injected freely, at all hours of the day or night; whenever his well-heeled patients requested a hit, he’d be available. The list of Max Jacobson’s patients was a virtual Who’s Who of the rich, famous, and powerful. His patients included icons of the 20th century, including President Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Mantle, Elvis Presley, and scores more.

Throughout most of his life, JFK was far sicker than he ever let on publicly. Of course, evidence of Kennedy’s medical problems has been trickling out for years. In 1960, during the fight for the Democratic nomination, John Connally and India Edwards, aides to Lyndon B. Johnson, told the press—correctly—that Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease, a condition of the adrenal glands characterized by a deficiency of the hormones needed to regulate blood sugar, sodium and potassium, and the response to stress. They described the problem as life-threatening and requiring regular doses of cortisone. The Kennedys publicly denied the allegation. They released a letter from two of JFK’s doctors describing his health as “excellent” and Kennedy as fully capable of serving as President. During his Administration, according to Admiral George Burkley, a physician on the White House staff, Kennedy was so determined not to give the impression that he was “physically impaired … and required the constant supervision of a physician” that he shunned having “a medical man in the near proximity to him” in public.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy walks on crutches as he leaves his limousine to board the Presidential yacht “Honey Fitz” for a cruise down the Potomac River with Japanese Prime Minister Ikeda, in Washington, June 21, 1961.

Jacobson, born in 1900 and raised in Berlin, began experimenting with strange concoctions in the 1930s when he would consult with Carl Jung, whose guidance “led him to first experiment with early psychotropic, or mood and mind-altering, drugs.” Experimenting on “animals, patients and himself,” Jacobson “looked for ways he could mix early mind-altering drugs with vitamins, enzymes, animal placentas and small amounts of hormones . . .” and believed that these drugs could not only cure disease but could “effect remedies on a cellular level.”

The doctor’s concoction — which evolved to become a mixture of methamphetamine and goat’s and sheep’s blood — caught the attention of Germany’s National Socialists, who demanded the formula. Jacobson, who was Jewish, later said that his drug was fed to Nazi soldiers, making them more vicious. He also believed that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun eventually became addicted to his formula.

Escaping the Nazis, Jacobson had a brief tenure in Paris — where he took on celebrity client Anais Nin — then wound up in New York in 1936, establishing a practice on East 72nd Street and Third Avenue. In the years to follow, he’d hone his formula; reconnect with celebrity patients he’d served in Europe such as Nin, director Billy Wilder and author Henry Miller; and take on many new ones, including Nelson Rockefeller, Maria Callas, Bob Fosse, Ingrid Bergman, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, director Cecil B. DeMille and writer Rod Serling, who, the authors say, was high on Jacobson’s meth when he furiously wrote “The Twilight Zone” series.

In the early fall of 1960, a patient named Chuck Spalding asked Jacobson if he could consult in secret with his old Harvard roommate. The mystery patient turned out to be Sen. John F. Kennedy, who was then running for president against Vice President Richard Nixon and was about to face him in the first-ever televised presidential debate.

Kennedy — who suffered from “Addison’s disease, migraines and gastrointestinal disorders,” as well as chronic debilitating back pain — was complaining of a “lack of stamina” on the campaign trail.

Ditching his Secret Service handlers to meet Jacobson in private, Kennedy told him that the rigours of the campaign had him feeling weak and muscle-achy to the point where he was “almost crippled by the pain.”

The first shot Jacobson ever gave Kennedy left him a changed man.

The Original Dr Feelgood — “Everybody Went to Max”

By the late 1930s, German refugee Max Jacobson, M.D., had established his general practice on the Upper East Side catering to writers, musicians, and entertainers who nicknamed him “Miracle Max” or “Dr Feelgood” for the “vitamin injection” treatments that made them happy and gave them seemingly limitless energy. Jacobson’s panacea was 30 to 50 milligrammes of amphetamines – the mood-elevating neural energizers also known as speed – mixed with multivitamins, steroids, enzymes, hormones, and solubilized placenta, bone marrow, and animal organ cells.

He could boast with the truth that his patients “went out the door singing” – a fact perhaps reflected in the memorable Aretha Franklin hit:

I got me a man named ‘Dr. Feelgood’
And oh yeah, that man takes care of all my pains and my ills…
And after one visit to Dr Feelgood
You’d understand why Feelgood is his name

Dr. Max Jacobson, who’d concocted his proprietary formula for injectable liquid methamphetamine while a resident at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, and then proceeded to inject himself with the drug, used that drug, which he called his “magic elixir,” to remedy symptoms of muscular dystrophy, depression, alcoholism, fatigue and just about anything else a patient complained of. His formula was such a powerful stimulant, triggering the flow of the neurochemical dopamine to receptors in a patient’s brain, that it gave the patient a sense of extreme pleasure, potential fulfilment and, in the extreme, hypergrandiosity and hypersexuality. What a drug! One shot, a moment of intense burning at the injection site, and then it was as if a euphoria set in that blocked neuromuscular pain, made migraine headaches vanish as if they’d never been, invigorate a fatigued patient and put, as JFK said to Dr Jacobson after he received his first shot, “a bounce in your step.”

Seeing celebrities such as Anthony Quinn, Tennessee Williams, or Eddie Fisher waiting for a booster shot in Jacobson’s office was not unusual. He did business at all hours: When Alan Jay Lerner was working around the clock on a musical, he might see Miracle Max five times daily, sometimes as late as 11 p.m. Truman Capote found Jacobson’s shots caused “instant euphoria. You feel like Superman. You’re flying. Ideas come at the speed of light. You go 72 hours straight without so much as a coffee break.”

Of course, Jacobson’s mixtures merely concealed his patients’ symptoms without meeting their emotional needs. Moreover, long-term use of amphetamines in Jacobson-size doses can cause paranoia and symptoms of schizophrenia, and discontinuing it suddenly often causes sudden extreme depression and reappearance of the symptoms that led to amphetamine use in the first place.

Still, short-term relief is better than none to him who suffers, and particularly to him who carries a heavy burden of responsibility. And so it was that Jacobson came to treat the First Patient.

Marilyn Monroe still wearing the dress, with Steve Smith, Kennedy’s brother-in-law, at a reception at Madison Square Garden. Photograph: Cecil Stoughton/AP

It’s now well-known that John F. Kennedy’s vigorous public image was a facade. In fact, it concealed infirmities that often left him unable to climb a flight of stairs or put on his own socks. His pharmacopoeia was terrifying, as historian Robert Dallek writes: “Steroids for his Addison’s disease, painkillers for his back, antispasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, antihistamines for allergies and, on at least one occasion, an antipsychotic … for a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed had been brought on by the antihistamines.”

A Mutual friend introduced JFK to Jacobson during the 1960 campaign. The first shot elevated his mood. From then on, it was clear sailing. Miracle Max shot up the president before the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the major state addresses, and even the 1961 Vienna summit meeting with Nikita Khrushchev. Secret Service files and the White House gate log confirm that Jacobson saw JFK no fewer than 34 times through May 1962.

The lifelong health problems of John F. Kennedy constitute one of the best-kept secrets of recent U.S. history—no surprise because if the extent of those problems had been revealed while he was alive, his presidential ambitions would likely have been dashed. Kennedy, like so many of his predecessors, was more intent on winning the presidency than on revealing himself to the public. On one level this secrecy can be taken as another stain on his oft-criticized character, a deception maintained at the potential expense of the citizens he was elected to lead. Yet there is another way of viewing the silence regarding his health—as the quiet stoicism of a man struggling to endure extraordinary pain and distress and performing his presidential (and pre-presidential) duties largely undeterred by his physical suffering.

Not only the extent of Kennedy’s medical problems but the lengths to which he and his family went to conceal them were significant. According to Bill Walton, a Kennedy family friend, JFK was followed everywhere during the 1960 presidential campaign by an aide with a special bag containing the “medical support” that was needed all the time. When the bag was misplaced during a trip to Connecticut, Kennedy telephoned Governor Abe Ribicoff and said, “There’s a medical bag floating around and it can’t get in anybody’s hands … You have to find that bag.” If the wrong people got hold of it, he said, “It would be murder.” (The bag was recovered.)

In 1983 the Kennedy biographer Herbert Parmet observed, “Dealing with the Kennedy medical history is in some ways like trying to uncover aspects of vital national-security operations.” In 1995, when executors of Joseph P. Kennedy’s estate made additional family papers available in the JFK Library, reports to Joe about Jack’s medical condition remained closed. Before, during, and since his presidency, the Kennedys have guarded JFK’s medical records from public view, apparently worrying that even posthumous revelations about his health would hurt his reputation for honest dealings with the public.

It appears that Richard Nixon may have tried at one point to gain access to Kennedy’s medical history. In the fall of 1960, as he and JFK battled in what turned out to be one of the closest presidential elections ever, thieves ransacked the office of Eugene J. Cohen, a New York endocrinologist who had been treating Kennedy for Addison’s disease. When they failed to find Kennedy’s records, which were filed under a code name, they tried unsuccessfully to break into the office of Janet Travell, an internist and pharmacologist who had been relieving Kennedy’s back pain with injections of procaine (an agent similar to lidocaine).

Although the thieves remain unidentified, it is reasonable to speculate that they were Nixon operatives; the failed robberies have the aura of Watergate and of the break-in at the Beverly Hills office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

Using personal letters, Navy records, and oral histories, biographers and historians over the past twenty years have begun to fill in a picture of Jack Kennedy as ill and ailment-ridden for his entire life—a far cry from the paragon of vigour that the Kennedys presented.

Kennedy and his closest circle took great pains to hide his health problems from the public, fearing it would impair his political career. JFK was particularly fearful that revelations about his health problems would hurt him in the neck-and-neck presidential race with Richard Nixon in 1960.

After a sickly childhood, he spent significant periods during his prep school and college years in the hospital for severe intestinal ailments, infections, and what doctors thought for a time was leukaemia. He suffered from ulcers and colitis as well as Addison’s disease, which necessitated the administration of regular steroid treatments. And it has been known for some time that Kennedy endured terrible back trouble. He wrote his book Profiles in Courage while recovering from back surgery in 1954 that almost killed him.

Together with recent research and a growing understanding of medical science, the newly available records allow us to construct an authoritative account of JFK’s medical tribulations. And they add telling detail to a story of lifelong suffering, revealing that many of the various treatments doctors gave Kennedy, starting when he was a boy, did far more harm than good.

In particular, steroid treatments that he may have received as a young man for his intestinal ailments could have compounded—and perhaps even caused—both the Addison’s disease and the degenerative back trouble that plagued him later in life.

Janet Travell’s prescription records also confirm that during his presidency—and in particular during times of stress, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October of 1962, Kennedy was taking an extraordinary variety of medications: steroids for his Addison’s disease; painkillers for his back; antispasmodics for his colitis; antibiotics for urinary tract infections; antihistamines for allergies. Kennedy’s charismatic appeal rested heavily on the image of youthful energy and good health he projected. This image was a myth. The real story, disconcerting though it would have been to contemplate at the time, is actually more heroic. It is a story of iron-willed fortitude in mastering the difficulties of chronic illness.

President John F. Kennedy’s medical records reveal that he had suffered health problems since early childhood, and used an arsenal of drugs, including painkillers and stimulants, to treat various medical conditions during his presidency.

Three months before he turned three, in 1920, he came down with a bad case of scarlet fever, a highly contagious illness, and life-threatening for so small a child. He spent more than two months in the hospital and recuperating in a Maine Sanatorium. During the 1920s he suffered from a variety of other childhood maladies, including bronchitis, chicken pox, ear infections, German measles, measles, mumps, and whooping cough. His illnesses filled the family with anxiety about his survival.

A historian who examined his medical records was stunned at the extent of the health problems that the seemingly vigorous president dealt with.

“There was hardly a day that went by that he didn’t suffer terribly,” presidential historian Robert Dallek, a history professor at Boston University said.

Kennedy suffered from colitis, prostatitis, and a disorder called Addison’s disease, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and sodium. He also had osteoporosis of the lower back, causing pain so severe that he was unable to perform simple tasks such as reaching across his desk to pull papers forward, or pulling the shoe and sock onto his left foot.

To fight the pain, Kennedy took as many as 12 medications at once, taking more during times of stress. The medical records reveal that Kennedy variously took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and Librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, a medicine that combats infections.

During the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy was taking steroids for his Addison’s disease, painkillers for his back, antispasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, antihistamines for his allergies, and on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic drug to treat a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed was brought on by the antihistamines.

This deluge of drugs often had side effects, including grogginess or even depression. To treat this Kennedy took more still anti-anxiety medications.

Max Jacobson had met up with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy shortly before the first debate with Vice President Richard Nixon when Kennedy was worn out, hoarse, in intense pain from his back injuries and irritable bowel syndrome, and physically depleted from Addison ’s disease, a fatal condition in 1960. It was a condition Kennedy ordered his doctor, Janet Travell, to lie about to the press. Behind in the polls, Kennedy sought help from Dr. Jacobson who gave him a single shot of methamphetamine; the candidate bounded out of the doctor’s office with an energy he had not experienced in years. JFK received another injection right before his first debate with Nixon, allowing him to recover his voice and strength and overwhelm a tired Nixon, who looked sickly and feverish on television. That night of their first debate, Kennedy pulled ahead in the polls and never lost his slim lead. Max Jacobson’s influence over the new president-elect was complete.

JFK’s reliance on Jacobson’s shots became greater, reaching the point where the president begged the doctor to take up residence in the White House where he could provide his energy-boosting formula to his patient – and Jackie, too – on a moment’s notice. But when Jacobson refused, claiming he couldn’t abandon his New York patients, the president came to New York, meeting Jacobson at the Carlyle, where he could receive his injection, slip away from his Secret Service detail and visit women of less than socially elite backgrounds with whom he’d set up assignations in private apartments off Central Park.

On one occasion, Jacobson’s injection was so powerful, because JFK had wanted an extra dose to carry him through his stay in New York, that the president actually suffered a psychotic break, peeled off his clothing, and ran naked through the halls of the Carlyle Hotel with frantic aides and Secret Service agents in pursuit trying to corral him.

John Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, was out of his head and stark naked. In a suite at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, he had just had a massive injection of drugs from the German medic known variously as Dr Feelgood, Dr Needles and Miracle Max. Now, the dynamic leader of the Western world was completely wired. He stripped off his clothes and began to dance around the room.

Then he bounded off down the corridor in search of female company.

It was a desperately worrying moment for his Secret Service detachment. What if he made it to the hotel lobby, full of reporters and photographers?

Kennedy would be finished, the presidency a laughing stock, the U.S.’s standing in the world fatally undermined. They kept him out of trouble — this time.

Sounds funny, like a scene out of a Marx Brothers movie, but it was deadly serious because the Washington and New York press corps had gathered in the Carlyle lobby for a glimpse of the president. It was not a glimpse Kennedy aides wanted them to have. So who you gonna call? Aides phoned up Dr. Lawrence Hatterer, one of the most important upper-Eastside psychiatrists in Manhattan, who brought a manic JFK back down with a heavy dose of phenobarbital. Problem solved for the moment, but those around the president knew he was out of control.

But what if it happened again, which seemed terrifyingly likely?

As the CIA and other powerful organisations in Washington knew full well, President Kennedy was hooked on the painkilling shots concocted in his laboratory by the creepy Dr Max Jacobson, using a dangerous amphetamine derivative mixed with weird substances such as animal placentas.

Now he was giving Kennedy bigger and bigger shots to combat his crippling back pain and other ailments, increasingly leading to psychotic reactions, hyper-sexuality and hyper-grandiose paranoia. Not the most desirable of conditions for a man who controlled the nuclear trigger.

The trouble was the stranglehold that Jacobson and his untested mind-bending concoctions had on whole swathes of high society in the U.S. of the Sixties, including the White House. Jacobson was a kosher butcher’s son who grew up in Berlin, worked in hospitals during World War I and then qualified as a doctor. He was fascinated by the new science of biochemistry and the exciting possibility of creating life-saving medications in the laboratory. After studying under Freud and Jung, he began to experiment with methamphetamine — speed in today’s terminology — a drug that enhanced moods and stimulated the emotions.

Bizarrely, he took to mixing it with vitamins, enzymes, animal placentas, blood serum and hormones to produce elixirs that he tested out on himself and then prescribed to private patients.

It was these cocktails that he took to the U.S. in 1936 when he fled Europe, fearful of what the Nazis had in store for Jews such as him. He set up his practice in New York and offered his ‘happy drugs’ to a growing cohort of celebrity customers.

By the Fifties, he was treating the likes of music stars Maria Callas, Paul Robeson, Leonard Bernstein and Rosemary Clooney (aunt of George), actors Eddie Fisher and Ingrid Bergman and Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille.

He got a reputation for rescuing singers who had lost their voice, actors with stage fright and authors with writer’s block. After a ‘vitamin’ shot, playwright Tennessee Williams said he took flight ‘as a bird on a wing — I was released’.

One woman patient described the effect of a Jacobson drug as orgasmic. Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland all sought treatment.

Soon, an ambitious politician with a back badly damaged on active service in the war was knocking on his door. JFK was campaigning for election to the White House in 1960 and was dogged by excruciating pain and flagging stamina.
The candidate secretly called on Jacobson at his chaotic office-cum-laboratory — a ‘mad scientist’ haunt reeking of tobacco and formaldehyde.

After a brief consultation, the dishevelled, pot-bellied doctor with the thick glasses and strong German accent filled a vial with a substance he did not even bother to name and slid a needle into Kennedy.

The effect was immediate. As the methamphetamine hit his blood stream, JFK was suddenly stronger and more alert. The pain had gone.

His was the same experience that writer Truman Capote had felt from Jacobson’s magic potion: ‘Instant euphoria, you’re flying, like Superman.

Ideas come at the speed of light. You don’t need sleep, you don’t need nourishment. If it’s sex you’re after, you go all night.’ After a second injection directly into his larynx, a suddenly charismatic and energised Kennedy took on his rival, the loud and bullying Richard Nixon, in a televised debate and wiped the floor with him.

It was a swing moment in the election, the vital victory on JFK’s progress to the White House. But after the high, as Capote warned, came the ‘crash’ — ‘like falling down a well or parachuting without a parachute. So you go running back to the German mosquito, the insect with the magic pinprick.

He stings you, and you’re soaring again’. So it was with Kennedy. He went back for more and more. ‘Max Jacobson,’ now had control of the most powerful person in the world.’ It was a situation that fed the doctor’s huge conceit. He loved the power he had over people. ‘The way he looked at me,’ one acquaintance recalled, ‘I felt I was in the presence of God.’

He certainly acted that way. He was never seen to examine a patient and make a diagnosis but simply reached for the hypodermic.

One patient said: ‘Max thought he could cure anything. Once, after giving me shots, he tore off my glasses and told me I could see now — my eyesight was cured. Ridiculous!’ A skin cream he claimed would cure anything from acne to cancer actually contained a proprietary hand cream, vitamins ‘and all the leftovers from what was injected into patients last week’, according to an aide.

He wasn’t in it for the money, though. ‘What mattered to Max was that all these people were dependent on him,’ insists the aide.

‘I sometimes came to his waiting room at 3 am and there’d be 20 people sitting around, waiting their turn. Speed people can’t sleep. They’re high all the time.’

And now, in Kennedy (and his glamorous wife, Jackie, who is also said to have become one of his patients), he had scored the biggest prize of all. Jacobson became a regular member of the president’s entourage, though his role was kept secret.
‘Mrs Dunn is calling,’ his office receptionist would announce, using the codename for Kennedy, and Jacobson would stop whatever he was doing to take the call — and bask in the glory of his own importance. He was a special guest at the inauguration. He attended the president’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden, where a breathy Marilyn Monroe — another of his patients and high on a drug injection at the time — famously sang the sexiest Happy Birthday greeting ever.

Marilyn Monroe sings Happy Birthday to John F Kennedy high on a drug injection at the time, in 1962. Photograph: Snap/Rex/Shutterstock

Max Jacobson accompanied the president to summit meetings with De Gaulle in Paris (where he injected Kennedy in the Elysee Palace itself), and with Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, in Vienna in the summer of 1961.
In Vienna, there was a hitch. A heavy shot was timed to kick in when talks with the hostile Khrushchev began, but the wily Russian — possibly tipped off by his own KGB, who were on to Jacobson by now — turned up late.  The drug was wearing off, so, at JFK’s request, Jacobson gave him another shot, and then, in a break in the meeting, a third. ‘I need the edge,’ the president pleaded. But the Russian outwitted Kennedy in the talks and almost humiliated him.

‘He savaged me,’ the president admitted later. The drugs he’d overdosed on may well have been a factor in his lacklustre performance.

What is certain is that Khrushchev came away with the impression that the U.S. president was out of his depth. That, in turn, gave the Soviet leader the confidence to build the Berlin Wall just months later and challenge the U.S. in its own backyard in the Cuban missile crisis the following year. Kennedy stood his ground over Cuba, but that the world had come so close to nuclear war because the president had been bested by the Soviet leader in Vienna did not go unnoticed among certain echelons in Washington.

That he was increasingly under the influence of the very drugs that had left him helpless at the Vienna summit left them scrambling for a solution to a growing problem. Something had to be done to avert a catastrophe.

Kennedy’s dependence on Jacobson was clearly total.

On the way back from Vienna, the White House contingent stopped off in Britain — and Dr Feelgood slipped into Buckingham Palace to shoot up not only the president but Jackie, too. On the flight to Washington, he administered more shots on Air Force One.

Many found the doctor’s constant presence around the president unnerving. The Press had also begun to notice him and ask questions about the president’s health. The night in May 1962 when Monroe famously sang “Happy Birthday” to the president at Madison Square Garden, she was fuelled by Jacobson’s magical elixir.

In early 1962, Kennedy’s brother Bobby, then the US attorney general, grew so suspicious of Jacobson that he sent his formula to the FBI to learn what was in it. When he found out it was amphetamines, he questioned his brother about it, but JFK told him flat out that it didn’t matter what he was taking.

Did Kennedy experience any of the impatience, irritability, and grandiosity, an exaggerated sense of personal power, that amphetamines so often produce? Kennedy’s court historians maintain that his illnesses and drug use didn’t affect his presidency. In any case, in June 1962, when Attorney General Robert Kennedy advised his brother to stop using Jacobson’s concoctions, the president replied, “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.”

Despite his brother’s conviction, Bobby Kennedy was enraged. Apparently, he confronted Jacobson and screamed, “Go back to New York with the other Jews.”

Jacobson — who had fled the Nazis decades earlier — found this slight unacceptable and informed the president by letter that he would no longer have him as his patient. Kennedy was so desperate not to lose him that he flew to New York just to persuade Jacobson to continue treating him — if not for his good, then for “the country that became his haven from the Nazis.”

But when the ‘horse piss’ sent him into freefall at the Carlyle Hotel, the worried Washington echelons in their secret enclaves could only despair about what might happen next.

It was during this visit, though, after Jacobson agreed to stay on, that the doctor gave the president too high a dose, causing the psychotic break that led to the president of the United States running naked and delirious through the hotel’s halls.

He was completely naked, on the verge of paranoia and feeling so free of the pain that he almost wanted to perform gymnastic acts in the hallway, The Secret Service detail had to control him, but can you put a president in a straightjacket?”

His relationship with Jacobson was unaffected.

Eventually, though, JFK’s reliance on Jacobson incurred the wrath of his other physicians. We’ll never know exactly what was in the shots Miracle Max gave the president. Jacobson apparently destroyed his files after Kennedy’s assassination, and it’s a long shot that he kept careful records, anyway. But we do know what Hans Kraus, JFK’s New York–based orthopedic surgeon, told Kennedy in December 1962: “No president with his finger on the red button has any business taking stuff like that.”

Marilyn Monroe – Happy Birthday Mr President

After Kennedy’s assassination, Jacobson’s practice thrived until 1972, when the New York Times published a massive expose on him, leading to the loss of his medical license in 1975. Along the way, claims were made that Jacobson’s formula had killed his own wife, who died unnaturally thin, and a book about John F. Kennedy Jr. said that the presidential son blamed Jacobson’s shots for the lymphoma that killed his mother.

Jacobson himself became increasingly bizarre during the late 1960s. His amphetamine purchases became sufficient for more than 100 strong doses daily. He was buying a weekly average of 1,270 needles and 650 syringes. Favoured patients could describe their symptoms by mail or telephone; Jacobson mailed them vials and disposable needles without an examination. According to one of his nurses, “When he gave an injection he would just spill … his medical bag on the table and rummage around amid a jumble of unmarked bottles and nameless chemicals. … He would see 30 patients or more a day. He worked 24 hours a day; sometimes for days on end … he was injecting himself with the stuff.”

As one patient later recounted, “My last shot was a blood-red thing about a foot long. I went blind for two days, and when my eyesight finally came back, I threw away all my speed and hung up my works on the living room lampshade.” When Kennedy photographer Mark Shaw, another Jacobson patient, died in 1969 at age 47, the city’s chief medical examiner concluded Shaw had died of “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.”

When New York’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs visited Jacobson in 1968 and again in 1969, he couldn’t account for the drugs he had on hand, and agents seized his controlled substances; during the second visit, they noticed he had needle marks on his arms. In 1972, the Times published a massive front-page story on Jacobson, complete with reports of Dr Max hooking patients on speed, mixing injectable potions without formulas or notes, and bragging that he had treated the Kennedys.

Wanted an edge: Dr Jacobson is said to have injected President Kennedy three times before and during his meeting with Russian counterpart Nikita Khrushchev

He was charged with 48 counts of unprofessional conduct, and in 1975 the State Department of Education revoked his license. His 1979 application to regain it was denied and state spokesmen explained that Jacobson, then 79, seemed unready to enter the “mainstream of practice.” Eventually, Miracle Max faded into obscurity.

He died a broken man in 1979, his body wrecked by more than half a century of poisoning himself with his own, homemade dangerous drugs.

Jacobson has gained some notoriety from a bio called Dr Feelgood: The True Story of Doctor Max Jacobson and How He Changed History by Manipulating President John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Other Key Figures of the Twentieth Century, a title that tells you all you need to know about the book.

JFK Took Many Drugs for Secret Health Problems – ABC News

The Kennedy meth | New York Post

JFK: the man, the myth, the bag full of drugs – Mashable

The Medical Ordeals of JFK – The Atlantic

New book reveals how Marilyn Monroe, JFK and Liz Taylor were in …

The Strange Saga of JFK and the Original ‘Dr. Feelgood’ – NYMag

In J.F.K. File, Hidden Illness, Pain and Pills – The New York Times

‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’: the story of Marilyn Monroe and that …

Max Jacobson – Wikipedia

The Strange Saga of JFK and the Original ‘Dr. Feelgood’ – NYMag

Hooked by Dr Feelgood: From Monroe and JFK to Liz … – Daily Mail

The Secret Service Gave Him the Code Name “Dr. Feelgood”

Dr. Feelgood: JFK and the darkest days of Camelot – WND.com

The Kennedy meth | New York Post

The drug dealer to the stars | World | News | Express.co.uk

Dr. Feelgood: The Shocking Story of the Doctor Who May Have …

Kennedy’s “Dr. Feelgood” – Reuters Blogs

JFK had a doctor named Dr. Feelgood. – 14 Things You Didn’t Know …

Jackie Kennedy Had a Dr. Feelgood | Lisa’s History Room

Dr. Feelgood – The New York Sun

New book details Kennedy affairs, drugs – NY Daily News

 


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