The Stories Behind the Deaths of 39 American Presidents

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“If they do kill me,” Abraham Lincoln once said, “I shall never die another death.” They did kill him, of course, and if he ever died a second time, history does not record it.

Lincoln, as we all know, was assassinated while in office. So were three other presidents — James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John. F. Kennedy.

Unsuccessful attempts were also made on the lives of Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Clearly running the country is a dangerous line of work. (This is how historians have ranked every U.S. president.)

The demands of the job can be dangerous to presidential health, too. Several presidents, including Chester A. Arthur and Woodrow Wilson, decided against running for an additional term because of poor health.

And at least 18 presidents over the years have died of heart failure or stroke, ailments that could perhaps be linked at least in part to the stress of the office. The youngest president to die in office, not counting several victims of assassination, was James K. Polk, who succumbed to cholera at the age of 53. (Can you solve these real-life “Jeopardy” clues about U.S. presidents?)

 

On the other hand, six presidents obviously did something right, existing into their tenth decades: John Adams and Herbert Hoover, who reached 90; Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, who died at 93; George H.W. Bush, who lasted to the age of 94 — and Jimmy Carter, who is still alive at the age of 96.

24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of our 39 deceased presidents, with notes on what killed them and, where recorded, what they said before they died.

Methodology

To identify how 39 presidents died, 24/7 Tempo compiled research from various biographical resources, as well as from obituaries appearing in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Information on the last words spoken by the presidents was drawn from the same sources, and from the Free Library of Philadelphia.