Ted Sorensen, speechwriter for JFK, dead at age 82

Bryan Marquard
The Boston Globe

Theodore Chaikin Sorensen, whose prose mingled with the thoughts and words of his close friend John F. Kennedy to create some of the most memorable presidential speeches of the 20th century, died today, nine days after suffering a stroke.

Mr. Sorensen’s wife, Gillian, said he died at noon in a hospital in New York City of complications from the stroke.

He was 82 and despite a stroke nine years ago that left him nearly sightless, Mr. Sorensen had continued to be a vibrant link intellectually and philosophically to the Kennedy administration and the Camelot aura that defined the clan, launching the political careers of the president’s younger brothers, Robert and Edward.
Considered by many to be the premier presidential speechwriter of his lifetime — some thought him the best ever — Mr. Sorensen played significant roles in crafting JFK’s enduring speeches, including his 1961 inaugural address, and the president’s book “Profiles in Courage,” which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1957.

“I think Ted became the most important adviser and on balance, I think he was the best of the brightest and best,” said Harris Wofford, a former US senator from Pennsylvania who had served as an adviser to Kennedy. “He also knew what John Kennedy thought. They had an extraordinary relationship. It would be hard to know where one person’s thoughts ended and the other began.”

Officially, Ted Sorensen was special counsel to the president, a role he reprised with Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Sorensen worked so closely with Jack Kennedy, however, that he became widely regarded as the president’s alter ego, liberal conscience, and intellectual confidante. Kennedy sought Mr. Sorensen’s counsel at every key juncture, from campaigning for the White House to guiding the country through perilous times such as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis.

By Mr. Sorensen’s description, the two were as one as they drafted turns of phrase Kennedy made famous. Scholars in decades since have parsed sentences and scoured records while trying to deduce who wrote which words. With a grace born of his Midwestern roots, Mr. Sorensen always tipped the spotlight toward Kennedy, casting himself in the role of artist’s apprentice who assisted the master “in the execution of the final work of art.”…

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