Theodore C. Sorensen
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NEW YORK (AP) - Theodore C. Sorensen, the studious, star-struck aide and alter ego to President John F. Kennedy whose crisp, poetic turns of phrase helped idealize and immortalize a tragically brief administration, died Sunday. He was 82.

He died at noon at Manhattan's New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center from complications of a stroke, his widow, Gillian Sorensen, said.

Sorensen had been in poor health in recent years and a stroke in 2001 left him with such poor eyesight that he was unable to write his memoir, "Counselor," published in 2008. Instead, he had to dictate it to an assistant.

President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he was saddened to learn of Sorensen's death.

"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," Obama said.

Hours after his death, Gillian Sorensen told The Associated Pr ess that although a first stroke nine years ago robbed him of much of his sight, "he managed to get back up and going."

She said he continued to give speeches and traveled, and just two weeks ago, he collaborated on the lyrics to music to be performed in January at the Kennedy Center in Washington - a symphony commemorating a half-century since Kennedy took office.

"I can really say he lived to be 82 and he lived to the fullest and to the last - with vigor and pleasure and engagement," said Gillian Sorensen, who was at his side to the last. "His mind, his memory, his speech were unaffected."

Her husband was hospitalized Oct. 22 after a second stroke that was "devastating," she said.

Of the courtiers to Camelot's king, special counsel Sorensen ranked just below Kennedy's brother Bobby. He was the adoring, tireless speechwriter and confidant to a president whose term was marked by Cold War struggles, growing civil rights strife and the beginnings of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

Some of Kennedy's most memorable speeches, from his inaugural address to his vow to place a man on the moon, resulted from such close collaborations with Sorensen that scholars debated who wrote what. He had long been suspected as the real writer of the future president's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Profiles in Courage," an allegation Sorensen and the Kennedys emphatically - and litigiously - denied.

They were an odd, but utterly compatible duo, the glamorous, wealthy politician from Massachusetts and the shy wordsmith from Nebraska, described by Time magazine in 1960 as "a sober, deadly earnest, self-effacing man with a blue steel brain." But as Sorensen would write in "Counselor," the difference in their lifestyles was offset by the closeness of their minds: Each had a wry sense of humor, a dislike of hypocrisy, a love of books and a high-minded regard for public life.

Kennedy called him "my intellectual blood bank" and the press frequently referred to Sorensen as Kennedy's "ghostwriter," especially after the release of "Profiles in Courage." Presidential secretary Evelyn Lincoln saw it another way: "Ted was really more shadow than ghost, in the sense that he was never really very far from Kennedy."

Sorensen's brain of steel was never needed more than in October 1962, with the U.S. and the Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear annihilation over the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Kennedy directed Sorensen and Bobby Kennedy, the administration's attorney general, to draft a letter to Nikita Khrushchev, who had sent conflicting messages, first conciliatory, then confrontational.

The carefully worded response - which ignored the Soviet leader's harsher statements, and included a U.S. concession involving U.S. weaponry in Turkey - was credited with persuading the Soviets to withdraw their missiles from Cuba and with averting war between the superpowers.

Sorensen considered his role his greatest achievement.

"That's what I'm proudest of," he once told the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald. "Never had this country, this world, faced such great danger. You and I wouldn't be sitting here today if that had gone badly."

Robert Dallek, a historian and the author of "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-163," agreed that Sorensen played a central role in that crisis and throughout the administration.

"He was one of the principal architects of the Kennedy presidency - in fact, the entire Kennedy career," he said Sunday.

Of the many speeches Sorensen helped compose, Kennedy's inaugural address shone brightest. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations includes four citations from the speech - one-seventh of the entire address, which built to an unforgettable exhortation: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Much of the roughly 14-minute speech - the fourth-shortest inaugural address ever, but in the vie w of many experts rivaled only by Lincoln's - was marked by similar sparkling phrase-making:

- "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

- "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

- "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

As with "Profiles in Courage, Sorensen never claimed primary authorship of the address. Rather, he described speechwriting within Kennedy's White House as highly collaborative - with JFK a constant kibitzer.

In April 1961, weeks into the Kennedy presidency, the Soviet Union launched the first man into orbit. Less than a month later, Alan Shepard became the first American in space with a 15-minute suborbital flight. The idea of a moon landing "caught my attention, and I k new it would catch Kennedy's," Sorensen recalled. "This is the man who talked about new frontiers. That's what I took to him."

Shortly after Shepard's landmark flight, Kennedy said: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." U.S. astronauts met that deadline in July 1969.

Kennedy reinforced the Eisenhower administration's commitment of sending advisers to South Vietnam, but Sorensen maintained that the president, had he not been assassinated, would eventually have withdrawn American troops. Sorensen also believed that the president would have passed the civil rights legislation that successor Lyndon Johnson pushed through.

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, Sorensen was leaving his home in Arlington, Va., where he had stopped briefly after lunching with a newspaper editor, when he was summoned to the White House.

There, his secretary told him that the president had been shot in Dallas.

"Sometimes," Sorensen told an interviewer in 2006, "I still dream about him."

Sorensen's youthful worship never faded, even as he acknowledged Kennedy's extramarital affairs. "It was wrong, and he knew it was wrong, which is why he went to great lengths to keep it hidden," Sorensen wrote in his memoir. "In every other aspect of his life, he was honest and truthful, especially in his job. His mistakes do not make his accomplishments less admirable; but they were still mistakes."

Sorensen would witness a brief revival of Camelot with the presidential election of Obama, whom Sorensen endorsed "because he is more like John F. Kennedy than any other candidate of our time. He has judgment as he demonstrated in his early opposition to the war in Iraq."

A year after Obama's election, Sorensen said he was disappointed with the president's speeches, saying that Obama was "clearly well informed on all matters of pub lic policy, sometimes, frankly, a little too well informed. And as a result, some of the speeches are too complicated for typical citizens and very clear to university faculties and big newspaper editorial boards."

Theodore Chaikin Sorensen was born in Lincoln, Neb., on May 8, 1928. His father, C.A. Sorensen, was a lawyer and a progressive politician who served as Nebraska's attorney general.

His son described the elder Sorensen as "my first hero." Growing up, Sorensen once joked, "I wasn't involved in politics at all - until about the age of 4."

He graduated from Lincoln High, the University of Nebraska and the university's law school. At age 24, he explored job prospects in Washington, D.C., and found himself weighing offers from two newly elected senators, Kennedy of Massachusetts and fellow Democrat Henry Jackson, from Washington state.

As Sorensen recalled, Jackson wanted a PR man. Kennedy, considered the less promising politician, wanted Sorensen to poll economists and develop a plan to jump-start New England's economy.

"Two roads diverged in the Old Senate Office Building and I took the one less recommended, and that has made all the difference," Sorensen wrote in his memoir. "The truth is more prosaic: I wanted a good job."

At the 1956 Democratic National Convention, the charismatic Kennedy attracted wide attention as a candidate for vice president. He eventually withdrew, but his exposure at the convention led to a flurry of invitations to speak around the country.

During the next four years - the de facto beginning of Kennedy's presidential run - he and Sorensen traveled together to every state, with Sorensen juggling various jobs: scheduler, speechwriter, press rep.

"There was nothing like that three-four year period where, just the two of us, we were traveling across the United States," Sorensen told The Associated Press in 2008. "That's when I got to know the man."

After Kennedy's thousand days in the White House, Sorensen worked as an international lawyer, counting Anwar Sadat among his clients. He stayed involved in politics, joining Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1968 and running unsuccessfully for the New York Senate four years later. In 1976, President Carter nominated Sorensen for the job of CIA director, but conservative critics quickly killed the nomination, citing - among other alleged flaws - his youthful decision to identify himself as a conscientious objector.

Besides "Counselor," his books included "Decision Making in the White House" (1963), "Kennedy" (1965) and "The Kennedy Legacy" (1969). In 2000, Hollywood turned the Cuban missile crisis into a movie called "Thirteen Days." Actor Tim Kelleher played Sorensen.

His role, according to Sorensen? To "think and worry. ... often bent over."

Gillian Sorsensen told the AP that a public memorial service would be held for her husband in about a month, but the exact da te has yet to be set. She said there would be no formal funeral.

Survivors also include a daughter, Juliet Sorensen Jones, of Chicago; three sons from his first marriage, Eric Sorensen, Stephen Sorensen and Philip Sorensen, all of Wisconsin; and seven grandchildren.




Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
Published in Boston Globe on Oct. 31, 2010.
Memories & Condolences
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50 entries
November 24, 2017
Mr. Sorensen did a brilliant job with JFK in articulating the vision both men shared. He must rank as one of best speechwriters and counselors to ever serve in the White House. I enjoyed his books, and he will be missed. He did so much to help JFK persuade Americans and the world to do the right.
February 6, 2017
harry osborne
July 23, 2011
My deepest condolences, What an amazing man, it is a trmendous loss to this country. I feel your pain, as I felt the pain he felt at the loss of JFK. My hope is that they are reunited again.
v. Bender
Victoria Bender
January 2, 2011
I had the rare privilege of meeting Mr. Sorensen in May of 2008. I had flown from Denver just to hear him speak at a special event at the JFK library. He signed copies of his last book. As I approached him I asked him if I could "shake the hand that shook the hand." He smiled and said "how sweet" and shook my hand. He talked to me a few more minutes. It was one of the highlights of my life. It was the closest I would ever come to meeting John Kennedy. I admire Mr. Sorensen and all that he did to take the office of the President to a higher level. His words will continue to live on.
January 2, 2011
I had the rare privilege of meeting Mr. Sorensen in May of 2008. I had flown from Denver just to hear him speak at a special event at the JFK library. He signed copies of his last book. As I approached him I asked him if I could "shake the hand that shook the hand." He smiled and said "how sweet" and shook my hand. He talked to me a few more minutes. It was one of the highlights of my life. It was the closest I would ever come to meeting John Kennedy. I admire Mr. Sorensen and all that he did to take the office of the President to a higher level. His words will continue to live on.
Sheila Shea
November 14, 2010
While I did not know Mr. Sorensen personally, I have read his books and in particular Counselor. Mr Sorensoen was a great man. I wish that we may have more people like him.
November 11, 2010
To the Sorensen family I offer my deepest sympathy love and appreciation for this legend that's laid to rest. I missed him when he came to Charleston Sc, I wanted to look him in the eye and say thanks for being our voice when people refused to listen.Much Love to you all.
Steven Kinloch
November 7, 2010
His words have lived down the decades and will continue to do so. An exceptional man.
Richard Pearson
November 3, 2010
a great man his thoughts will remain forever in american history.Theo was one of a kind his family has much to be proud of. john south jersey vet u.s. navy
johyn masso
November 2, 2010
I wish I could have been old enough, and in a place to have known the two great "proliles". Our great ones and their little notes have all been stored away. And we will only have the books to remember the special people and the special "words" they spoke to read. You were so lucky to have first hand knowledge and hear it from the best. Thinking of you in prayers. Phyllis Lowman, Casar, N.C.
November 2, 2010
TO THE SORENSEN FAMILY,I EXPRESS MY DEEPEST SYMPATHY AT THIS VERY DIFFICULT AND PAINFUL TIME. PLEASE FIND COMFORT IN READING PSALMS 37'11.
November 2, 2010
MY CONDOLENCES ARE WITH YOU AT THIS DIFFICULT TIME.
GWEN BONNER
November 2, 2010
next to bobby kennedy sorenson was the one closest to president kennedy with his passing it really means the end of camelot
gary cazzola
November 2, 2010
One lasting thought in “Counselor” was that Mr. Sorensen was lucky to have been at the right place and the right time…to be hired by a young Senator in 1952. And he was. All Americans--all the world--were lucky to have had Mr. Sorensen’s intellect and moral courage during the Kennedy Administration and beyond. All the world knows of Mr. Sorensen…his written word and vision, will always be with us.

University of Nebraska, political science, class of 1983
Greg Voigt
November 2, 2010
Theodore was my hero i will miss him greatly.
KRIS SANCHEZ
November 2, 2010
Thank you for memorable moments ...your writing was inspirational to many through a great presidency. JC Indiana
Jeri Carper
November 2, 2010
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Sorensen three times in Lincoln between 2000 and 2008. He was a great American, a brilliant writer and a very nice man.
Rest in Peace, Counselor.
M.P. Keelan
November 2, 2010
Now he belongs to the ages, my deepest condolences to all of you. Thank you for sharing your father/husband with all of America. My God give you strength and love to help you throughout the days that follow.
K C S
November 1, 2010
Dear Gillian and family,
I am so saddened at the loss of this great man...and so grateful to have had Ted as a part of my lifetime. I remember so well your beautiful wedding...it was filled with a sense that the two of you were meant to be together for life...and so it was.
I'm sorry we lost touch Gillian...but I am grateful to have played a small part in his senatorial campaign...one of my fondest memories of him was sitting in the Binghamton airport, waiting for a delayed plane...and to listen to him discourse with so much wisdom. I have kept his thank you note framed for these many years
We were blessed with his life!
I send my heartfelt sympathy and love.
Pat
When things settle a bit, it would be lovely to spend a little while catching up with each other
legalnurseone@aol.com
Patricia Wilson
November 1, 2010
J, B, S & H-

We are so sorry for your loss. While the world mourns the loss of a remarkable man, you grieve for your father and grandfather. May you be comforted by the many wonderful memories you share. You are very much present in our thoughts.

The Jobrack Lundy family
November 1, 2010
His words will always be a part of history. I am sorry to hear about the loss of such an inspirational man.
Wendy Sorensen
November 1, 2010
I had a chance to meet Mr Sorenson at a conference at the JFK library, my lasting impression of the man and his humor were apparent when I asked him to sign the program for the event he said to me ," it's times like these I wish my name was Ted Gup instead of Theodore Sorenson ". this due to his unsteady hand and failing eyesight a shorter name would have been preferred. I have read his books and find his insight and wisdom must have been cherished by JFK.
We should all be so lucky to have a friend and advisor like Ted Sorenson in our lives.
Len Ichton
November 1, 2010
To the Sorensen family, my deepest sympathy on the loss of this truly great man. His words and character inspired my generation. May he rest in peace with the angels.
Dorothy Crockett
November 1, 2010
Global Kids mourns the loss of our good friend Ted Sorensen. For the past six years, Ted met with our youth participants to share his personal story and recount his experiences as counselor to President Kennedy, and, later, as a distinguished international attorney and advisor to world leaders. Ted inspired the Global Kids -- all teens from NYC public schools, and they inspired him – providing assurance that today’s young people are keenly interested in world affairs and committed to public service. It was a privilege and honor to call Ted Sorensen a friend. We will miss him, but we will never forget him.
Global Kids
November 1, 2010
A true Profile in Courage.
RIP....
Sincerely,
Gary Merritt
Gary Merritt
November 1, 2010
God touched his very soul with great talent. What a great loss to mankind.
May he rest in peace. Hopefully the family will find comfort for having him in their lives.
B Floyd
November 1, 2010
What a great man. What a rich life. What a profound legacy. I have recently read Counselor. Absolutely extraordinary. It's a shame that such a great soul left us. They don't make them like that anymore.
May he rest in peace. Hopefully, now he has already reunited with his hero, and does not have to dream about him anymore.
S. Barkov
November 1, 2010
My condolences to the Sorensen Family. May the God who gives comfort to all who mourn, fill our hearts with peace at this time of sorrow. (2Cor. 2:3,4)
H. Campbell
November 1, 2010
My heart aches at the loss of another of the members of this glorious group of persons slips away to their just rewards leaving us bereft and lonely for Camelot. Rest in peace.
L. Vokac
November 1, 2010
What a wonderful legacy. May he rest in peace.
Richard Barnes
November 1, 2010
My sympathy to the Sorensen Family. He worked very hard for President Kennedy and his country. We are forever grateful to him. May he rest in peace.
Mary M
November 1, 2010
Although I wasn't born until 1967, i grew up with parents STRONGLY influenced by Kennedy's vision. I too am always inspired when I read or hear those speeches to this day. What an amazing legacy to leave behind.
I hope have a good place in heaven near all those who died helping this country and society to be better than it was. All of you did well for my generation. Thank you.
Tami Bramblett
November 1, 2010
My deepest sympathies to you and your family. I had the pleasure of having lunch with you and Ted at the Renaissance Weekend two years ago. It was an honor and a privilege.

Jackie Silberg
November 1, 2010
Say hi to Jack and Bobby... wish they were still here.
Patti p
November 1, 2010
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
kathy o
November 1, 2010
REST IN PEACE
SCOTT CHAMBERLAND
October 31, 2010
A life well lived. You will be remembered for all your good work. Rest in Peace Theodore as you take your place in eternity.
Sheila Smith
October 31, 2010
My deepest condolences to the Sorensen family. May you rely on the God of all comfort during this difficult time and may your loving thoughts be of comfort to you as well.
ms
October 31, 2010
Rest in Peace Mr. Sorenson. You put into words what our Country should stand for.
M. Rakow
October 31, 2010
donald sullivan
October 31, 2010
May the God of comfort and tender mercies continue to comfort your family and friends, and may you find comfort in the words found in the Holy Scriptures: "And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away."" Please accept my sincere condolences during this time of your loss.

D. Clark
October 31, 2010
such words will never be spoken again
richard kennedy
October 31, 2010
To the Sorensen Family - I always enjoyed Mr. Sorensen's stories and insights through the years. Whenever he was scheduled to appear on an interview show, I made it a point to see it. I purchased "Counselor" last year, and loved it. Thank you for sharing him with the nation.
David Canterbury
October 31, 2010
Sandra L. Gordy
October 31, 2010
Sorry for your loss. The loss of those we love is so very difficult to bear. May the God of tender mercies who strengthens us in our trials and hardships sustain you at this sad time.
2 Cor 1: 3,4
October 31, 2010
You were a good man !! Thanks for are your had work. And the history you made. R.I .P
Peggy Geifll
October 31, 2010
He will be so missed. He had a glorious combination of qualities that typified great Democrats. His words will be with us all throughout our lives. God bless your family in this time of loss. Others are grieving with you. He would not want us to mourn long, he'd want us to carry on his work. We are charged to do this.
October 31, 2010
A kind heart full of life'
As with all the Legend of
Our History throught the World~
You gave honor of trust
As within Years with many a
Icon`request upon ones honesty..
GodBless you and Your Family
And Many friends-Rest in Peace Mr.TheodoreC.Sorenson~
M`Victoria&Andrew VZj
October 31, 2010
I met Mr.Sorensen one time at Washington National Airport in the TWA Lounge and he was very courteous and easy to visit with allowing me an autograph which I still have. I am saddened at his passing. He was a very good man!
Tom Chapman
October 31, 2010
To the the family of Theodore Sorensen - May God give you peace and comfort through his word and the Lord Jesus Christ during this time of sorrow, I know that Theodore will be missed by many.
R Golay
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