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 a mysterious 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. He was persuaded back to his suite, where a proper doctor gave him a sedative. 

Kennedy calmed down: the crisis was over. 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 an addict: 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.

The White House log showed 30 visits to the Oval Office by Jacobson, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
The shabbily dressed doctor, with his medical bag of tricks, had had many more unofficial meetings; he had accompanied the president on summit meetings and even flown on Air Force One.

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.
And so, claims a new book — published on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in 1963-the decision was taken by shadowy powers in the land to ‘remove’ the problem.

According to the authors, Richard Lertzman and William Birnes, the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson had Kennedy assassinated because he had lost the plot and was out of control.
Half a century on, the question of who killed Kennedy still has a fascination, unassuaged by the libraries of words and miles of film already dispensed on whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
Here is yet more informed speculation, but no killer-punch. It’s another talking point in a never-ending story. Take it or leave it.

But what the authors are totally convincing about is the troubling 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.
John F. Kennedy 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,’ write the authors, ‘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. 

He 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 scrabbling 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. 

All were worried about his undisciplined sex life and tendency to blab state secrets (including plans to assassinate Fidel Castro) to bed-mates such as Marilyn Monroe.
The questions got ever more serious. Was this a president who could complete a second term? Was this a president who should even be allowed to complete his first?
Authors Lerzman and Birnes say it was vice-president Lyndon Johnson who gave the nod to Kennedy’s assassination and also authorised the cover-up story that it was the work of deranged loner Lee Harvey Oswald. 

They also highlight what they say are discrepancies in the official account of Kennedy’s death to make their own version — that there was more than one gunman — more plausible.

But whether his drug dependency did or did not have a direct bearing on Kennedy’s assassination, it is hard to disagree that his presidency might have taken a very different course had he not been suffering from psychotic episodes brought on by Max Jacobson’s injections.
Until now, Dr Feelgood has been a footnote in history. We may now have to afford him a more important part in the story of the 20th century.
After Kennedy’s death, he continued dispensing his drugs to all and sundry. Finally, a newspaper exposed his activities and a medical panel eventually disbarred him on 48 counts of unprofessional conduct and fraud.

Investigators discovered his office had been getting through an average of 1,920 needles and syringes per week.
He died a broken man in 1979, his body wrecked by more than half a century of poisoning himself with his own, home-made dangerous drugs.

2895 reads | 19.11.2013

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