There are no doubts that John F. Kennedy’s looks were a considerable asset in his political career.
He looked young, which he was: elected to Congress at age 30, he was a senator by age 36, and president at 43.
He looked healthy, which he wasn’t: while president, he depended on numerous medicines to manage his back problems and Addison’s disease.
And he looked confident, which he was. Confidence had been in short supply in the 1950s, when Russia had gained the atomic bomb, taken the lead in the space race, and seemed ready to wage an unrelenting Cold War. Then, as the new decade was beginning, Senator John Kennedy arrived on the national scene, talking of America’s greatness and its role as a moral world leader.
In portraits as well as informal photographs, Kennedy always seemed to convey a unique, patrician energy and an effortless mastery of any situation. His appeal was only compounded by the poise and charming ways of his wife, Jacqueline, another political asset. They made being the president and first lady look easy. They never appeared flustered or annoyed, but gave the impression that everything was turning out the way they expected. Which was why Kennedy’s death was so disheartening. It seemed such a pointless, sordid end for someone who, to many Americans, embodied grace and idealism.
Despite the long shadow he cast in American culture, Kennedy was in the spotlight only a very brief time. These Post photos of JFK , from his campaign for the presidency to his death, cover only three short years. Because we never saw him grow old and exhausted, he will remain as we see him in these photos, an icon of the 1960s, a decade of hope and youth.
Read our new series examining the life and times of John F. Kennedy here:
For a look at some of the original tributes to Kennedy, taken from the Post’s commemorative issue, click here:
Looking Back at JFK