JFK Speechwriter Theodore Sorensen Dies

'Ask not' poetic knight of Camelot helped shape history

By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 1, 2010 1:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – The man who crafted among the most compelling speeches of political history for President John F. Kennedy has died. Theodore Sorensen, 82, passed away in a Manhattan hospital following a stroke. He was the last poetic knight of Camelot, the youngest top official in the White House who served as a key aide to Kennedy. He worked as special counsel and speechwriter for the president, and played a critical role in ending the Cuban Missile Crisis, reports the New York Times. “You need a mind like Sorensen’s around you that’s clicking, and clicking all the time,” Richard Nixon once said in 1962.

Sorensen—who drew on the Bible, the Gettysburgh Address, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill for inspiration—often quipped "ask not" when people quizzed him about how he came up with Kennedy's legendary "ask not what your country can do for you" admonition during his inaugural speech in 1961, notes CNN. The Nebraska native helped craft Kennedy's Pultizer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, and continued to shape Kennedy's image in several of his own books following the president's assassination. Among his favorite work was the letter he drafted that ended the missile crisis. “I knew that any mistakes in my letter—anything that angered or soured Khrushchev—could result in the end of America, maybe the end of the world," he wrote.

Theodore Sorensen tabulates potential roll call votes in the headquarters of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1960.   (AP Photo, File)
Theodore Sorensen appears during a relaxed moment with Bobby Kennedy in 1968.   (Getty)
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