“More recently the trend has been greater longevity. From Herbert Hoover through Reagan, excluding John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated, seven of the eight presidents lived longer than expected, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died at 63 but served for 12 years. Their average age at inauguration was 58.9 years and average expected age of death, assuming presidents aged twice as fast while in office, was 68.9 years. The average actual age at death was 81.6 years. The exception was Lyndon B. Johnson who died of heart disease at 64.” (NYT, 12/6/11)
‘Tis indeed a remarkable truth, with thanks to The New York Times today for speaking the numerical language with which many of us presidential historians are quite familiar. After all, with Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush both currently living at age 87, after seeing Presidents Ford and Reagan survive to 93– with the presidential longevity record going to Ford– it’s definitely safe to say the job itself does not kill the occupant, at least not by natural causes. LBJ remains the closest exception, expiring a health-plagued four years after leaving office, almost to the day. Nixon, for the additional unmatched stress he endured, lived on almost 20 years past his presidency and at least made it past age 80. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush of course define the “younger generation” of former presidents, while both now 65 have a while to catch up to their predecessors.
This phenomenon of recent presidential longevity clearly extends to spouses. After all, with the exception of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who died at 64, first ladies of the past half-century have lived into their 80s if not 90s– save that “younger generation” of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush who have yet to get there of course.
Suffice to say, this sort of numerology always makes for interesting conversation, especially going back more than 50 years. Historical trivia it is after all, of the presidential ages.