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Ted Sorensen

Political Figure / Lawyer

Born: 8 May 1928
Died: 31 October 2010 (stroke)
Birthplace: Lincoln, Nebraska
Best known as: Counselor and speechwriter for John F. Kennedy

Name at birth: Theodore Chaiken Sorensen

Ted Sorensen was the longtime advisor and counselor to President John F. Kennedy who wrote Kennedy's most memorable speeches -- including his inaugural address with its famous passage, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Ted Sorensen grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, got his undergraduate (1949) and law degrees (1951) from the University of Nebraska, and moved to Washington, DC in 1951. Two years later he was hired as an aide by Kennedy, then a newly-elected U.S. Senator. Sorensen became an indispensible Kennedy aide over the next eight years, even helping Kennedy write his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage, published in 1955. (Sorensen drafted much of the book in collaboration with Kennedy, although JFK's critics later claimed Sorensen was the primary writer.) When Kennedy was elected president in 1960, Sorensen became Special Counsel to the President and continued as chief speechwriter. ("Some consider him to be the greatest presidential speechwriter in history," TV talk show host Charlie Rose said in 2008.) After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Sorensen stayed on as an advisor to President Lyndon Johnson until 1964; a year later Sorensen published the widely-read biography Kennedy. Ted Sorensen ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate from New York in 1970 (the seat held by Robert Kennedy, JFK's brother, who had been assassinated in 1968). In 1966 he became a partner in the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and remained associated with the firm until his death. Sorensen published several other books, most notably his memoirs, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, in 2008. That same year he endorsed Barack Obama for president. Sorensen was left nearly blind by a stroke in 2001, and died after a second stroke in 2010.

Extra credit: Ted Sorensen was married three times: To Camilla Palmer (from 1949 until their divorce); to Sara Elbery (from 1964 until their divorce); and to Gillian Martin (from 1969 until his death). He had three sons with Camilla Palmer -- Eric, Stephen, and Philip -- and a daughter, Juliet, with Gillian Martin... Sorensen's father, Christian Sorensen, was attorney general of Nebraska from 1929-33... Ted Sorensen was named for Teddy Roosevelt... Ted Sorensen called himself a "Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian," according to his obituary in the New York Times; his mother, Annis Chaikin, was "a social worker, pacifist and feminist"... Ted Sorensen's last name is often misspelled as Sorenson.

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More on Ted Sorensen from Infoplease:

  • Ted Sorensen - Biography of Ted Sorensen, Counselor and speechwriter for John F. Kennedy
  • Selected Biographies: S - Selected biographies of well-known people and fictional characters
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