There's no shortage of influential leaders in history. But while we're always hearing about their famous (and infamous) impacts, we rarely talk about the illnesses and mutations that affected many of their lives. Historic icons have struggled with their health since ancient times, but many managed to keep their troubles hidden thanks to doctors and medicine. Until now, that is. Take a ride through history as we learn the secret reality of these powerful figures' lives.
Joseph Stalin's Brain Disease Led to Extreme Paranoia
Joseph Stalin, infamous for his rule over the Soviet Union, saw his health begin to decline in 1945. This decline began with either strokes or heart attacks which alerted Stalin and those close to him to the beginning of his demise. His physical decline caused mental deterioration, including delusion and paranoia. For example, he started believing that his doctors, who were mostly Jewish, were working against him. This plot, known as the Doctors' Plot, was untrue and a sign of Stalin's mental decline. Sadly, it led to some tragic events.
It's believed that these mental symptoms were caused by atherosclerosis, a hardening of the brain arteries. "It is easy to imagine that in Stalin it caused him to lose the ability to distinguish between what was good and bad and who is a friend and who is an enemy," his former doctor said in a memoir.
Royal Inbreeding Caused a Blood Disorder and an Eventual Downfall
After generations of inbreeding between the Russian and English royalty, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was diagnosed with hemophilia, a blood clotting disorder. His family's search for medical aid to cure the child led his mother to discover Rasputin, a mystic healer. According to the royal family, the healer's treatments helped the heir, but Rasputin's influence in the court and his lifestyle made him greatly unloved by the people of Russia. Eventually, a revolt ensued.
This revolt, called the Russian Revolution of 1917, led to the downfall of the Russian empire and the execution of the entire royal family, resulting in the ending of a dynasty.
Julius Caesar Lived With Epilepsy
The Roman leader and eventual dictator Julius Caeser was well regarded for his brilliant strategic mind. This is held in even higher regard considering the fact he was battling a mystery illness in his later years. His illness symptoms were described as causing him to suffer from fainting fits and falling sickness; many scholars believe he had either epilepsy or a series of strokes. Either way, Ceaser never let this stop him from his duty.
In the end, it was not epilepsy or strokes that ended this man's life, but the twenty-three stabs he sustained on the floor of the Roman Senate in 44 BCE.
Lenin's STD Led to a Mental Breakdown and His Ultimate Demise
Vladimir Lenin was a leader of Soviet Russia in the early 20th century. His leadership had a profound impact on Soviet Russia. For example, he was the leader that pulled Russia out of the first World War. In addition to his achievements, historians also believe that he had contracted syphilis in his early thirties. Due to the neurological damage that syphilis can cause, Lenin eventually had a mental breakdown, resulting in his attempts to consolidate power.
Others argue that it was not syphilis that led to Lenin's death but rather the high levels of stress that came with his position of power, causing a stroke that killed him.
Mao Zedong's ALS, Horrible Hygiene, and Tooth Decay
Mao Zedong was the ruler of the Chinese Communist Party and ruled over the country for the majority of the 1900s. While he was a strong ruler, he was not a strong man. Due to poor hygiene habits and an unwillingness to take care of himself, he was plagued with physical ailments. From refusing to brush his teeth to not bathing, he ended up with tooth decay, heart attacks, and insomnia.
However, none of these caused his death. Rather, he was diagnosed in secret with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS, in the 1970s. This illness eventually caused his death.
Abraham Lincoln Lived With Depression
Abraham Lincoln is one of the more well-known United States presidents. He is often praised for his great political achievement, such as ending slavery and healing a nation fresh from the civil war. After these political achievements, he is famous for being assassinated, but one fact about Lincoln that is less known is that he suffered from depression from an early age. His depression often pushed him to embrace humorous outlets and learn many jokes to ease his burden.
Likely, his efforts to distract himself from his depression made him a person who put others at ease quite quickly and significantly impacted his public persona as a caring individual.
Benito Mussolini's Syphilis Made Him Erratic and Paranoid
Benito Mussolini is infamous for his fascist dictatorship over Italy in 1925 and ruled for twenty years before his execution in 1945. However, before becoming a dictator of Italy, he was a school teacher and likely contracted syphilis in his early years. He sought treatment, but it failed to cure this STD. His late-stage syphilis is the possible cause of his erratic and seemingly paranoid behavior in the later years of his life.
Due to the reports of the frailty of his mind and his paranoia, there were tests done on his brain after his execution. However, the results were seemingly inconclusive on syphilis.
Inbreeding Made King George III Go Insane and Pee Blue Urine
King George III of England, known in history for losing the American Revolution, was also known for being absolutely crazy. Due to his historically inane decisions and accounts of insanity, it is believed that he suffered from porphyria, a genetic disorder. What produced this genetic disorder? Inbreeding. The King's family had a generations-long history of intermarriage. This disease resulted in bluish urine and the bouts of insanity he was known for during his reign.
Although his behavior in the last ten years of his reign was likely caused by his poor genes, it is also proposed it could have been due to arsenic poisoning.
Chiang Kai-Shek's Bladder Problem Meant He Constantly Wet His Pants
Chiang Kai-Shek was the leader of the Republic of China from 1928 to 1949. During his 70s, he developed some health problems involving his ability to urinate. After going through several procedures to remedy the problem, the result was that he was left incontinent, meaning that he was unable to voluntarily control his bladder. This meant that the hard leader was oftentimes soaking his pants in his own urine.
Jay Taylors, the biographer, stated that at the end of every meeting with Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader would wait for everyone to exit before getting up from the table to avoid embarrassment.
Adolf Hitler's Secret Illness Impacted His Decisions During WWII
Adolf Hilter is one of the most hated historical figures on the planet. One fact about Adolf Hilter that is less known is the illness that he suffered from during his dictatorship over Germany. Researchers believe that he suffered from Parkinson's Disease based on the tremors Hilter had in his hand. This disease often has an impact on one's cognitive health. It is considered plausible that the disease impacted his decisions during the war.
Decisions like the defense of Normandy and Germany's unsuccessful invasion of Russia are some examples of Hilter's poor decision-making during WWII. Could these military decisions have been a sign of his disease?
Lupus Took Down Filipino Dictator Ferdinand Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos was dictator over the Philippines in the late 20th century. He was elected president, and then, using martial law, he took absolute control over the country. In 1979 the leader was beginning to develop signs of the autoimmune disease called Lupus. Not even five years later, his disease had become so advanced that he underwent a kidney transplant. Eventually, his wife had to take over many of his duties as head of the government.
Just a few years after his kidney transplant, his illness made him such a weak leader that he was uprooted from his seat of power and forced into exile, where he died.
Jane Austen Had Addison's Disease
One of the most famous and significant writers of the modern era is Jane Austen, renowned for her six novels. Her written work continues to be read and impacts readers to this very day. While she wrote to the very end of her short life, her last few years were filled with her suffering from Addison's Disease, which affects the adrenal gland's ability to function properly. She died two years after her diagnosis.
Many people debate if it was actually Addison's disease or if it was something else. Based on her letters, there are those who feel she had the tell-tale symptoms of Hodgkin's disease.
Parkinson's Disease Weakened Francisco Franco's Fascist Dictatorship
The fascist dictator Francisco Franco ruled over the region of Spain during the mid-1900s. However, the power-hungry dictator began to develop symptoms of Parkinson's Disease in the 1960s, which represented itself in the form of hand tremors and weakness in his facial muscles. His normal ruthless nature seemed to be tempered by his disease. By the end of the 1960s, he was beginning to allow others underneath into positions of power.
This gradual movement of power led to reforms within the country of Spain. His death in 1975 allowed for further reforms to take place, and his successor led Spain's way to democracy.
The First and Only Disabled U. S. President
Franklin Roosevelt was the first and only United States president to use a wheelchair during his presidency. Roosevelt suffered from Polio and became paralyzed from the waist down. He ultimately served longer than any other U.S. President and, during that time, tried to keep his condition hidden from the public. Roosevelt's family, staff, and the press helped him conceal his condition and often photographed him with a blanket or coat draped over his legs, covering his wheelchair.
So how exactly did Roosevelt serve longer than any U.S. president? He was in office before the two-term limit was implemented and served three terms until he passed away in 1945.
King Charles II's Habsburg Jaw Was a Result of Incest
Charles II was the king of the Spanish crown and the last king of the Habsburg Dynasty. He was nicknamed "The Bewitched" because of his malformed appearance. Charles had a very elongated and prominent lower jaw, just like generations of the Habsburg family did before him. This appearance, caused by a history of family inbreeding, was named the "Habsburg Jaw." In addition to physical malformities, he also was mentally underdeveloped and impotent. His death brought about the end of the Habsburg Dynasty.
Strange but interesting fact: the family's incest and inbreeding were so extreme that Charles II's father was more inbred than if his mother and father had been brother and sister.
A Flesh-Eating Disease Got Herod the Great in the Worst Place
King Herod of Judea, also known by historians as Herod the Great, ruled over The Herodian Kingdom on behalf of the Roman Republic. He is most well known for the rapid construction and beautiful architecture built during his rule in Judea. Yet ancient reports of King Herod describe his physical health as ghastly: he suffered from a flesh-eating condition in his private parts and a kidney disease. Not surprisingly, this combination caused the ruler extreme physical pain and impacted his mental health.
After Herod passed away, his kingdom was divided into three for his sons and sister to rule.
Mobutu Sese Seko's Prostate Cancer Cost Him His Power
Mobutu Sese Seko, with the help of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, took control of Zaire in 1965. However, no matter what the American government might have promised the world with this assistance, Seko ruled over Zaire with a harsh and corrupted fist. In his later years, during the 1990s, he came down with prostate cancer that forced him to seek treatment in France. His absence allowed his political rivals to take control of the country in 1996.
Forced into exile by his political opponents, Mobutu Sese Seko never returned to Zaire. In fact, the former ruler of Zaire died one year later while living out his exile in Morocco.
The Real Cleopatra Was Unhealthy and Nothing Like the Hollywood Version
Arechiologist and experts in the field believe that Cleopatra, the last Queen of Egypt, was actually overweight. They also believe that this was to be blamed on her family rather than her diet. With a familial history of obesity, incestuous relationships, and close-blooded marriages within the Ptolemaic Dynasty, Cleopatra's weight might have been due to genetics. It is also believed that her siblings and she shared extremely unattractive physical features, unlike the Hollywood portrayals.
The real image of Cleopatra would be unrecognizable when compared to those who have played her in movies and television.
Queen Victoria Spread Hemophilia Throughout the Royal Bloodlines
The matriarch of the royal families of Europe was Queen Victoria. While being Queen, she also suffered from the blood illness hemophilia. While not being known for suffering from any of the illness's side effects, she is well known for spreading it throughout royal bloodlines. So while this disease did not directly impact Queen Victoria, it did horribly affect many of her family members, such as Tsarist Alexandra of Russia, her grandson.
Since Queen Victoria could only have acquired hemophilia by having both parents carrying the diseased genes, it speaks to the level of inbreeding that remained prevalent throughout the royal bloodlines in Europe.
King Tut Had Physical Deformities Because of an Incestual Marriage
King Tutankhamun, more commonly known as King Tut, is one of the most recognizable names as one of the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Due to the admiration that the rulers of Egypt had for the union of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis, many rulers married their siblings or other close family members. Most likely, King Tut's parents were no exception to this pattern of incest which led to King Tut's likely mental and physical fragility.
These physical issues manifested in Tut as massive physical deformities such as an elongated skull and a cleft palate, to list a few. He died at the young age of 19.
François Duvalier's Illness Lead to a Paranoid and Harsh Rule
François Duvalier was elected president in the late 1950s by the people of Haiti by using a strategy that leveraged the nation's belief in voodoo. However, while he had been able to run and become the president of the nation Duvalier had suffered from chronic diabetes. Just two years after his election, he suffered a heart attack caused by his diabetes that placed him in an hours-long coma. This also caused him to become paranoid.
By the time of his death and the end of his presidency, the paranoid leader's ruthless manner of ruling had cost the lives of dozens of thousands of his people.
Fidel Castro Suffered From Diverticulitis and a Surgery Gone Wrong
The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, became ruler over Cuba after the revolution's success. While the communist leader was not one to suffer from any severe illnesses, that changed when he turned 80 years old. Upon entering his elderly age, Castro's intestinal tract became inflamed, which is known as diverticulitis. His treatment for his ailment led to a botched surgery that resulted in months of recovery and Castro's brother taking control.
Eventually, Castro's health became so poor that he retired in 2008, just one year after his diagnosis. While he would continue to be alive for another eight years, his reign had ended.
Michelangelo's Left Hand Became Useless Before He Passed
Michelangelo is arguably history's greatest artist, and one could say one of the greatest to ever live. The painter, sculptor, and architect, while being unfathomably talented as seen in his life's work, was also in incredible pain. Historians, through analysis of his pieces of artwork, postulate that by the end of his life, the artist's left hand was utterly useless and that creating his sculptures through hammer and chisel likely made his pain much worse.
While the man left the world with creations like the artwork of St. Peter's Basilica, who knows how much longer he would have been capable of sculpting if he'd lived longer.
Family Intermarriage Made the King of Bavaria Insane
King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was a member of the Wittelsbach dynasty, was remembered for being completely insane. He spent most of his rule building swan-shaped boats and sailing around in them and believing in a fantasy world that he'd constructed within his own mind. His inability to connect with the real world and his subjects was likely due to his family's long history of intermarriage. He was eventually forcibly removed from the throne.
After his removal from power, he was found dead. It is believed that his death was a murder. Perhaps it was his inability to rule that left him with enemies.
Did Alexander the Great Have a Lazy Eye?
Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, is most famous for his conquering his way across three continents. Research revealed that Alexander's posture indicated a problem with his eyes as he always tilted his head up. These researchers believe it may have been a rare condition known as Brown's syndrome. Whether or not he had been born with the condition or acquired it later in life, it did not stop his military prowess.
Of course, there are other historians and researchers who have stated that his depiction with his head being tilted in such a manner is common amongst depictions of other ancient heroic figures.
Ivan the Terrible's Arthritis Treatment Caused Paranoia
Ivan the Terrible, also called Ivan IV Vasilyevich, was the leader of Russia during the 16th century. Infamous for his harsh mannerism, extreme paranoia, and incredible anger, the ruler might have just been misunderstood. Tests done on his bones after his death has revealed that he might have suffered from arthritis. The pain must have begun in his earlier years and must have caused him great pain. This could be one excuse for his foul manner.
The medicine he took for his treatment was arsenic and mercury. This treatment might have brought relief from the pain of his arthritis, but it likely increased his level of paranoia.
King Henry VIII Had Brain Damage
King Henry VIII was once considered to be the Golden Boy of England, but his eventual actions as king discredited that image. His actions, including the killing of his wives and the murder of thousands, put him in an extremely unfavorable light. It is believed that these actions might have been caused by a jousting accident that caused potential brain damage. However, it might have just been the pain caused by the ulcers on his leg.
Some debate the factuality of the brain injury that King Henry suffered from his jousting accident. However, the pain from the routine cauterizing of his ulcers could have driven him mad.
Incestuous Siblings Amongst Hawaiian Royalty Caused Disease
Princess Nahienaena was the princess of the Hawaiian royal family. The Princess and her brother, King Kamehameha III, were romantically involved with one another throughout their childhood all the way into their later adult years. While the Christian church and its missionaries prohibited marriage between siblings, they still conceived a child together. Unfortunately, due to the complication that can arise from incest, the child didn't survive longer than a few hours after birth.
The Princess was stricken by grief at the loss of her child. Princess Nahienaena's grief was ended when she lost her own life in 1836, shortly after her child's death.
The Mentally Unstable Joanna of Castile
Joanna of Castile was sister to Catherine of Castile, the first wife of Henry VIII. She was never supposed to rule, but after outliving several siblings, she ended up Queen of the kingdoms Castile and Aragon. It was believed she would be a capable ruler, but that soon proved to be false. After marrying her husband, Philip the Handsome, she soon was subjugated to the emotional anguish of her husband's affairs.
Her husband's affairs and death resulted in her mentally cracking and eventually abdicating the throne. Her mental health is believed to be attributed to her ancestors, the House of Trastámara's incestuous history.
Ferdinand the First's Developmental Issues Came From Inbreeding
Ferdinand the First was born near the end of the 18th century. His parents were the Emperor of Austria, Franz the Second, and Franz's first cousin, Marie-Therese. His parents' close bloodlines caused many of the health problems that plagued Ferdinand. Such as being born with a hydrocephalic head containing fluid build-up resulting in massive pressure. This pressure caused developmental issues regarding his intelligence and his motor skills. As well, he suffered from epilepsy and a Habsburg jaw.
Despite his numerous health conditions that should have made it impossible for him to rule, he ruled for thirteen years, from 1835 to 1848, as Emperor of the Austrian Empire.
The Mad Queen of Portugal
Queen Maria the First was the Queen of Portugal and ruled during the end of the 18th century. This ruler was known for isolating herself and screaming throughout the night. This, coupled with the fact that she was married to her very own uncle and suffered from fits of delusion, makes it obvious she suffered from mental illness. Her insanity grew until her rule was taken from her by her own son.
She remained Queen in name only until the family was forced to flee Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars. The family fled to South America, where the Queen died in a convent.
Maximilien De Robespierre's Sarcoidosis Caused Massive Inflamation
Maximilien de Robespierre, also known as The Incorruptible, is famous for his role in the French Revolution. However, while also leading a revolution during the later 18th century, he was suffering from sarcoidosis. This caused massive and painful inflammation of his organs and made Robespierre appear jaundiced. However, he did not let this stop him from helping his fellow countrymen with their revolution. In the end, his life was ended by execution in 1794.
While the guillotine was the cause of death for this revolutionary leader, he likely was extremely ill at his death. This leader sacrificed his life but also his health for the revolution.
A Composer Who Could Not Hear
Ludwig van Beethoven is one of, if not the greatest composers to have ever lived. His work is considered a genius by many throughout the world and is still played in symphonies today. However, what is not well known is that he suffered from hearing loss. Beginning at the age of 26, he began to lose his hearing, and by 46, it was gone entirely. After years of experimental treatments, he realized he would never hear again.
Nonetheless, Beethoven continued to create and even cut off the legs of his piano so he could feel the vibrations rather than hear the music and accelerate his rate of work.
King Richard the Third's Painful Scoliosis
King Richard III was famous for being king at the decisive end of the War of Roses and being a character in a Shakespearean play. However, he was also suffering from a curved spine, a condition called scoliosis. His physical disability did not stop him from being on the battlefield or from introducing reforms into English society. In the end, it wasn't his scoliosis that killed him, but his last battle, where he was slain.
King Richard III of England and Lord of Ireland's death caused the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, and he was the last king from the House of York.
Napoleon's Plausible Stomach Cancer
The Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, was known as a revolutionary leader and as the first emperor of France. While he was a brilliant military leader, his most well-known battle was his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. This is not all that is known about the French leader. It is widely held that Napoleon suffered from stomach cancer based on lesions found during his autopsy, and his diet may have been to blame.
After his defeat at Waterloo, the leader went into exile on an island where he wasted away, most likely from his cancer, and he died just six years after his historic defeat.