trim as youth
Arthur was about 6 feet 2 inches tall. As a young man he weighed a trim 175-185 pounds
Later in life, Arthur was described as a "high liver who ate and drank excessively"
He was enthusiastic about fine wines and after-dinner liqueurs
His love for rich foods and his sedentary lifestyle ultimately added weight, at some point
reaching 220 pounds
As President, he "pursued a lavish social life, entertaining ... friends smoking,
drinking, and conversing. It was said that no human being could withstand the stress produced
by such socializing combined with the extreme pressures of his official office"
Despite his appetites and his being a widower President, "his personal life was impeccable"
Arthur was unwell by March 1882 (i.e. 6 months after his swearing-in). He had indigestion,
sometimes accompanied by colicky abdominal pain. Some have suggested gallstones as the cause
There are references to "nervous indigestion" toward the end of his life
Arthur was fatigued, irritable, and physically ill during 1882. There are reports that the
Surgeon General examined Arthur in October (i.e. about a year after becoming President) and
diagnosed the kidney affliction known as "Bright's disease"
New York specialists examined the President, but all they could do was advise rest and
A cover-up began. When the New York Herald
reported the story, an Arthur spokesman
specifically denied the President had Bright's disease or any kidney complaints. The spokesman
claimed the President had a mild form of malaria
(then endemic in Washington DC).
It's not clear to Dr. Zebra whether Arthur really did have malaria on top of his other
medical problems in late 1882 (see "Bright's disease" entry, above).
By March 1883 Arthur's steadily worsening physical problems now involved his heart. He probably
had hypertension and cardiac complications of hypertension
Arthur took a vacation in Florida in April 1883, but the hot humid weather increased his fatigue
and irritability. He had periods of sullen withdrawl and was described as "not himself"
In the winter of 1883-1884, "his associates noted that late at night while socializing
his face was lined, his eyes dulled, and his mind much less acute than it had been"
Reliability of this information
is uncertain, but given his obesity it would hardly be surprising.
Arthur practiced law and business after leaving the Presidency in March 1885, but was advised
to retire for medical reasons in February 1886
His last months were miserable. He was recognized as having cardiac problems in early
1886. The symptoms were those of heart failure: dyspnea, orthopnea, edema, cachexia. He needed
opiates to sleep. In June 1886 Arthur tried relocating from New York to the cooler climate
of Connecticut, but found no relief. He returned to New York and told a friend "After
all, life is not worth living. I might as well give up the struggle for it now as at any other
time and submit to the inevitable"
Arthur died of a cerebral hemorrhage on November 18, 1886, about 24 hours after being found
unconscious by his nurse