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Dr. Feelgood, JFK, And The Magic “Vitamins” That Fuelled Hollywood

Jamie Hayes

Dr. Feelgood. That’s what the media called Dr. Max Jacobson, the charismatic physician who rubbed elbows with America’s richest and most powerful people throughout the 1950s and 60s. Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Eddie Fisher, Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy. All of them visited Jacobsen at one time or another for one of his “miracle” treatments.

Though he called a fairly humble New York City apartment home, Jacobsen’s famous patients afforded him a luxurious lifestyle. One night, he might be hobnobbing with Hollywood’s biggest stars at a classy Las Vegas nightclub, the next, he’d be on safari in Africa with a Polish prince. So how did this humble New York doctor get into such exclusive circles? The answer lay in his “magic” injections.

The Good Vitamins

Dr. Feelgood specialized in “vitamin shots.” He claimed that his simple boosters that could improve your health. An immigrant, Jacobsen started treating other new arrivals in NYC, but his stuff worked so well, news began to spread. The New York theatre community eventually took notice, which soon opened doors in Hollywood. Before long, Jacobsen found himself hawking his wares in the White House itself.

Max Jacobsen had a lot going for him. He was also an affable, charismatic man and a sharp dresser. He fit right into the high-class circles that suddenly begged for his treatments. But let’s not kid ourselves. Yeah, he fit in, but the important thing was that his injections worked wonders.

Can’t Get Enough

By the 60s, Jacobsen’s patients had become a little, let’s say, fanatical. They would come to his office at all times of the day, even in the dead of night. If no one was around, they’d sometimes break into nearby offices on the hunt for his sweet, sweet “vitamins.”

Eventually, Jacobsen realized he couldn’t keep up with the demand for his miracle shots. He started preparing to-go vials, which he’d hand out along with disposable needles for self-injections—with explicit instructions to never inject too much.

“Maybe They Will Destroy Me”

If you think this miracle doctor is starting to sound a little sinister, you’re not alone. Though many of Dr. Feelgood’s world-famous clients claimed they couldn’t have achieved success without the boundless energy from his treatments, many started seeing some disturbing side-effects.

At their divorce trial, Alan Jay Lerner’s wife claimed Jacobsen’s treatments were a large part of their split. She confronted him about them, and Lerner admitted, “Maybe they will destroy me but they make me see life in a good light.” In other words, he was hooked, and it started to ruin his life. And he wasn’t the only one.

President In Pain

Not a lot of people realize that John F. Kennedy lived much of his adult life in terrible pain. Addison’s disease, chronic back pain, infection issues, venereal diseases—JFK had some serious issues. His brother, Bobby Kennedy, put it like this: “If a mosquito bites my brother, the mosquito dies.”

Kennedy looked everywhere for solutions, and that’s why an old Harvard buddy (because of course it was an old Harvard buddy) introduced him to New York’s miracle doctor. Jacobsen met with the President for the first time in 1960 and after a quick examination, he prescribed the same thing he prescribed to everyone: One magic shot, pronto.

From almost the instant Jacobsen’s “vitamins” hit Kennedy’s bloodstream, he felt like a million dollars. From that moment, he was hooked just like the rest of them.

The Good Doctor Is In

Dr. Max Jacobsen visited the Kennedys over 30 times in 1961 and 1962 alone. The President quickly came to rely on the doc’s treatments to get through long diplomatic meetings. But while JFK swore by them, the people around him started to get worried. It didn’t take a medical professional to notice that the President acted…different after Jacobsen came around.

The Secret Service took to calling Jacobsen the “bat wing and chicken blood doctor,” and once even swiped a used vial of Jacobsen’s “vitamins” to get a lab to analyze them. There wasn’t enough left over to actually learn anything, but they were clearly getting worried about Miracle Max and his wondrous treatments.

They confronted Kennedy, but the President was defiant: “I don’t care if it’s horse piss, it’s the only thing that works.”

Feel Good Is Right

No, Jacobsen wasn’t injecting horse urine into his patients. He was, however, giving them a dazzling combination of meth and speed. He wasn’t treating anything, he was just giving the world’s rich and powerful basic street drugs to make them feel amazing for short periods of time. People suspected him for years, but he managed to keep up the charade for the better part of two decades.

Thankfully, Kennedy’s advisors finally talked him into giving up Jacobsen’s stuff—and just in time. When the Bay of Pigs invasion came around, Kennedy had kicked the habit. Lord knows how that disaster would have ended if JFK had been on meth the whole time.

All Good Things

A lack of general awareness about meth and speed made sure the infamous Dr. Feelgood had a remarkably long career, but it turns out that acting as a secret drug dealer to the world’s power players can’t last forever. By the late 60s, without the President to protect him, Jacobsen’s practice finally started falling apart.

New York’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs raided his office in both 1968 and 1969. Unsurprisingly, they found huge stores of drugs that Jacobsen couldn’t explain—not to mention noticing track marks on Jacobsen’s own arms. Apparently, he didn’t follow the axiom “don’t get high on your own supply.”

Then, in 1969, one of Jacobsen’s most devoted patients, a Presidential photographer/pilot named Mark Shaw, suddenly passed. The autopsy proved the cause was acute amphetamine poisoning. The glamorous, jet-set days of the 60s were officially over.

Dr. Feelgood Fades Away

Believe it or not, Jacobsen still practiced as a doctor for six years after Shaw’s demise. Even after the New York Times published a scandalous report detailing all of his misdeeds in 1972, Jacobsen kept on working. It took until 1975 for him to finally lose his medical license. He passed four years after, living out his final years in disgrace. But the wild story of Dr. Feelgood lives on.

Sources: 1, 2, 3


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