Seven Times Teddy Roosevelt Should Have Died — But Somehow Didn’t

Published January 6, 2023
Updated June 7, 2023

Teddy Roosevelt survived childhood asthma, a carriage crash, a tropical disease, and even an assassination attempt in 1912 before dying quietly in his sleep at the age of 60.

Theodore Roosevelt Lifting Hat

Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesThe 26th president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt survived several brushes with death in his life.

In 1912, President Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by an assassin. Not only did he survive, but he continued on to his speaking engagement as if nothing had happened and famously boasted that the assassin’s bullet lodged in his chest wasn’t enough “to kill a bull moose.”

That failed assassination stands as the most famous moment that Roosevelt cheated death, but it’s hardly the only time that he grappled with the Grim Reaper. Indeed, death had stalked Roosevelt since childhood.

From battling asthma as a boy to nearly losing his life in the Amazon, Theodore Roosevelt faced death more than once during his 60 eventful years on earth. As it turns out, it’s pretty tough to kill a “bull moose.”

Theodore Roosevelt’s Sickly Childhood

Theodore Roosevelt As A Boy

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty ImagesA portrait of Teddy Roosevelt when he was around 10 years old. 1868.

Though Theodore Roosevelt later developed a reputation for being tough — nay, unstoppable — he spent his childhood plagued by health problems. Born on Oct. 27, 1858, Roosevelt suffered from constant ailments like colds, coughs, and fevers. But the worst of all was his asthma.

“I was a sickly, delicate boy, suffered much from chronic asthma, and frequently had to be taken away on trips to find a place where I could breathe,” Roosevelt recalled in his autobiography. His asthma attacks were so bad that his father often bundled him into the family’s carriage and took him for rides in hopes that the fresh air would help.

But Roosevelt’s ill health had an unexpected benefit. Bereft of physical strength, the young boy turned to intellectual pursuits. As HISTORY reports, he devoured books, developed a love for nature, and even used his collection of animal specimens to start the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History.”

Theodore Roosevelt Young

Library of CongressTeddy Roosevelt as a young man, circa 1884.

Still, Roosevelt’s father challenged him to develop his brain and his brawn.

“Theodore, you have the mind, but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should,” he counseled his son during Roosevelt’s teenage years. “You must make your body.”

Roosevelt wholeheartedly followed his father’s advice. He began a strenuous exercise regimen, helped by the installation of a new gymnasium in his family’s home, and started to grow stronger. But though Roosevelt had started to strengthen his body, death still lingered nearby.

Shortly before he graduated from Harvard University in 1880, a doctor found that the future president had a dangerously weak heart. He advised Roosevelt to refrain from physical activity, including running up stairs. Roosevelt, however, dismissed the doctor’s dire warnings of early death.

“I am going to do all the things you tell me not to do,” Roosevelt replied. “If I’ve got to live the sort of life you have described, I don’t care how short it is.”

As history knows, Theodore Roosevelt stayed true to his word. Despite the danger of a weak heart hanging over him, the future president would charge forward into life — and beat death again and again.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.