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Originally published October 31, 2010 at 7:40 PM | Page modified November 1, 2010 at 6:59 AM

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Ted Sorensen, JFK aide and wordsmith, dies at 82

Ted Sorensen, the admired longtime assistant to President Kennedy, died Sunday in New York of complications from a recent stroke.

Ted Sorensen, the admired longtime assistant to President Kennedy who provided his chief with many of the words and thoughts that still resonate through American life, died Sunday in New York of complications from a recent stroke. He was 82.

He was best known for working with Kennedy on passages of soaring rhetoric, including the 1961 inaugural-address proclaiming that "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans" and challenging citizens: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." He drew on the Bible, the Gettysburg Address and the words of Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill as he helped hone and polish the speech.

Much of the galvanizing effect of that speech is credited to him. He played a key role in composing the address. But he constantly and firmly maintained that the famous sentence came from the pen of the president himself.

Mr. Sorensen played an important part in the writing of "Profiles in Courage," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 and formed another part of the Kennedy legacy. Mr. Sorensen acknowledged writing a first draft of most chapters and said that he "helped choose the words of many of its sentences." But when a reporter asserted publicly that the book was Mr. Sorensen's work, he gave an affidavit saying that Kennedy was the author.

Born into a family with a heritage of engagement in progressive politics in Nebraska, Mr. Sorensen joined Kennedy's staff in the 1950s, when the Massachusetts Democrat was in the Senate.

Mr. Sorensen went on to a long and productive career after Kennedy's assassination. He serving as a speechwriter to President Lyndon B. Johnson, then aided in the campaigns of several prominent Democrats, including Sens. Robert Kennedy and Gary Hart.

He was an early endorser of the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, and the president issued a statement Sunday praising Mr. Sorensen.

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