Richard “Dick” Naradof Goodwin, the author, playwright, former political advisor and White House speechwriter whose story about his investigation into the Twenty One Quiz Show scandal became the basis for Robert Redford’s 1994 film Quiz Show, died Sunday after a brief bout with cancer. He was 86.

For 42 years, he was married to the presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin on whose book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln was partly based.

Jacques Lowe

As speechwriter to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Goodwin crafted what are widely considered to be some of the greatest and most influential presidential speeches in American history, including Kennedy’s Latin American speeches, Robert Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech in South Africa in 1966 and Johnson’s civil rights “We Shall Overcome” and Great Society speeches. Goodwin even helped craft Vice President Al Gore’s presidential concession speech in 2000.

Goodwin also authored four books including The American Condition, Promises To Keep: A Call For A New American Revolution and his memoir, Remembering America: A Voice From The Sixties, the latter of which which was re-released in e-book format in July 2014.

Remembering America is the book in which Goodwin chronicled his experience as special counsel to the Legislative Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, during which he conducted the now well-known investigation of the Twenty One Quiz Show scandal. Quiz Show was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Goodwin was also a playwright (The Hinge of the World), and penned many articles for The New Yorker and Rolling Stone and numerous editorials for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times (among others).

He was often called upon to offer reflections and analysis for documentaries, articles and books about the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.

His play The Hinge of the World, a drama about the confrontation between Galileo Galilei and Pope Urban VIII, which was published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, has been adapted by screenwriter Alyssa Hill for a feature film currently in development at Warner Bros.-based Gulfstream Pictures.

Goodwin graduated summa cum laude from Tufts University and Harvard Law School. He was the recipient of Harvard Law School’s prestigious Fay Diploma. He served as a Law Clerk to United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, before being appointed as special counsel to the Legislative Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the age of just 29, he became an aide to President Kennedy, having first traveled with the then-presidential candidate, writing speeches for his campaign. After Kennedy’s election, he served as Assistant Special Counsel to the President and as a key specialist on President Kennedy’s Task Force on Latin-American affairs, originating the Alliance for Progress and meeting in secret with Che Guevara in Uruguay in August 1961. He also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, and was Secretary-General of the International Peace Corps.

After Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, Goodwin served as the Special Assistant to President Johnson, where he formulated the concept of the Great Society and drafted many of Johnson’s major addresses and messages dealing with civil rights.

Johnson then asked him to write his historic 1965 civil rights speech, which came to be known as the “We Shall Overcome” speech that the President delivered on March 15, 1965 to the joint session of the United States Congress.

This speech was a milestone for voting rights and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Johnson signed five months later.

Richard Goodwin
Photo by CRISTOBAL HERRERA/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Richard Goodwin, former assistant to the late President Kennedy, looks at photos of Cuban soldiers killed during the defense of the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, during his visit to the Museum of Giron in Matanzas, Cuba
REX/Shutterstock

In his seminal book A Thousand Days, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. described Goodwin as the “archetypal New Frontiersman”: “Goodwin was the supreme generalist who could turn from Latin America to saving the Nile Monuments, from civil rights to planning a White House dinner for the Nobel Prize winners, from composing a parody of Norman Mailer to drafting a piece of legislation, from lunching with a Supreme Court Justice to dining with Jean Seberg — and at the same time retain an unquenchable spirit of sardonic liberalism and unceasing drive to get things done.”

Goodwin resigned from the White House in 1966 and joined the U.S. Anti-War Movement. He even briefly directed Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, and wrote speeches for presidential candidate Edmund S. Muskie, before joining Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.

Goodwin was with Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles when he was killed in 1968.

He was the recipient of many awards and honors, including the John F. Kennedy Library Distinguished American honor, the Aspen Institute’s Public Leadership Award, and honorary degrees from Tufts University, UMass Lowell and Hebrew Union College.

At the time of his death, Goodwin was at work on his next book.

He lived in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife. He is survived by his wife, his sons, Michael, Joseph, and Richard (a son from a previous marriage), and two granddaughters, Willa and Lena.

A memorial will be held Friday, June 15, at 12pm at the First Parish in Concord, MA.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Goodwin’s name to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to support head and neck research and care or online at danafarbergiving.org.