President Trump Opens Up About 'Dark Family Secret' of His Older Brother's Death After Years of Alcoholism

"I think the entire Trump family suffers a great deal of shame and unresolved trauma over Fred Jr.'s death," a friend told the Washington Post

Fred Trump Jr.
Fred Trump Jr. in 1966. Photo: Louis Liotta/New York Post Archives/NYP Holdings, Inc./Getty

In an interview published this week, President Donald Trump opened up about what he has described as a formative part of his life: witnessing the life and death of his older brother, Fred Trump Jr., killed at 42 from a heart attack linked to alcoholism.

Speaking with The Washington Post, the president said his brother’s heavy drinking had given him a empathetic view of the challenges of addiction, which he said he has brought to the White House in combatting the opioid epidemic.

“I don’t know what I’d be working, devoting the kind of time and energy and even the money we are allocating to it,” he said, adding, “I don’t know that I’d be doing that had I not had the experience with Fred.”

Experts have said the administration’s response to opioid addiction is a positive, including adding funding, though he has lacked a larger plan, according to The New York Times.

The president’s brother, “Freddy,” as he was known, struggled with his family’s expectations, the Post reported after interviews with his friends and associates. His drinking habits seemingly worsened along with the pressure to embrace his family’s up-and-coming business ventures.

But Freddy didn’t want to go into real estate. He wanted to fly airplanes.

Now, nearly four decades after his death in 1981, Trump told the Post that the push from both him and his father to get the fun-loving pilot to join the family business is something he wishes he could take back.

“I do regret having put pressure on him,” Trump told the Post. “[The business] was just not his thing … I think the mistake that we made was we assumed that everybody would like it.”

Freddy initially followed his dream, enrolling in flight school in 1964, but he was either fired for his drinking habit or left because of the immense pressures from his brother and father, according to the Post. He eventually returned to the business 1966 after his attempts at starting his own venture failed.

College friends told the Post Freddy didn’t appear to drink heavily while he was in school. He graduated in 1960 and married two years later. But alcohol had become a problem in his life by the mid-’60s.

In what former Trump casino executive Jack O’Donnell described to the Post as a “dark family secret,” Freddy struggled with alcohol abuse and was hospitalized in the late ‘70s, at one point even having to have parts of his stomach removed.

“There is generally a lot of shame around addiction, which is sad,” O’Donnell told the paper. “I think the entire Trump family suffers a great deal of shame and unresolved trauma over Fred Jr.’s death.”

Donald J. Trump (L) speaks as Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Donald Trump. KIYOSHI OTA/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

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The president, 73, told the Post he dealt with his brother’s situation by visiting Fred after he moved back into their childhood home in Queens and taking him out to lunch and dinner.

“He did [go to rehab]. A number of times,” Trump said, noting that it was not a “stay-over” rehab. “I don’t think there was much we could do at the time. … Things have been studied and learned right now that are much different.”

According to the Post, citing Freddy’s friends, “The president has too often told the story in a way that put Fred Jr. in the harshest light while painting himself as the virtuous brother who avoided alcohol.”

Freddy’s vices and their consequences had a severe impact on the eight-years-younger Trump, who told PEOPLE in 2015 that he listened when Freddy told him never to drink. The president is an avowed teetotaler.

“I had a brother, Fred. Great guy, best-looking guy, best personality — much better than mine,” he said in 2017. “But he had a problem. He had a problem with alcohol. And he would tell me: ‘Don’t drink. Don’t drink.’ ”

The following year, Trump told reporters, “Whenever they’re looking for something, I’m going to say, ‘I never had a glass of alcohol.’ Can you imagine, if I had, what a mess I’d be? Would I be the — I’d be the world’s worst.”

His brother’s decline stayed with him. “I saw what alcohol did to him even physically …. and that had an impact on me, too,” he told the Post this week.

Trump has previously addressed his brother’s death in interviews, telling Playboy in 1990 it was the “toughest situation I’ve had.”

“Our family environment, the competitiveness, was a negative for Fred,” he said “It wasn’t easy for him being cast in a very tough environment, and I think it played havoc on him … He could have ultimately been a happy guy, but things just went the unhappy way.”

During a 1990 CBS interview, the president also appeared to take some responsibility for his brother’s issues, saying then: “Perhaps it was my fault and perhaps my father’s fault for egging him on to business because he wasn’t good at it, because he didn’t like the business.”

Speaking with the Times in 2016, Trump said this about whether the family’s business obligations exacerbated his brother’s probelms: “I hope not. I hope not.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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