Mr. Reeves found much to criticize in Kennedy, not least Kennedy’s decision to dip the American toe into the Vietnam quagmire. He also found much to admire, like his summoning of young Americans to public service. And Mr. Reeves understood the charisma that transformed Kennedy from man to martyr to myth.

“It was almost as if those around him were figures in tableaux, who came alive only when John Kennedy was in place at the center,” he wrote in “President Kennedy: Profile of Power,” a book, published in 1993, that many consider his best. “He was an artist who painted with other people’s lives. He squeezed people like tubes of paint, gently or brutally, and the people around him — family, writers, drivers, ladies-in-waiting — were the indentured inhabitants serving his needs and desires.”

Richard Furman Reeves was born in New York City on Nov. 28, 1936, and grew up in Jersey City. His father, Furman W. Reeves, a Republican, was a judge in Hudson County, N.J.; his mother, Dorothy (Forshay) Reeves, had been an actress in early movies.

Mr. Reeves earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., and worked for Ingersoll Rand in 1960 and 1961. Realizing that engineering was not for him, he left the company to help found and edit The Phillipsburg Free Press, a weekly paper in Warren County, N.J. (It was later absorbed by another newspaper.)

In the 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Reeves was a reporter for The Newark Evening News, The New York Herald Tribune and The New York Times, where his career took off as he covered everything from politics to riots to the Woodstock music festival.

Later, he wrote for Esquire and New York magazine, producing a number of cover-story profiles. On PBS, he appeared as a regular panelist on public-affairs programs in the 1970s and was chief correspondent for the investigative documentary series “Frontline” from 1981 to 1984. His work, in print and on television, won numerous awards, including an Emmy in 1980 for the ABC documentary “Lights, Camera … Politics!,” about television’s impact on elections.

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