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The Kennedy Curse Tormented America’s First Family For Nearly 80 Years via Associated Press
via Associated Press

The Kennedy Family is an American political dynasty. But their streaks of power have always been tinged by dark tragedy. Everyone remembers where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot. But do you remember all the litany of other shocking disasters and torrid affairs that have made up the “Kennedy Curse” over the last 76 years?

1941: The Lobotomy Of Rosemary Kennedy

via Associated Press

The mistreatment of Kennedy sister Rosemary, the eldest child of Joseph P. Kennedy and his wife Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, is generally considered as the start of the so-called “Kennedy Curse.” And perhaps, even the source of this lingering bad luck. Records suggest that Rosemary was displayed intellectual disabilities throughout childhood. As her father was an American ambassador and wealthy businessman, the young Rosemary’s life looked glamorous from the outside; she even debuted to Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1935. But at the event, her botched curtsy — she nearly fell — symbolized Rosemary’s constant struggle to appear “normal” alongside a highly public family.

Her mental health issues worsened during her early twenties and, despite her social standing, Rosemary was offered no effective psychological support. The Kennedys had their daughter lobotomized in 1941. She was 23-years-old. This intense (and medically pointless) procedure left Rosemary incapacitated; she was unable to speak and barely able to walk. She spent the rest of her life institutionalized and died in 2005. Throughout her long lifetime, the truth about Rosemary’s condition and whereabouts were kept a Kennedy secret.

History Of The Lobotomy

1944: The Death Of Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. In World War II

Eldest son Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was the pride of his domineering father, Joseph P. Kennedy. Favored by his well-connected dad to eventually become president, Jospeh Jr. died before he could ever run for office. While serving in World War II as a patrol bomber pilot, Joseph Jr. was killed in action. He was 29 years old. Although his younger brothers would go on to fulfill their father’s political aspirations, it’s generally believed that Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. never fully recovered from the death of his oldest (and favorite) son. As is detailed in Vanity Fair, JFK, or “Jack” as he was called, was considered a “sloppy” second choice to golden boy Joe Junior.

1963: Patrick Bouvier Kennedy Dies After Birth

Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was the infant child of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy. Jackie Kennedy carried this high profile pregnancy while living in the White House. He was the younger brother of Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr, but only lived for 39 hours. After being stillborn, he died from complications of hyaline membrane disease (HPD). Sadly, this was not the first child the couple lost. Their daughter Arabella was stillborn in 1957.

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The nation mourned the loss of little Patrick Kennedy, although his death would soon be forgotten by history. Just three months later, his father was shot to death in Dallas, Texas.

1963: The Assassination Of JFK

Politics was in the Kennedy blood. Not only did Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. insist on his boys entering public service, but their mother Rose was also the daughter of the Bostom mayor. So after his older brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. died in action, John F. Kennedy was next in line to enter the field of politics. He became the official Democratic nominee for president in 1960, running with the powerhouse Texas politician Lyndon B. Johnson. Although it’s often theorized that Joseph P. Kennedy bought his child the election, there is evidence of cheating on both sides of the ticket; Kennedy won narrowly against Richard Nixon. (Fun fact: The Irish American Kennedy was the first Catholic to take office. Our next president, Joe Biden, will be the second.)

JFK was a beloved president for three years, most notably handling the Cuban Missile Crisis during that time. On November 21, 1963, he was shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. His wife Jackie Kennedy was sitting beside him and was seen cradling the head of her husband through the chaos. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the crime, although he was murdered by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby before he could stand trial. Lots of conspiracy theories (with lots of evidence) suggest a larger plot behind the assassination of JFK — often implicating George H.W. Bush and the FBI.

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The JFK Files: The Murder Of A President – The Fifth Estate

1964: Ted Kennedy Survives A Plane Crash

The younger brother of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, Edward “Ted” Kennedy survived a plane crash in 1964. While this may seem like a stroke of luck, the senator’s aide was killed along with the pilot of the plane. And this would not be the last time that Ted Kennedy survived a crash while another passenger perished. (Read on to learn about the sad Chappaquiddick debacle.) While recovering in the hospitals from injuries sustained during this deadly crash, Ted Kennedy reportedly said “Somebody up there doesn’t like us.” And it looks like he was right.

1968: The Assassination Of RFK

After the shocking assassination of his brother President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy stepped up to become the next Democratic candidate for president. Lyndon B. Johnson, who had inherited the presidency after the death of JFK, was re-elected in 1965. Naturally, he sought re-election in 1968. But Bobby Kennedy presented a serious challenge to the establishment Democrats, running on a platform of civil rights which disavowed the stances of his late brother’s vice president. With a comparatively progressive agenda, RFK emerged as the presidential primary frontrunner, channeling the power of the Kennedy name.

But on June 5, 1968, the campaign of Robert F. Kennedy came to a disastrous end. After addressing supporters in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, Kennedy tried to exit the building when 24-year-old Sirhan Sirhan opened fire, killing the spirited candidate in his tracks. Vice president Hubert Humphrey went on to the official Democratic nominee. The messy election year, which also saw the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the continuation of widespread protests against the Vietnam War, has gone down in history as the most tumultuous… perhaps until recently. The death of Robert F. Kennedy paved the way for a defeat by Republicans; Richard Nixon won that November. But Bobby Kennedy is still remembered as a paragon of modern liberalism. He left behind his pregnant widow Ethel Skakel Kennedy and their 11 (!) children. And some of those children would go on to meet tragic ends of their own.

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The Assassination Of RFK

1969: The Chappaquiddick Incident

After the horrifying assassination of Bobby Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy had some pretty big shoes to fill. But instead of getting his act together, the younger Kennedy brother brought disgrace to the family name in 1969. Kennedy cousin Joseph Gargan rented a cottage on Chappaquiddick Island in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts for something of a reunion party one year after Bobby Kennedy’s murder. A small party took place which included Gargan, Ted Kennedy, and the women who’d worked on Bobby’s campaign, a.k.a. “the Boiler Room Girls.” Among them was Mary Jo Kopechne. Kopechne was driven to politics following JFK’s. inspirational “Ask what you can do for your country” inaugural speech.

Mary Jo Kopechne grew close with the Kennedy family while working as a historic Boiler Room Girl in Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. But she’d never spoken to Ted Kennedy before that night in Chappaquiddick. She and the senator left the party together, with Ted claiming that he was driving her make the last ferry back to Edgerton. (However, Kopechne’s purse and keys were left at the party, inviting speculation that the two would have engaged in some affair; Ted Kennedy was married to socialite Joan Bennett Kennedy at the time.) Kennedy (likely intoxicated) turned off from the route to Edgerton and, while making his way over a narrow, dangerous bridge, careened off the side. The car landed upside down Poucha Pond. Kennedy successfully escaped the vehicle and swam away, but he did not report the incident until the next day.

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Meanwhile, Mary Jo Kopechne was left to drown inside the car. Teddy Kennedy, Joe Gargan, and their associate Paul Markham returned to the scene during the night but failed to rescue her. The three men, all lawyers, argued next to a phone booth about whether or not to phone the police. When the car was discovered in the morning by two fishing locals, Kopechne’s body was retrieved. The rescue captain testified that Kopechne had likely stayed alive in an air bubble for up to thirty minutes after the initial crash. She was 28 years old. The sad story became a national sensation and any presidential dreams for Teddy Kennedy were dashed. Kennedy eventually pleaded guilty to fleeing the scene, although there was no legal repercussion for such a powerful man. He neglected to run in the next two Democratic presidential primaries following his pathetic show of cowardice at Chappaquidick. When Kennedy finally did run in 1980, he was crushed by Jimmy Carter.

Ted Kennedy Addresses Chappaquidick Accident

1973: Joseph P. Kennedy II Crashes A Jeep

In August of 1973, Joseph P. Kennedy II, the eldest son of Bobby Kennedy, drove was driving recklessly on Nantucket. His Jeep overturned, seriously injuring his brother David Kennedy and permanently paralyzing David’s girlfriend, Pam Kelley. Although the Kennedy family initially paid for Kelley’s medical treatment, their long-term contributions to her care were minimal. It was not the first time, a female Kennedy companion was left to fend for herself after some careless beachside driving.

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1984: The Overdose Of David Kennedy

The fourth son of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, David Kennedy was always considered a shy and introverted brother who was especially close with his late father. As a child, David nearly drowned on a Malibu beach in 1968 when his senator father dove into the water to save him. In 1973, Joseph P. Kennedy II’s Jeep accident left David’s girlfriend Pam Kelley paralyzed. Treating his own severe injury, David turned to painkillers in the wake of the accident and eventually heroin. In 1984, he suffered a drug overdose in Palm Beach, Florida, and died at the age of 28.

1997: Michael Kennedy Dies Skiing

The sixth child of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, Michael Kennedy died in a skiing accident. While on a trip in 1997 in Aspen, Colorado, Michael and friends were playing football while on skis. Not wearing a helmet, Michael Kennedy skied into a tree and died on December 31, 1997. He was 39 years old.

1999: John F. Kennedy Jr. Is Killed In A Plane Crash

Throughout President John F. Kennedy’s time in the white house, his beautiful, young family was celebrated. Especially, little John F. Kennedy Jr or “John-John” as he was called. (Remember when John-John played in the Oval Office under his father’s resolute desk?) Growing up under such intense media scrutiny, this Kennedy son managed to flourish. In addition to being exceedingly handsome, JFK Jr. was a popular social figure in Manhattan and ran his own magazine: George. He married fashion publicist Carolyn Bessette in on September 21, 1996. (John’s sister Caroline Kennedy was the matron of honor.)

But the happy couple only enjoyed three years of marriage. On July 16, 1999, JFK Jr., Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and her older sister Lauren Bessette all perished in a plane crash. John was piloting when the small plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. John F. Kennedy Jr. was a new pilot and found himself unable to land on such a dark and hazy night. Their three bodies were discovered five days later.

John F. Kennedy Jr.’s Tragic Final Flight

2012: Mary Kathleen Kennedy Commits Suicide

Mary Kathleen Kennedy (née Richardson) was married to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of Bobby Kennedy. They had four children together, along with the two children from RFK Jr.’s previous marriage. In 2010, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed for divorce and immediately, Mary Kathleen Kennedy began to unravel. She was arrested for a DUI with temporary custody of her children being granted to her husband. On May 16, 2012, Mary Kathleen Kennedy was found hanged at her New York home. The death was ruled as a suicide, and there was a subsequent battle between her brother and her (separated) husband for Kennedy’s remains. Although she was solely a Kennedy by marriage, this tragic end for the mother and noted designer remains a solid example of the Kennedy Curse.

In 2014, RFK Jr. remarried to Curb Your Enthusiasm actress Cheryl Hines. In 2019, three Kennedys published a Politico op-ed condemning his anti-vaccine views.

2019: The Overdose Of Saoirse Roisin Kennedy

Saoirse Roisin Kennedy, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, died of an accidental drug overdose in 2019 while at the family compound in Cape Cod with her grandmother Ethel Kennedy. Saoirse Roisin Kennedy had written about her long battle with depression (http://deerfieldscroll.com/2016/02/mental-illness-at-deerfield/) in her high school newspaper. She passionately believed in creating a more inclusive school community, as her Boston College professors also noted. She was found with a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol in her system, and the death was ruled as accidental; apparently, the 22-year-old was celebrating the completion of a term paper.

2020: Maeve And Gideon Kennedy Drown

The most recent Kennedy tragedy took place at the Chesapeake Bay. Granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, Maeve died from accidental drowning while out on a canoe. But that was not the only death that day. Her young son, 8-year-old Gideon had accompanied his mother out on the rough water and also drowned. Powerful winds and high waves had pushed the mother and son too far out from their waterfront home. Gideon Kennedy is the youngest victim of the Kennedy curse. And while many Americans may have forgotten about the Kennedys, this awful recent event shows that strange accidents continue to afflict the New England descent.

What Does Joe Kennedy’s Loss Mean For American Politics?

Kennedy patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy and matriarch Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy lived long and prosperous lives. The same cannot be said of their offspring. There are many theories regarding the Kennedy Curse. Perhaps some deal with the devil was arranged… In present day, the ambitious family is not as involved with politics as they once were. The recent victory of incumbent Joe Markey against Representative Joe Kennedy III the Massachusetts senatorial primary marked the first time that a Kennedy was ever defeated in the state. Unlike his trailblazing grandfather RFK, the young Joe Kennedy III actually put forward an establishment platform compared to the (fairly) progressive Markey. But regardless of their waning influence, misfortune still seems to plague the descendants of this once powerful political bloodline.

Watch: Did You Know President John F. Kennedy Was A Published Author?

Emily Mack About the author:
Emily Mack is a staff writer for Rare. She currently lives in Chicago and has very strong opinions about where to find the best hot dog. She studied nonfiction writing at Columbia University in New York City, and recently graduated with the Ellis Avery Prize for creative writing. Her favorite topics are Cher, fast fashion, Chicago urban legends, and Jack Nicholson movies.
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