Kennedy: a dynasty cursed?

The suicide of Bobby's daughter-in-law re-opens the old debate. By Rupert Cornwall

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The Independent Online

But for the family name she acquired at marriage, it might have been just a tale for the society pages: a handsome, middle-aged woman who had given up a successful career to raise children, only for the man she loved to chase other women and seek a divorce. Lonely and depressed, she turns to alcohol.

Finally, she hangs herself in a barn behind her house in one of the wealthiest areas in suburban New York, leaving behind four children under the age of 18. A tragedy to be sure, but life can sometimes be like that.

The woman born Mary Richardson, however, was no ordinary housewife. Her estranged husband is a lawyer and environmental activist – but most relevant, he is a Kennedy.

Robert Francis Kennedy Jr will always be marked as the son of the Senator and presidential candidate who was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968.

Such is the smaller misfortune of Mary Richardson Kennedy. Her death not only devastated a family and a community. It also made her the latest embodiment of the "Curse of the Kennedys," America's enduring popular fixation with the supposed malediction that haunts a family otherwise blessed with every requisite of happiness: wealth, good looks, power and a name that opens every door.

The Kennedy "curse" is still young, only into a third generation. But its first manifestations were on a grand scale. President John F Kennedy was murdered, as was his brother, RFK, who might well have become president.

In 1969, the Chappaquiddick scandal ended the presidential ambitions of the third brother, Teddy. Decades earlier, starting the whole thing off, their oldest brother Joe Jr, was killed in action as a US bomber pilot in 1944.

Not only the male children of Joe Kennedy Sr and his wife Rose Fitzgerald were affected. Kathleen Kennedy died in a plane crash in France in 1948, while the mentally impaired Rosemary, spent much of her life in an institution.

So much for the first generation. The second was blighted too, even if the Kennedys were no longer staking claims to the White House. In 1997, Michael Kennedy, the third child of RFK, died in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado. Two years after that, John F Kennedy Jr, bearer of the Kennedy clan's most famous name, was killed when the small plane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic off the Massachusetts coast.

And now the suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy. But does all the above, terrible as much of it was, amount to a curse? In the first place, there is no suggestion of a curse ever being uttered (although some have seen the many misfortunes as retribution for the sins of Joe Kennedy Sr, the founder of the dynasty – bootlegger, philanderer and stock-speculator).

Second, every family has its problems and tragedies. That the Kennedys seem to have had more of them than most may reflect merely the fact they are a very large family. Joe Sr had nine children, while Bobby had 11.

Third, a certain recklessness seems to inhabit the Kennedy genes – at least those of the males. JFK and RFK were unlucky to live in violent times, but Michael Kennedy's fatal accident occurred when he was playing football without a helmet. JFK Jr, it is widely believed, also took a needless chance, flying in poor conditions - a gamble that also killed his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette.

Finally and most important, the Kennedys live in a goldfish bowl. A wealthy and attractive middle-aged woman is charged with drunk driving – so what? But if that person is Mary Richardson Kennedy, a media frenzy ensues. From these pressures can spring sad events. And thus the "curse" perpetuates itself.