Curse of the Kennedys claims its latest victim

Yet again, tragedy has struck at America's version of royalty, with the death in a skiing accident in Colorado of Michael Kennedy, son of the assassinated Senator Robert Kennedy. Rupert Cornwell looks at a family beset by fame and disaster in equal measure

If his surname had been Jones or Brown, his passing would have been unremarked - just another skier who lost control, crashing into a tree on Wednesday as he hurtled down a slope at Aspen Mountain, injuring himself fatally. Not though if that surname belongs to a family called Kennedy. As in John F Kennedy. Then you are victim of The Curse, paying the ultimate price for hubris past.

The story goes back almost 60 years , when Joseph Kennedy Senior, grandson of Irish immigrants, philanderer, tycoon, bootlegger and backer of Franklin Roosevelt, realised his own political ambitions had been wrecked by his readiness to appease Hitler while ambassador to London. Instead he dedicated all his might and means, fair and foul, to make one of his children president. Joe would succeed, but at a price he could not imagine.

Already in 1941 his daughter Rosemary had been placed in a mental home after a failed lobotomy. But worse would follow in 1944 when Joseph Jr, the apple of his father's eye and repository of his vicarious ambition, was killed in a plane crash while serving in Britain with the US Air Force. Another daughter, Kathleen, would die in France in another air crash in 1948. But the mantle of expectation had passed to his second son, John, who would use his own charm and ruthlessness - and his father's money and strings - to make it to the White House in 1961. But on 22 November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald struck in Dallas.

Less than five years later, half paralysed by an earlier stroke, Joe would watch a third son die, when Robert was shot dead in a Los Angeles hotel on 4 June 1968, just as he won the California Democratic primary to place the presidency firmly in his sights. That August, his remaining son Edward, 35-year-old Massachusetts senator, sat in Chicago with his advisers on the eve of the Democratic convention, pondering whether to use the outpouring of sympathy to make a bid for the nomination himself.

No, they decided; wait for 1972, or better still 1976. But The Curse would not be denied. The very next year Teddy drove a car off a bridge on the island of Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, and ran from the scene as his staffworker Mary Jo Kopechne was drowned. His hopes of the White House were gone, and the first big dent was made in America's hitherto unquestioning romance with the Kennedys. Thereafter the misfortunes would continue. But increasingly they would be self-inflicted. For many younger Kennedys, unearned celebrity and comparisons with political titans past were burdens too heavy to bear.

In 1973, Teddy's son Edward lost a leg because of cancer. That same year, Robert's son Joe was involved in a car accident which left a female passenger paralysed for life. Another son, Robert Jr, was caught with drugs while a teenager, while yet another, David, died of a drug overdose in 1984.

The episodes merely added credibility to the less flattering portrait of the earlier Kennedys emerging in a string of books and personal memoirs. These dwelt not on the glitz of Camelot, but the consuming Kennedy lusts for power and sex, and their congenital disregard for women. By 1986, Edward's son Patrick was undergoing treatment for cocaine addiction. In 1991 his nephew William Kennedy Smith went on trial for rape. William was acquitted, but not before revelations of drinking sessions with his uncle that cemented Teddy's image as an alcohol-drenched lecher.

And thus to Michael Kennedy, who until last year was regarded as a rising political star in his own right. Then came allegations of an affair with the family's 14-year-old babysitter and his own admission of alcoholism. Now Michael is dead - and the family's power and prestige is at its lowest ebb in three-quarters of a century.

Edward Kennedy surely will not seek a seventh full Senate term in 2000, when he will be 68. Robert's son Joseph, self-appointed standard-bearer of the younger Kennedys, but in truth a pompous Congressional lightweight, has been forced to withdraw from the state's 1998 Governors race after woman trouble of his own. JFK's son John Jr, noted for his looks rather than his intellect, is one younger Kennedy who has kept his head. Conceivably he might use his politico-celebrity magazine George as a springboard for a political career. But the pick of the bunch could be Patrick, who has overcome his cocaine problems to be a second-term Congressman for Rhode Island. But if he goes any higher, it will be thanks to merit, not myth.

America's tragic dynasty

JOSEPH P. KENNEDY JR.: Died in plane crash during the Second World War, aged 29.

KATHLEEN KENNEDY: Married William John Robert Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington. She later died in a plane crash, aged 28.

PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY, JR.: Assassinated in Dallas on 22 Nov 1963, aged 46.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Assassinated in June 1968, aged 43.

DAVID KENNEDY: Son of Robert, died in 1984 of a drug overdose in a hotel after being thrown out of the family holiday home at Palm Beach.

MICHAEL KENNEDY: Gained notoriety for an alleged 1996 affair with his family's babysitter, was killed in a skiing accident on New Years's Eve. He was 39.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee