Kennedy memoir reveals his remorse over scandal

Posthumous account of Chappaquiddick accident talks of Kennedy's 'terrible decisions'

In a posthumous memoir to be published this month, Edward Kennedy frankly acknowledges the personal failings that probably kept him from the presidency – above all his "inexcusable" behaviour over the July 1969 accident at Chappaquiddick which, he says, may have hastened the death of his father, Joe Senior, the patriarch of the family dynasty, later that year.

For the first time, the long-time senator and youngest of Joseph's four sons recounts how he made "terrible decisions" in the hours after Mary Jo Kopechne, a young worker on his brother Robert's 1968 presidential campaign, was trapped and drowned when the car he was driving went off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts.

Frightened and confused, Mr Kennedy made the fateful decision not to go to the police until Ms Kopechne's body was found the next day. Ultimately, he received a suspended sentence for failing to report an accident. Most important, however, the affair added to the doubts about his character, making it impossible for him to seek the White House in either 1972 or 1976. It also helped doom his candidacy when he finally did run for the Democratic nomination – against the sitting president Jimmy Carter, who would go on to lose heavily to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

True Compass had originally been intended to appear in 2010, to mark the 50th anniversary of his brother Jack's election to the White House, but was moved up to this autumn after Mr Kennedy was stricken with fatal brain cancer in early 2008. A copy was obtained by The New York Times, which published the first extracts yesterday.

More perhaps than its discussion of the senator's drinking and carousing, the 532-page book is striking for its insights into the complicated personal relationships within a fiercely competitive family: how he was tormented by a feeling of inadequacy when compared to his three brothers, all of them dead by the time Ted Kennedy reached his late thirties. "As I think back about what they had accomplished before I was even out of my childhood," he writes, "it sometimes has occurred to me that my entire life has been a constant state of catching up."

The brothers, he says, were close, but at the same time curiously distant. Ted, for instance, "had no idea how serious Jack's health problems were," for the simple reason that "it would never have occurred to us to discuss such private things with each other".

If anything, the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 was even more traumatic for the youngest Kennedy than that of the 35th president five years before. The loss led to more "self-destructive" drinking, and made it impossible for Ted to return to the Senate. Instead, he went for long sailing trips, brooding about what had happened.

He admits his conduct drove his wife, Joan, who would have drinking problems of her own, "deeper into her anguish". The couple divorced in 1982. Mr Kennedy himself "tried to stay ahead of the darkness" by driving himself and his senate staff especially hard. But the assassinations left their mark on his daily life. He writes of how he would flinch at sudden sharp noises, and even fling himself to the ground when a car backfired.

True Compass, written with a collaborator, Ron Powers, is largely based on contemporaneous notes taken by Mr Kennedy over five decades, and recordings for an oral history project. Alongside his failings, it also displays his resilience, even when confronted by cancer when doctors gave him mere months to live. In the event, he survived a year and a half. "Approaching adversity with a positive attitude at least gives you a chance for success," Mr Kennedy writes. "A defeatist's attitude is just not in my DNA."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Lead

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading providers of w...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Executive is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders