Family physician who healed himself

MISSING PERSONS No.3 William Kennedy Smith
  • @dusborne
You are a visitor at the Mercy Hospital in Chicago and you spot a young doctor who seems vaguely familiar. You have seen him somewhere before. So you ask. He introduces himself: Doctor Smith. Dr William Smith. It means nothing.

But the young man, midway through his residency in the rehab department on the fifth floor, is being too modest. That is the name he goes by these days but the full version is William Kennedy Smith, nephew of the former president JFK and son of Jean Kennedy Smith, US ambassador to Ireland. The coyness has nothing to with Camelot but everything with Palm Beach.

It is more than three years since all of America became intimate with Mr Smith and especially with his activities on Good Friday night in 1991, when he was staying with his uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, at the family compound in West Palm Beach. It was the night that Teddy got thirsty and awoke William to accompany him for a midnight drink at Au Bar, a nearby club.

It was what happened later that evening that won Mr Smith the notoriety he now flees. After leaving the bar he twice made love al fresco in the compound grounds to a woman who subsequently accused him of rape. The trial that followed introduced America to its new addiction: celebrity trials relayed live, gavel-to-gavel, into the nation's front rooms on cable television.

With the then nascent Court TV providing the cameras, the Smith trial provided real-life drama that seemed unsurpassable.There was the grass- stain evidence and the overwhelmingly poignant testimony of Teddy Kennedy.

Only now do we know that this was only a minor fix compared with what was to come: the Menendez trial, the Tonya Harding hearings, the Michael Jackson allegations and, playing right now - the OJ Simpson epic.

Mr Smith, who was acquitted, is probably grateful for that. When the lights were off him, he returned to trying to make it as the first Kennedy doctor. He completed a year's training in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving for a three-year residency at Mercy.

In Chicago he has chosen to specialise in the rehabilitation of patients in post-accident trauma, suffering from spinal injuries or paralysis. His social rehabilitation has not been without mishap.

In 1993 he was arrested after punching a bouncer outside a bar in Arlington, Virginia, after mistaking him for the friend of a man who had taunted him inside about the being "the rapist". He was given 100 days community service and last year settled with the bouncer for an undisclosed sum.

The incident was a set-back for a man who at about that time confided to a friend: "My family spent over a million dollars on my defence. But all anyone remembers is that I was involved in a rape. Nobody remembers that I was acquitted".

If acquittal does not erase such notoriety, time still may. Last month, he emerged briefly at the funeral of his grandmother, Rose Kennedy, in Massachusetts. Even the tab loids did nothing more than list his name among the mourners. There was no nudge-nudge from the editors: "Remember him?"

David Usborne