The death of Robert F. Kennedy’s 22-year-old granddaughter Saoirse Kennedy Hill has brought back discussion of the so-called Kennedy Curse.
That’s the term given to the series of tragedies that have befallen the American political dynasty. Rose Kennedy, the family matriarch, once famously said, “To those to whom much is given, much is expected.” The Kennedy family soared to great heights, but with those heights have come a number of calamities.
After Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, his brother, Ted, spoke about the possibility of a curse, saying, “some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys.”
Here’s a list of the Kennedy family tragedies:
Assassination of John F. Kennedy
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. The assassination has spawned decades of conspiracy theories that the supposed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a pawn of a greater plot.
Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate, was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Sirhan Sirhan was convicted of the crime.
He admitted he murdered the aspiring president, Kennedy brother and former attorney general at his trial, but that was strategic because his lawyers pursued a diminished capacity argument, and he’s also claimed he has no memory of the slaying. As with RFK’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, there are those who argue that the government got it wrong. Some of those theories, although not all, revolve around Kennedy’s bodyguard, the number of overall shots that were fired, the trajectory of those shots, and whether there might have, thus, been two gunmen. You can read an exploration of those theories here.
Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Dies in a Plane Explosion During WW2
Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was the eldest son of the Kennedy clan and its heir apparent. However, he died in a plane explosion during World War II. The JFK library explains that Joseph P. Kennedy II “went on to Harvard Law School but left before his final year to volunteer as a navy flier. Awarded his wings in May 1942, he flew Caribbean patrols and in September 1943 was sent to England with the first naval squadron to fly B-24’s with the British Naval Command.”
His military service ended with his death on August 12, 1944. JFK explained how his brother had refused to return home on leave. “It may be felt, perhaps, that Joe should not have pushed his luck so far and should have accepted his leave and come home,” JFK said, according to his library. “But two facts must be borne in mind. First, at the time of his death, he had completed probably more combat missions in heavy bombers than any other pilot of his rank in the Navy and therefore was preeminently qualified, and secondly, as he told a friend early in August, he considered the odds at least fifty-fifty, and Joe never asked for any better odds than that.” Explosions of undetermined origin had blown up the pilots and their bomber plane.
Rosemary Kennedy’s Lobotomy
Rosemary Kennedy, the third child of Rose and Joe Kennedy, “was slower to crawl, slower to walk and to speak than her brothers, and she experienced learning difficulties when she reached school age,” the Kennedy Library explains. “Despite her apparent intellectual disabilities, Rosemary participated in most family activities.”
That led to a fateful decision by her father that sentenced her to a life of incapacitation. “…after being persuaded that a lobotomy would help to calm his daughter and prevent her sometimes violent mood swings, Joseph Kennedy authorized the operation,” the Kennedy Library acknowledges.
“The relatively new procedure, which at the time seemed to hold great promise, left Rosemary permanently incapacitated and unable to care for herself. On the recommendation of Archbishop Cushing, Rosemary was sent to St. Coletta’s School for Exceptional Children in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where she would live for the rest of her life.”
Kathleen Kennedy Dies in a Plane Crash
Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, the fourth child of Rose and Joe Kennedy, died on May 13, 1948 “in a plane crash in France. She is buried on the Cavendish family burial grounds, in the Church at Edensor outside of Chatsworth, England,” according to the Kennedy Library.
Her husband had died in combat during World War II. She was a debutante, a Red Cross volunteer, and a newspaper columnist. According to Irish Central, “storms caused the plane to crash in the mountains and all passengers and crew were killed.”
It’s well known that Senator Ted Kennedy was at the wheel of a car that plunged off a bridge, killing 28-year-old political aide Mary Jo Kopechne.
According to The Smithsonian, Kennedy took 10 hours to report the incident and questions about what really happened remained foggy to the end of his days.
The Smithsonian notes that lingering questions include the reason Teddy Kennedy and Kopechne were alone in the car in the first place (although any supposed romance between them was never proven) and whether Kennedy was driving drunk that fatal night (this was impossible to know because he waited so long to report the crash).
According to the Globe, in real life, an autopsy was not conducted on Kopechne so it’s not clear if she drowned or suffocated inside the car. While both are awful ways to go, the latter is certainly more agonizing and long. The Globe notes that the diver who pulled Mary Jo’s body from the submerged vehicle believed she “suffocated after surviving for an hour or more in a pocket of air, based on the position of her body.”
You can read more about the Chappaquiddick tragedy here.
Joseph P. Kennedy II’s Car Accident Paralyzes a Woman
Pamela Burkley later became the assistant director of the Cape Organization for the Rights of the Disabled. As the Cape Cod Times recalled in 1999, she was paralyzed “after an off-road-vehicle accident with Joseph P. Kennedy II on Nantucket 26 years” before.
However, she told the newspaper she wasn’t bitter toward the Kennedys, saying, “It doesn’t make any sense to blame. That doesn’t exist at all. There’s none of that. They remain friends. They don’t go out of their way to do anything fake, and they don’t avoid me.”
According to the Cape Cod Times, “Joe was trying to take a short cut through the woods to make the ferry when the car flipped. Kennedy was fined $100 for negligent driving and reportedly paid a settlement of nearly $1 million to Burkley.”
John Kennedy Jr. & His Wife & Sister-in-Law Perish in a Plane Crash
John F. Kennedy Jr., the president’s son who was running a political magazine called George, died in a plane crash with his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and Carolyn’s sister, Lauren.
The National Transportation Safety Board extensively investigated the cause of JFK Jr.’s plane crash. The board investigated the “crash of a Piper Saratoga II aircraft last summer that killed the pilot, John F. Kennedy, Jr.; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and her sister, Lauren Bessette. The airplane crashed about 9:41 p.m., on July 16, 1999, near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts,” its press release states.
The probable cause of the accident, as stated in the accident report, is: “The pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation. Factors in the accident were haze and the dark night.” You can read more about JFK Jr.’s plane crash here.
Michael Kennedy Dies in a Skiing Accident
Michael Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, died “of head and neck injuries after an accident on an Aspen Mountain ski slope on New Year’s Eve” 1997, according to the Associated Press, which reported that Kennedy, “by all accounts an excellent skier, apparently lost control of one ski and crashed headfirst into a tree.”
The Kennedys liked to horse around by playing football on the slopes and “Kennedy had reportedly caught a snowpacked water bottle being tossed around as a makeshift football at the time of the accident,” reported AP. His life had been in turmoil after he was accused of having an affair with an underage babysitter, according to AP.
David Kennedy Dies of a Drug Overdose
David Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy, died of a drug overdose in a Palm Beach hotel called the Brazilian Court on the morning of April 25, 1984.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, “An autopsy revealed he died of a lethal combination of cocaine, Demerol and the tranquilizer Mellaril.”
He had led a troubled life with drug addiction since the assassination of his father, a murder he watched unfold on television as a child, The New York Times reported.
Saoirse Kennedy Hill Dies of an Apparent Overdose
Saoirse Kennedy Hill, 22, the daughter of RFK’s daughter Courtney Kennedy Hill, died while visiting her grandma Ethel Kennedy’s home in the famed Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port.
Saoirse, who struggled with depression and mental health issues, is believed to have died of an apparent overdose, although her cause of death has not been released. You can read more about her here.
Patrick Kennedy Dies in Infancy
Patrick was the son of President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline. Born in 1963, he only lived for 40 hours after being born prematurely.
Mary Kennedy Commits Suicide
Mary Richardson Kennedy, the estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., committed suicide by hanging at the age of 52. They had four children together. She faced an ugly divorce battle and debilitating depression.
Her family has fought back against depictions of Mary in divorce papers, saying, according to the Daily Beast, that Mary suffered “unbelievable emotional and psychological abuse.”
Kara Kennedy Dies Young
Kara Kennedy was the daughter of Ted Kennedy. She died young at age 51 of a heart attack after working out, according to the New York Times.