How is it possible for one family to suffer so much tragedy?
For some, the string of untimely deaths and scandals in President John F. Kennedy’s family may seem too unlikely to chalk up as bad luck.
In fact, JFK’s brother, the late Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy, actually wondered out loud if his family were victims of an “awful curse” — as if curses could be real.
Most people know about the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s.
But, depending on your generation, these other terrible events within the Kennedy clan may not be so well known.
1. The Kennedy family’s history of deadly plane crashes
Many remember the 1999 small plane crash off Massachusetts that killed JFK’s son, John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette. The crash was blamed on JFK Jr., who was piloting the plane at night and became disoriented before crashing into the Atlantic.
But perhaps not as well known: 35 years earlier, Ted Kennedy survived a 1964 plane crash that killed two people.
This tragedy happened during a campaign flight from Washington to Westfield, Massachusetts. Ted Kennedy was flying with a fellow senator, the senator’s wife and a legislative aide. The pilot and aide were killed.
Low clouds and fog made flying difficult as the plane approached Westfield’s airport. The plane lost altitude and crashed in an orchard not far from the runway, killing the pilot and the aide.
Kennedy suffered a broken back and ribs. Federal investigators blamed the crash on pilot error.
President Kennedy’s oldest brother, Joe Kennedy Jr., died in a 1944 air disaster, after volunteering to pilot a secret and extremely dangerous World War II bombing mission in Nazi-occupied France.
During the mission, two in-flight explosions rocked his bomber aircraft “resulting in the death of its two pilots,” according to the JFK Presidential Library. The cause of the explosions remain a mystery.
Four years after the family lost Joe Jr., another plane crash killed President Kennedy’s sister Kathleen Kennedy, who was nicknamed “Kick.”
Kick Kennedy had married William Cavendish, England’s Marquess of Hartington, giving her the title Lady Hartington. In 1948, she and three others died when their small plane crashed in France while flying in a storm. She was 28.
2. Woman dies in car driven by Ted Kennedy
It was known simply as Chappaquiddick, the tragedy that followed Ted Kennedy throughout his political career. Chappaquiddick was the Massachusetts island where campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne died in a 1969 car crash, with Kennedy at the wheel.
Kennedy was driving Kopechne home after a late-night party when he lost control of the vehicle and crashed into the water. Kopechne was trapped inside the car but Kennedy was able to swim ashore and walked back to his hotel.
He didn’t alert police until 10 hours later.
Eventually Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence.
He went on national TV to explain the tragedy, saying, “All kinds of scrambled thoughts … went through my mind … including such questions as … whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys.”
A film titled “Chappaquiddick,” starring Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne, is scheduled to hit theaters in April.
3. RFK’s son dies from drug overdose
David Kennedy, one of Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy’s 11 children, died in 1984 in a Palm Beach, Florida, hotel after a drug overdose. He was 28. He had reportedly watched his father’s assassination on live TV as a boy and later struggled with addiction.
4. Another son of RFK dies in tragic ski accident
Another son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, Michael Kennedy, died in a ski accident in Aspen, Colorado, on New Year’s Eve, 1997. The New York Times reported he was tossing a football with relatives while skiing down a mountain. The father of three was 39.
5. Kennedy nephew accused of rape
In 1991, Ted Kennedy was forced to testify about a bar-hopping weekend near the family’s vacation home in Palm Beach, Florida, that led to sexual battery charges against his nephew, William Kennedy Smith.
Smith was accused of raping a woman that he and the senator met at a trendy nightclub called Au Bar.
Eventually Smith was acquitted of all charges.
Because the trial was allowed to be televised live, cable news channels, including CNN and the newly launched Court TV, provided virtually nonstop coverage of testimony, creating fodder for the tabloid press, much to the chagrin of the Kennedy family.
Most news outlets chose not to identify Kennedy Smith’s accuser, whose face was covered by a blue blob during her testimony.
After Ted Kennedy’s emotional testimony, Kennedy Smith said of his uncle, “I think this process has been unfair to him,” Vanity Fair reported.
6. Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel convicted of murder
Michael Skakel, nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow Ethel Kennedy, was convicted in 2002 of bludgeoning his neighbor, Martha Moxley to death during a jealous rage in 1975. Both were 15 at the time of the killing and lived near each other in Greenwich, Connecticut.
In 2013, he was granted a new trial and freed on bail. Three years later, prosecutors appealed the decision and the state Supreme Court reinstated Skakel’s conviction. Skakel has asked the court to reconsider and remains free on bail.
7. JFK’s sister Rosemary Kennedy and her failed brain surgery
The family had long described President Kennedy’s sister Rosemary Kennedy as “intellectually slow.” In hopes of improving her life, Kennedy family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy allowed doctors to remove part of Rosemary Kennedy’s brain in 1941, a relatively new procedure known as a prefrontal lobotomy. The operation only worsened her condition and Rosemary was institutionalized until her death in 2005 at age 86.
8. President and Jackie Kennedy lose their infant son
In 1963, President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy announced the birth of their third child, Patrick. Weighing just under 5 pounds, Patrick was born nearly six weeks early. Patrick struggled to breathe, due to a lung condition. The infant survived for less than two days and was buried in the family grave site at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.
9. Ted Kennedy’s son loses leg to cancer
Cancer has also played a role in Kennedy family tragedies. In 1973, Ted Kennedy’s 12-year-old son Edward Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer. “My father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event — that is one of my father’s greatest lessons,” Edward Jr. said after his father lost his own battle with cancer in 2009.
10. Sons: There’s no curse
After surviving bone cancer, Edward Jr. and his brother, Patrick Kennedy, told CNN they reject the idea of a family curse.
“No. No. Obviously my dad had a sense of spirituality that transcended his ability to face these problems, you know, in a way that would have otherwise paralyzed the normal person,” Patrick Kennedy said in 2009.
His brother Edward Jr. added, “The Kennedy family has had to endure these things in a very open way. But our family is just like … every other family in America in many ways.”
An earlier version of this story listed the wrong date of the 1969 Chappaquiddick car crash.