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Monday, August 28, 2006

The Kennedy Curse

The Kennedy Curse refers to a series of unfortunate events that have happened to the Kennedy family. While these events could have happened to any family, some have referred to the continual misfortune of the Kennedy family as a curse. The improbability of so many repeated instances of misfortune within one family, especially two high-profile political assassinations, has raised questions as to whether the curse results from sheer bad luck or from coordinated violence against the Kennedy family.

There are several theories regarding the origin of the "curse". According to Kennedy detractor Edward Klein, there is a story that Joseph Kennedy made his way to the Court of St. James as ambassador in 1937. On a trip back to the United States, aboard an ocean liner that was also carrying a Lubavitcher rabbi named Israel Jacobson and six of his yeshiva students, who were fleeing the Nazis, Kennedy complained to the ship's captain about the distracting noises caused by the Jewish passengers praying on the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah. He demanded that they be forbidden to continue exercises so distracting to fellow passengers. "Rabbi Jacobson put a curse on Kennedy, damning him and all his male offspring to tragic fates."

There is another variation on this story where Joseph Kennedy was visiting Great Britain during World War II and a Jewish refugee came to him and begged him for assistance in getting his sons out of Europe and Joseph Kennedy ignored him. The refugee then placed a curse that involved Joseph Kennedy's sons facing the same fate that the refugee's sons did.

Another similar story claims that Joseph Kennedy sold weapons to Nazi Germany. Because of this, a Jewish town found out and all the towns people prayed for a curse on his family.

In Ireland, folklore tells that a Kennedy ancestor destroyed a fairy dwelling, thereby cursing all future generations.

Critics of the Curse theory argue that given the sheer size of the family the number of unfortunate events is not unusual. The "curse" may be seen less as a supernatural phenomenon than simply as an operation of the laws of probability. Such tragic events happen to a lesser or greater extent in all families but they just make headline news when they happen to a family so famous. It could also be argued that the Kennedy family due to their relative wealth have a lifestyle that is quite different from how most people live (for example, piloting a plane) and consequently they are more often in greater physical danger.

Believers in the "curse" generally cite the following core events as evidence of the family's misfortunes:

  • 1941 - Rosemary Kennedy was believed to be mentally retarded but in fact suffered from mental illness due to the intense pressure of living in a competitive family. It is generally assumed that her intelligence was lower than average but that she was certainly not mentally retarded. She was a disappointment to her father and sent to live with a family aide. Thus isolated, she became increasingly violent and suffered severe mood swings. Subsequently, she underwent an experimental surgery with the intention of controlling her outbursts. The results of the lobotomy were disastrous, and she remained in an institution until her death in 2005. Due to this tragedy, several of the Kennedy family have been involved in advocacy on behalf of developmentally disabled people (founded Special Olympics and other organizations) and mental illness.
  • 1944 - Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., the eldest son of the Kennedy patriarch Joseph Kennedy, is killed over the English Channel while flying a mission during World War II.
  • 1948 - Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington, dies in a plane crash in France.
  • 1955 - Jacqueline Kennedy suffers a miscarriage.
  • 1956 - Jacqueline Kennedy gives birth to a stillborn daughter. (Although the daughter was unnamed and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her parents with a marker reading "Daughter", later reports indicated that the Kennedys had intended to call her "Arabella Kennedy".)
  • December 19, 1961 - Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, suffers a greatly disabling stroke which makes movement and communication extremely difficult and limited until his death.
  • August 7, 1963 - Patrick Bouvier Kennedy , the second son of John and Jacqueline Kennedy, dies two days after his birth, nearly six weeks premature.
  • November 22, 1963 - President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas (see John F. Kennedy assassination).
  • 1964 - Ted Kennedy is in a plane crash in which one of his aides and the pilot were killed. He was pulled from the wreckage by fellow senator Birch E. Bayh II (D-Ind.) and spent weeks in a hospital recovering from a severe back injury, a punctured lung, broken ribs, and internal bleeding.
  • June 5, 1968 - Robert F. Kennedy, brother to both John and Ted, is shot multiple times in Los Angeles, immediately following his victory in the California Democratic presidential primary (see Robert F. Kennedy assassination). He died the next day. To say that he was assassinated on June 5, or June 6, 1968, is incorrect, for he lived slightly more than a day after he was shot.
  • 1969 - "Chappaquiddick Incident" - A car driven by Ted Kennedy goes off a bridge. Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to Robert Kennedy, dies in the accident.
  • 1973 - Edward Kennedy, Jr. At the age of twelve loses his right leg due to bone cancer.
  • 1973 - Joseph P. Kennedy II, son of Robert and Ethel, is the driver in a Cape Cod car accident that leaves one passenger permanently paralyzed.
  • 1973 - Alexander Onassis, stepson of Jacqueline Kennedy, dies in a plane crash.
  • 1984 - David A. Kennedy, a son of Robert, dies from a Demerol and cocaine overdose in a Palm Beach, Florida hotel room.
  • 1994 - Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis dies after a brief battle with cancer.
  • 1997 - Michael Kennedy, another son of Robert, dies in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado.
  • 1999 - John F. Kennedy Jr.; his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy; and Carolyn's sister Lauren Bessette died when the private plane Kennedy was piloting crashes into the Atlantic Ocean on a hazy evening en route from Essex County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey to Martha's Vineyard.

Secondary events

Despite being in the news, these events are not considered to be part of the "curse" by all believers.

  • 1983 - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is arrested in South Dakota for heroin possession.
  • 1986 - Patrick J. Kennedy, a son of Senator Ted Kennedy, begins treatment for cocaine addiction.
  • 1988 - Christina Onassis, stepdaughter of Jacqueline Kennedy, dies of drug abuse-related heart failure.
  • 1991 - William Kennedy Smith, son of Jean Kennedy, is accused of raping a woman in Palm Beach, Florida. He is tried and acquitted.
  • 1997 - Michael Kennedy, son of Robert, becomes embroiled in an adultery scandal involving allegations of statutory rape.
  • 2002 - Michael Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, is convicted in the 1975 murder of a neighbor when he was a teenager.
  • 2006 - Patrick J. Kennedy is involved in a single-car accident in Washington DC on 4 May. He plans to enter treatment for addiction to prescription pain medication.
  • 2006 - Ted Kennedy was aboard a plane which was struck by lightning and had to be diverted to New Haven, Conn. Senator Kennedy had just delivered the commencement address at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams and was on his way to his Cape Cod home when the plane was struck.

Refutations of The "Cursed"

Some skeptics follow the belief that the Kennedy curse is to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy where the actions of the family members enhance their risk for tragic events. A few refutations of the "cursed" events:

  • 1941 - Rosemary Kennedy underwent a surgery that was non-standard and still in its experimental stages.
  • 1944 - Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. volunteered for a special mission piloting a plane loaded with explosives.
  • 1948 - Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington, flew in weather that initially caused the pilot to refuse to fly.
  • 1961 - Joseph P. Kennedy was 73 years old; not an uncommon age for a stroke, especially in 1961.
  • 1969 - "Chappaquiddick Incident" - Ted Kennedy may have been driving drunk.
  • 1983 - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. had illegal drugs in his car, and thus brought about his own arrest.
  • 1984 - David A. Kennedy was a recreational narcotics user, and thus brought about his own death.
  • 1986 - Patrick J. Kennedy was a recreational narcotics user, and thus brought about his own addiction.
  • 1988 - Christina Onassis was a recreational narcotics user, and thus brought about her own death.
  • 1997 - Michael Kennedy was playing ski football without proper safety equipment.
  • 1999 - John F. Kennedy, Jr. was described by experts as a relatively inexperienced pilot, taking his plane into a situation with poor visibility.
  • 2002 - Michael Skakel isn't a Kennedy by blood or law.
  • 2006 - Patrick J. Kennedy suffered no physical injuries after the crash and was able to put the incident in a positive light, affirming publicly his resolve to get help for his substance abuse problems.
The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years