America’s renowned Kennedy family consists of the descendants of Joseph Patrick Kennedy – prominent Irish-American businessman and politician – and Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald. Believers of the Curse say misfortune began with the Kennedy’s eldest daughter Rosemary, a shy child who scored poorly on IQ tests, diagnosed with "moderate mental retardation." In 1941, 23 year-old Rosemary received an ill-advised lobotomy as treatment for mood issues, leaving her incontinent, infantile, incomprehensible, and institutionalized until her death in 2005.
Tragedy struck again in 1944, when Joseph Jr. (their first-born son) was killed in action during World War II. A month later Kathleen Kennedy’s husband William Cavendish, heir to the Duke of Devonshire, was also shot down four short months after they married. Four years later, Kathleen and her new beau Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam died in a plane crash over France.
Meanwhile, the remaining Kennedy sons were rising steadily in the political realm; though John was most successful, he and wife Jacqueline Bouvier suffered through the birth of a stillborn daughter in 1956, and lost their newborn son shortly before JFK’s assassination. A year later, Senator Ted Kennedy was critically wounded in a plane crash that killed one of his aides and the pilot. Though Ted recovered, he soon became the only surviving Kennedy son after his brother Bobby was assassinated in Los Angeles following a presidential primary victory.
Ted’s own presidential aspirations were dashed after 1969’s Chappaquiddick incident, when he accidentally drove his car off a bridge in Martha’s Vineyard, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Scandal quickly ensued, as Ted had been drinking, was with a woman, and waited over ten hours to report what happened. This sad event was mirrored in Joseph P. Kennedy II’s (Bobby’s oldest son) 1973 car crash that paralyzed his brother David’s girlfriend, Pam Kelley. In that same year, Ted’s 12 year-old grandson Ted Jr. lost much of his right leg to bone cancer.
The following decades presented several more sad scandals for the Kennedy’s, starting in 1984 when David Kennedy (Bobby’s fourth child) died of a drug overdose in Palm Beach. In 1997, his brother Michael fatally hit a tree while playing ski-football; a few years later, JFK Jr. died after crashing his light aircraft on Martha’s Vineyard.
This history of calamity proves the Kennedy curse for its many believers, yet skeptics find tragedy inevitable given the family’s large size and notoriety; the risky, public nature of political and military service; and simple recklessness. If these defining factors are to blame for the family’s misfortune, perhaps the Kennedy’s aren’t a successful family with a famous curse, but a family cursed by fame and success.