Our Obsession with the 'Kennedy Curse'

Whenever another tragedy happens in the Kennedy family, the "curse" comes up again, along with "evidence" of how those lives have been destroyed by the alleged curse.

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The Daily News and The New York Post both put the news of the suicide of Mary Kennedy, wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., on their front pages today. They use the same photo, an image of the couple smiling. The News keeps it relatively simple, but for the brutal mention of her hanging. The Post brings back that phrase we've heard over and again, "the Kennedy curse," it's struck again. ABC News also goes with a Kennedy Curse headline, as does Forbes, the Independent, Daily Mail, and so on. We've heard this phrase over and over again; there's even a book by Edward Klein (now in the news for his "invective-laden" Obama book, The Amateur) that uses it in the title.

Whenever another tragedy happens in the Kennedy family, the "curse" comes up again, along with "evidence" of how those lives have been destroyed by the alleged curse.

Surely, the family has had more than their share of extremely sad things happen to them; things that also end up in the news because of who they are. Sometimes it's political (the assassinations of JFK and Bobby); sometimes it's lifestyle-related (Chappaquiddick, overdoses, skiing accidents, JFK Jr. and Carolyn in a plane crash off of Martha's Vineyard, Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish died in a plane crash in France); sometimes it's valor (Joseph Kennedy Jr. died in a bombing mission in World War II); or sometimes health-related (Edward Kennedy).

All of them get a mention not because many of these sad things are so unusual, necessarily, but because of who the Kennedys are: We've been watching this "curse" bear out for nearly a century because we've long considered the Kennedys our only sort of royalty in America, celebrities of a different sort. We want them to be a fairy tale, and so there must be a "curse" when they are cut down. Maybe there's also a bit of schadenfreude here, that this powerful, famous clan has faced so much pain. And they are, to be true, a big family. But a  "Kennedy curse," you'd imagine, is something the family hopes we'd retire as a journalism trope.

After all, what does it even mean? As Laurence Leamer, who's written about the Kennedys for 15 years, explains in the Daily News, "Nobody dies of a curse — even if they’re a Kennedy." Certainly, some people seem to be unluckier than others; others, especially politicians and people in the public eye, are more likely to be targets for people who want to hurt them. But a curse? Here's what we know about the latest Kennedy tragedy:

Robert F. Kennedy's wife, Mary Kennedy, was found by a family housekeeper after hanging herself in a barn on the family's Westchester estate. She was estranged from her husband, whom she married in 1994 (and who is now dating Cheryl Hines); they filed for divorce in 2010. She was allegedly battling alcoholism and an addiction to prescription drugs. She'd been in rehab in February. She may have been about to begin a custody battle with her husband, per the Daily News. She committed suicide. She left a note.

According to The New York Post,

The 52-year-old mother of four — the latest victim of a family dynasty cursed with tragedies — may have taken her own life because she was haunted by her broken marriage, her friends lamented.

“She was deeply troubled, abusing alcohol and prescription meds,” a close family friend said. “She had cause. She was used up and tossed away by Bobby. That was awful.”

Awful, yes, but not a "curse."

The family released the following statement regarding her death:

“We deeply regret the death of our beloved sister Mary, whose radiant and creative spirit will be sorely missed by those who loved her,” the family said in a statement.

“Our heart goes out to her children, who she loved without reservation. We have no further comment at this time.”

Maybe the best thing we could do for those children, who range in age from 17 to 11—and for the remaining Kennedy family members—is to stop calling them "cursed."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.