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Inside The Kennedy “Curse” — The Family’s Strange Misfortunes Never Seem To Stop

Madeline Hiltz
Photo Credit: Tyler Mallory/ Getty Images and The National Archives/ Getty Images
Photo Credit: Tyler Mallory/ Getty Images and The National Archives/ Getty Images

The Kennedy family has been in the public eye for decades. Although they are heavily involved in politics and have had their fair share of fame throughout the years, the Kennedy family has been rocked by premature and violent deaths, leading to speculation that there is a Kennedy curse that plagues the family.

Whether it truly is a curse or some sort of sick coincidence, here are all of the strange misfortunes the family has faced over the years.

The Kennedy Family, in Hyannis Port, MA, in 1931. (Photo Credit: Nikki Ansin / Getty Images)
The Kennedy Family, in Hyannis Port, MA, in 1931. (Photo Credit: Nikki Ansin / Getty Images)

The Kennedys were an ultra-successful Irish Catholic family who certainly made an enemy or two while they climbed the American social ladder. Some who believe the Kennedy Curse is real believe that Joe Kennedy brought tragedy on himself, his children, and their offspring because of the forceful way he pushed them to succeed.

Out of Joe Kennedy’s nine children, one was confined to a home of the mentally ill, two were killed in plane crashes, two were assassinated in public office, and one had his political career ruined by an accident that resulted in the death of a young campaign worker. This already seems like a lot of tragedy for one family, but that is not even including the devastation that would further hit Joe Kennedy’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Early Evidence of the Kennedy Curse

The Kennedy Curse is often given the start year of 1944 (and we shall come to see why), but in reality, three years earlier, in 1941, Rosemary Kennedy (who was the third child overall and first daughter born in the Kennedy clan) underwent a lobotomy at age 23.

This procedure was unsuccessful and Rosemary’s mental capacity diminished to that of a two-year old. She could no longer work, speak intelligibly, and was incontinent. Rosemary Kennedy was immediately institutionalized after the failed lobotomy where she remained for the rest of her life.

Rosemary, Rose and Kathleen Kennedy
Rosemary Kennedy (right) pictured here with her mother Rose Kennedy (center) and her sister Kathleen Kennedy (left) in England, May 11, 1938. (Photo CreditL Keystone/ Stringer/ Getty Images)

The next instance of the Kennedy Curse hit on August 12, 1944, when the oldest Kennedy child, Joe Kennedy Jr., perished when his bomber aircraft exploded over East Suffolk. This was the first of many plane-related deaths the Kennedy family would have to face.

Joseph Jr. took part in a military operation (known as Project Anvil) that tested new bombing planes that could be radio controlled and remotely crashed into targets. He had to be in the plane for takeoff then evacuate while it was in flight. Unfortunately, Joseph Jr.’s plane exploded mid-air, instantly killing him. His remains were never found. He was 29 years old when he died.

Joe Kennedy Jr.
Joseph Kennedy Jr., the oldest son of the Kennedy clan, circa 1941. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

On May 13, 1948, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy Cavendish perished in a plane crash while on vacation. Kick Kennedy was only 28 at the time of the accident. Only Joseph Kennedy Sr. attended Kick’s funeral. Her mother, Rose Kennedy, didn’t attend the funeral, reportedly describing the incident as “God pointing a finger.”

Kathleen Kennedy
Kathleen Kennedy, circa 1939. Before her untimely death, Kathleen Kennedy married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. (Photo Credit: Keystone/ Getty Images)

The Tumultuous ’60s

The events of the 1960s seemed to indicate that the Kennedy family was doomed. On August 9, 1963, president John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacquline Kennedy lost their newborn son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy following complications at his birth. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy developed symptoms of infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS) and died only 39 hours after his birth.

Headstone of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy
Headstone of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy and Arabella Kennedy — a sister who was stillborn. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Only months after the passing of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, another tragedy rocked not only the Kennedy family but also the entire nation. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. Jackie Kennedy was sitting beside her husband when he was shot. It was her first extended public appearance since Patrick had died in August.

JFK and Jackie Kennedy, Dallas Texas
President Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, moments before President Kennedy was assassinated. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Lee Harvey Oswald, who was arrested for JFK’s assassination, would be killed on live television two days later, on November 24, 1963, by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby. John F. Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Jackie Kennedy at JFK's funeral
Jackie Kennedy, her children Caroline and John Jr., and her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy leaving the U.S. Capitol building for John Kennedy’s funeral. (Photo Credit: National Archives/Getty Images)

Another political assassination rocked the Kennedy family shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Earlier in the night, Robert F. Kennedy, who was the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, had won the California presidential primary. After this win, RFK was in the position to receive the Democratic nomination and face off in the presidential race against Richard Nixon. He was shot several times by 24-year-old Sirhan Sirhan and succumbed to his injuries on June 6, 1968.

Robert Kennedy speaking at an election rally
Senator Robert Kennedy speaking at an election rally, circa 1968. (Photo Credit: Harry Benson/ Stringer/ Getty Images)
Funeral of RFK
Lee Radziwell, Jackie Kennedy, John Kennedy Jr., and Caroline Kennedy kneel around the grave of Robert F. Kennedy. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Modern Manifestations of the Kennedy Curse

The Kennedy Curse continues to wreak havoc even today. On April 25, 1984, Robert F. Kennedy’s son David Kennedy was found dead from an apparent overdose in a Palm Beach hotel.

David Kennedy watched his father get assassinated when he was 12 years old and began recreational drug use shortly after to cope with both the trauma and the loss of his father. He was only 28 when he passed away.

The Kennedy legacy of untimely deaths continued into the 1990s, starting with another one of Robert F. Kennedy’s sons. On December 31, 1997, lawyer Michael LeMoyne Kennedy hit a tree while skiing in Aspen, Colorado. His funeral was held in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts on January 3, 1998.

Michael Kennedy
Michael Kennedy, circa 1994. (Photo Credit: Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)

The Kennedy Curse closed out the 1990s with another mysterious plane crash-related death. John F. Kennedy’s son John Jr. was constantly in the media spotlight throughout the ’80s and ’90s. In September 1996, he married fashion publicist Carolyn Bessette and the two resided in New York.

JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette
John F. Kennedy Jr. gives his wife Carolyn Bessette a kiss on the cheek, May 1999. (Photo Credit: Tyler Mallory/ Getty Images)

John Jr., whose job was a lawyer, but whose hobby was flying, decided to take his wife Carolyn and Carolyn’s sister Lauren Bessette to Martha’s Vineyard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. However, to reach this destination, John Jr. would have to fly his single-engine airplane 200-miles over the Atlantic Ocean.

The trio never made it to their final destination. Radar data examined later showed that the plane plummeted from 2200 feet to 1100 feet in a span of 14 seconds — a rate far beyond the aircraft’s safe maximum. It then disappeared from the radar screen.

JFK Jf and Caroline Kennedy
JFK Jr. and his sister Caroline Kennedy, the children of late president John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. (Photo Credit: George De Sota/Getty Images)

On July 21, 1999, Navy divers recovered the body of JFK Jr. and the Bessette sisters. The crash was attributed to pilot inexperience.

Recent Deaths

The Kennedy Curse continues to claim victims in the Kennedy family. In 2011, Kara Kennedy died of a heart attack after a workout. She was the daughter of former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who was the youngest son of Joseph P. Kennedy.

Kennedy Family, 1934
Original Kennedy Family pictured here in 1934. Joseph Kennedy Jr. is not present. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

In 2019, Saoirse Roisin Kennedy Hill, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was found dead from an accidental drug overdose. Most recently, in 2020, the bodies of Maeve Kennedy and her 8-year-old son Gideon were recovered after they went missing during a canoe trip in the Chesapeake Bay. Maeve Kennedy was the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy.

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Regardless of whether the curse is real or not, the Kennedy family has certainly faced its fair share of misfortune over the span of nearly a century.

Madeline Hiltz

Madeline Hiltz is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News