Sen. Edward Kennedy, the longtime, beloved lawmaker whose personal tragedies along with his professional triumphs and losses unfolded in the public eye, has died of brain cancer. He was 76.
The Massachusetts Democrat was seen by many as an American version of a Greek tragedy. Born into political royalty, Kennedy’s triumphs were often overshadowed by those of his brothers, John and Bobby Kennedy. But nonetheless, the younger Kennedy carved his own political legacy as one of the longest serving senators in U.S. history.
Click here for a timeline of Ted Kennedy’s life.
The youngest of the nine-sibling Kennedy clan, Teddy had much of his path paved by famous older brothers and father. That created problems as well as opportunities for him.
As a member of a roving family, Kennedy moved around a lot in his youth and made friends easily. He attended Harvard in 1951, playing on the freshman football team before he was caught cheating by having a friend take his Spanish language exam.
Kennedy was expelled and entered the Army, where he served in Paris during the Korean War. and after almost two years was re-admitted to Harvard for demonstrating good behavior.
He went on to get a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School and served as an assistant D.A in Suffolk County, Mass. He married Virginia Joan Bennett, who was introduced to him by his sister Jean. They had three children, the youngest was Patrick, who also would enter public office.
When John Kennedy was elected to the presidency in 1960, it appeared the Kennedy clan had the makings of a political dynasty. At the time, Robert Kennedy was attorney general and Teddy, as he was affectionately known, was elected to the Senate in 1962.
But Kennedy soon found himself alone on the political stage after his brothers were killed by assassins in 1963 and 1968.
Shouldering the burden of a grieving family, Kennedy delivered Bobby’s eulogy at New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in 1968, attributing to Robert a quote by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say ‘why.’ I dream things that never were and say ‘why not.’”
He added: “Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us, and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.”
But Kennedy’s own aspirations for the White House were dashed in 1969 when his car plunged off a bridge on Chappaquiddick on Martha’s Vineyard, killing Robert Kennedy campaign aide Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy swam to safety and only alerted authorities to the accident hours later.
As Kopechne’s body was pulled from the dark sedan, the senator told investigators he panicked.
“That tragedy will live with me for the rest of my life…every day for the rest of my life,” he said.
An investigation later absolved Kennedy of responsibility. He received two months suspended jail time for leaving the scene of an accident, but questions about his character would follow him and haunt his political ambitions for the nation’s highest office.
Despite the Chappaquiddick incident, Kennedy decided to throw his hat into the 1980 presidential race, going up against incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter. Kennedy lost his bid for the White House and returned to the Senate – becoming the lion of the liberal left.
Like his first wife, Joan, Kennedy also struggled with alcohol, and through much of the 1980s was viewed as a playboy with a bottle. That image culminated with the arrest of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith, who was later acquitted on charges of raping a woman he met at a bar while out with his uncle. It also hurt his ability to fight the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas over allegations of harassment by former Thomas aide Anita Hill.
Kennedy credited his second wife Victoria Anne Reggie with turning him around and redirecting him back to his political career and liberal agenda.
Kennedy served as an ardent supporter for other Democrats seeking the presidency and endorsed Barack Obama early in his campaign – comparing the Illinois senator with his late brother, John.
At times, it seemed Kennedy and his abundant energy would last for years. But last May, he suffered a seizure at his Cape Cod home and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
Kennedy stayed active for as long as he could after his diagnosis, offering a key address in support of Obama during the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008. He also attended Obama’s presidential inauguration, where he had to be taken away in a stretcher.
Though he was absent from the Senate for much of President Obama’s first year, his name was attached to health care legislation, penned a widely read op-ed in support of health care reform and was a critical vote on several piece of legislation.
Kennedy was too ill to attend his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s funeral or to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed upon him by President Obama, both in in August 2009.