In a new book, The Kennedy Heirs, excerpted in this week’s PEOPLE, J. Randy Taraborrelli writes about the grandchildren of Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy, the family’s third generation. The author recounts many of the scandals that made headlines and explores what may have been the root cause.
“Chris Lawford [the son of JFK’s sister Patricia Lawford and her husband Peter] once said to me the sons were all raised to be presidents,” says Taraborrelli, who interviewed scores of Kennedy intimates for this book, as well as two earlier biographies Jackie, Ethel and Joan and The Kennedys After Camelot. “And in the Kennedy family, they actually meant it.”
“They had this burden of expectation placed on them at an early age, and that wore them down,” says the author. “They felt there was no way they were ever going to be able to achieve what JFK, RFK, and Ted Kennedy had achieved. Rather than keep trying, some of the men of that generation shucked it and lived dangerous lives.”
Among the scandals Taraborrelli writes about:
Michael Kennedy, the sixth child of Ethel and Bobby, entered rehab in 1995 for alcohol addiction after he was found in bed with the family’s teenage babysitter, with whom he was having an affair. According to the book, Michael told his wife that he had been drunk and accidentally ended up in the spare bedroom where the babysitter was sleeping.
Michael died on Dec 31, 1997, when he skied into a tree while playing ski football in Aspen, Colorado. Taraborelli says, “After his death, the family was left with a lot of unanswered questions. How did he go off the rails? Was he an addict? Was he suffering from the result of his father’s death? From an early age, he was troubled. I believe the death of his father was the defining moment of his life.”
Taraborrelli also writes about the drug overdose that killed Michael’s younger brother, David Kennedy, in 1984.
At 13, David had seen coverage of his father’s death on television the night he was assassinated. Extremely sensitive and close to his father, David began using drugs, and according to Taraborrelli, was sent to numerous rehabs after years of clashing with his mom over his drug use.
“His addiction was something that no one knew how to handle,” says Taraborrelli. “It was also the eighties — people weren’t as cognizant about drug addiction as we are today.”
“After he died, Ethel told a friend ‘I have a hole in my heart that will never heal,'” says Taraborrelli. “One of the women who worked at Hickory Hill told me it was like ‘a black mist’ was hanging over the house because they all loved him.”
In 1997, Sheila Rauch, former wife of RFK’s eldest son, Joe Kennedy, then a Congressman, wrote a scathing book Shattered Faith about Joe’s request for an annulment after they had been married for 12 years. The couple had twin boys, Joe, now a Boston Congressman and his brother, Matthew. At the time, Joe wanted to remarry but could not wed in the church without an annulment.
According to Taraborrelli, it was her book, plus the news of Michael’s affair with the babysitter (which had recently been made public by the Boston papers) that led him to drop out of politics.
And these are just a few of the stories that rocked the family over the years.
“A lot of the addiction is trauma,” says Taraborrelli. “You don’t survive the death of your father, in the case of JFK or Bobby’s kids or the death of an uncle without trauma and some turned to drugs as a way of escaping. Drugs were also part of the culture, especially among some of the young men in the family. And there’s also entitlement. Each of these things is a piece of the puzzle.”
Still, he adds, “There were Kennedys that did not use drugs and did not become addicts.”
While many have wondered if the family was cursed, Taraborrelli says, “Generally, they did not believe in the curse. It was Ted Kennedy who came up with the concept of the curse after Chappaquiddick, when he was giving his public address — and said he wondered if perhaps that explained the terrible things that had happened to the family, including the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. And after that, the Kennedy curse became this sort of wide-ranging explanation for a lot of things that were happening. But when things got rough for them, I think they slipped into wondering if maybe there really was some kind of curse.”
Taraborrelli ends the book with a conversation which took place last year after Ethel Kennedy turned 90. It was told to him by a Catholic nun, who was a confidante of the matriarch. According to the nun, Ethel wondered if the third generation inherited the trauma of the assassinations of JFK and his brother Bobby — and if that could be one explanation for much of what went wrong.
“At the end of the book, she tells a friend, she did the best she could under the circumstances,” says Taraborrelli. “She says if you think you’re going to get over the death of your children and over the death of your husband think again, because you don’t get over it.”