The Family of Robert Kennedy

Robert Kennedy assassination: What happened to RFK’s children after he was killed?

When Robert Kennedy was murdered on June 5, 1968, he left behind 10 children and his wife, who was pregnant with the couple’s 11th child.

Robert and Ethel’s children’s lives were shaped by the dynamics typical in a large family. What wasn’t typical for the children was that whether it be triumphs or tragedies, their lives were played out on a public stage.
 

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Here are profiles of Kennedy’s children and what they have accomplished in the years following their father’s death.

An overview:

  • Robert and Ethel Kennedy were parents to seven boys and four girls. They are in birth order: Kathleen, Joseph II, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas and Rory.
  • Two of his children, David and Michael, died at an age younger than Kennedy was when he was killed. The other nine children have all lived more years than their father, who died at age 42.
  • Five went to law school.
  • All but two – David and Courtney – earned college degrees.
  • Kennedy never saw any of his children graduate from prep school.
  • In 1974, Kennedy’s children were the target of kidnap threats and were assigned Secret Service protection.

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Here’s a look at Kennedy’s children:

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (born July 4, 1951): Robert and Ethel’s first child, Kathleen, was 16 when her father died. Like her father, Kathleen would attend law school, become an attorney and enter politics. She ran for Congress in 1986 but lost the election. She was a deputy assistant attorney general of the United States. In 2002, she became Maryland’s first female lieutenant governor. She has taught college courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. She has served as a visiting fellow at Harvard and St. Mary’s College. She has received 12 honorary degrees. She founded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. She is married to David Townsend, a professor at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland.

Joseph Patrick Kennedy II (born Sept. 24, 1952): Joseph Kennedy was 15 when his father was killed. Named after his grandfather, Joseph Kennedy saw his share of trouble as a young boy. He was known for his quick temper, and he was expelled from several private schools before he graduated from Manter Hall School. He dropped out of college, though he would eventually return and earn his degree. In 1972, he was a passenger on a plane that was hijacked. He and his fellow passengers were released unharmed the next day. In 1973, he injured his brother, David, and paralyzed David’s girlfriend, Pam Kelley, when the Jeep he was driving overturned. He was cited for reckless driving. In 1979, he founded Citizens Energy, a nonprofit organization that raises money to provide discounted heating oil to low-income families. In 1986, Kennedy was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts – a seat that was held by his uncle, John F. Kennedy. and former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill Jr. Kennedy would serve six terms in Congress. He returned to Citizens Energy in 1999 and remains in charge of the organization. He married Shelia Rauch in 1979, and in 1980 became the father of twin boys. Rauch and Kennedy would divorce in 1991. Kennedy asked the Catholic Church to annul his marriage to Rauch, saying he was not mentally fit to have entered into marriage when he did. The annulment was granted, but Rauch appealed the decision to the Holy See. The original decision was overturned. In the meantime, Kennedy married former staffer Elizabeth Kelly in 1993 in a civil ceremony. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (born Jan. 17, 1954): Robert Kennedy’s namesake, Robert Jr., was 14 when his father died. He was at boarding school when his father was shot, and he, his sister, Kathleen, and brother, Joseph, were flown via Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s plane to Los Angeles to be with their father as he died. He graduated from Harvard and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. In 1983, he was arrested for heroin possession. He pleaded guilty, and as part of his sentence, he worked with the Hudson Riverkeeper organization, a nonprofit formed to clean up New York’s Hudson River. After his probation was over, he was hired as the organization’s lawyer. From 1986 until 2017, Kennedy worked as an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He continues to work for environmental causes and formed a law firm that represented clients against big business on pollution issues. He is an environmental-law professor at New York’s Pace University and co-host of the radio show “Ring of Fire.” He has written or edited 10 books. Kennedy has spoken out strongly about the use of a mercury-based preservative in vaccinations and has said he believes they are a contributing factor in the development of autism in some children. He has been a vocal supporter of his cousin, Michael Skakel. Skakel was convicted of the 1975 murder of his Greenwich, Connecticut, next-door-neighbor, Martha Moxley. Skakel spent a decade in prison before his conviction was overturned. He was granted a new trial earlier this month. He has said he believes that neither the murder of his father nor the murder of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, were the work of lone gunmen. He has called for the reopening of the investigation into his father’s murder. Robert Kennedy Jr. has been married three times – first to Emily Black, then to Mary Richardson and then to actress Cheryl Hines. Kennedy has six children. Kennedy’s second wife, Richardson, committed suicide in 2012.

David Anthony Kennedy (born June 15, 1955 - died April 25, 1984): David Kennedy was Kennedy’s fourth child and, by all accounts, was very close to his father. On the day his father was assassinated, June 5, 1968, Kennedy saved his 12-year-old son from drowning as David and his siblings were swimming in the Pacific Ocean near Malibu, Calif. He would watch his father be shot on live television hours later. Following the assassination, David became a recreational drug user. He enrolled in Harvard but dropped out. In 1973, five years after his father’s death, he was injured in an accident when the car his brother Joseph was driving overturned, paralyzing his girlfriend and breaking one of his vertebrae. He became addicted to painkillers as a result of the accident and was in and out of rehab facilities for several years. In 1984, after another stint in rehab, he joined family members in Palm Beach, Florida, to celebrate Easter. After spending time with family, he was not seen for several days. He was discovered dead of a drug overdose in a hotel room in Palm Beach. He was 28 years old.

Mary Courtney Kennedy (born Sept. 9, 1956): The second daughter of Robert Kennedy, was 11 when her father died. She chose not to go to college and instead went to work at the Children’s Television Network. She met her first husband, Jeffrey Ruhe, through her work and was married to Ruhe from 1980 to 1990. She married Paul Hill in 1993. Hill, an Irishman, and three others were wrongly convicted for the bombing of a pub in the “Guildford Four” case. Courtney and Hill had a daughter, Saoirse, in 1997. The couple lived in Ireland from 2002 to 2006. They legally separated in 2006. 

Michael LeMoyne Kennedy (born February 27, 1958, died Dec. 31, 1997): Michael Kennedy, named for an Irish priest (Michael Kennedy) and his uncle John’s college roommate and family friend (Kirk LeMoyne Billings), was 10 years old when his father died. He went on to graduate from Harvard and the University of Virginia. He worked in a private law firm before he took over running Citizens Energy Corporation, the nonprofit company started by his brother, Joseph. In 1994, he helped to run his uncle Edward Kennedy’s Senate re-election campaign. He married Victoria Gifford, the daughter of NFL star Frank Gifford, in 1981. They had three children. In 1997, he was investigated for an alleged affair with his children’s former babysitter. Kennedy was investigated for statutory rape as the babysitter was 16 when the two had sex. He separated from his wife and soon after checked himself into a Maryland rehab center for alcoholics. On New Year’s Eve of that year, Kennedy was killed when he skied into a tree while playing football. His sister, Rory, tried in vain to get his heart restarted by performing CPR.

Mary Kerry Kennedy (born Sept. 8, 1959): Kerry Kennedy was born a day before her sister Cortney’s third birthday and was 8 when her father died. She graduated from college and law school and became a human rights activist. She has traveled extensively, taking delegations around the world in the cause of human rights. She is the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. She is the chair of Amnesty International Leadership Council. She has been honored for her work and has received several honorary doctorates of law. She married Andrew Cuomo in 1990. They divorced in 2005. They have three daughters. She was arrested in 2012 for suspicion of driving while under the influence of a drug. Kennedy said she had accidentally taken Ambien, a sleep aid, and had fallen asleep. She was acquitted of the charges after a blood test showed she had the drug in her system.

Christopher George Kennedy (born July 4, 1963): Christopher Kennedy was born on his sister Kathleen’s 12th birthday. He was 4 when his father was killed. He graduated from Boston College and Northwestern and started a career in business. He was president of Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago, worked for Archer Daniels Midland and is now the chairman of the Kennedy family investment firm, Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises. In May 2012, he started the Chicago-based non-profit Top Box Foods, which provides discounted fresh groceries to families who don’t have access to grocery stores. He ran for the Democratic nomination for governor of Illinois but was defeated in the primary in March 2018. He married Shelia Brener in 1987. The couple has four children.

Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy (born Jan. 11, 1965): Matthew Kennedy, known as Max, was born in New York City, the first of Robert Kennedy’s sons born after President Kennedy was assassinated. He was named after Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, a former American Ambassador to Vietnam. He was 3 when his father was killed. He graduated from Harvard and the University of Virginia with a law degree. He served as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and as director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. He helped to found the Urban Ecology Institute at Boston College and taught classes there. He is a civil and human rights activist and an author, having written two books and several magazine articles. He married Victoria Strauss in 1991. They have three children.

Douglas Harriman Kennedy (born March 24, 1967): Douglas Kennedy, named for former New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman, was just over a year old when his father was assassinated. He graduated from Brown University and pursued a career in journalism. He worked at the New York Post on major breaking stories. He moved to the Fox News Channel as a general assignment reporter. He hosts a biweekly program on the network, "Douglas Kennedy’s American Stories." He was married to Molly Stark in 1998, and they have five children. Kennedy was involved in a scuffle at a hospital after the birth of his youngest child. He said he wanted to take the baby out of the hospital for some fresh air and two nurses tried to stop him. The nurses claimed Kennedy pushed and kicked them while holding the child. He was acquitted of harassment and child endangerment.

Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy (born Dec. 12, 1968): Rory Kennedy never met her father as she was born six months after he was killed. She has made a successful career out of documentary films, producing and directing “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” “American Hollow,” “Last Days in Vietnam,” and other films. She graduated from Brown University and formed a film company with some of her classmates. In July of 1999, she was set to marry fellow filmmaker Mark Bailey, but her wedding had to be postponed for two weeks when her cousin, John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law were killed in a plane crash on the way to the wedding. Kennedy and her husband have three children.

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