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41 Tragic Facts About The Kennedy Family

Mathew Burke

If there were to be a royal family in the United States, it would be the Kennedys. From their mystique to the tragedy that seems to haunt them at every turn, this clan has left an unprecedented legacy on the Western world, and the “Kennedy Curse” is a part of the country’s folklore. Already a relatively well-to-do family, the plotting of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. in the early 20th century saw the Kennedys emerge as successful investors and influential public servants before ultimately putting one of their own in the White House itself. Read on for 41 facts on the wild ups and downs that have plagued one of the most fascinating families in modern history.


Kennedy Family Facts

41. Jackie’s Suit

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy refused to take off her famous pink suit, even though it was covered in her husband’s blood, because she wanted “them to see what they have done to Jack.” It wouldn’t be until she arrived back at the White House the following morning that she would finally change her clothes. Interestingly enough, most of the public didn’t actually know that the suit was pink, as color was not yet used in news broadcasts or print.

40. Trash Family

When they were America’s First Family, the Kennedys were not the most most environmentally bunch in the world. At the end of each year, they had the White House butler dump their broken china into the Potomac River, because where else would it go, I guess?

41. Bugging the Oval Office

JFK decided to bug… himself in 1962 when he set up a secret recording device in the Oval Office. There is still some speculation as to the reasons, as no one knows exactly why Jack decided to do this. It is a pretty weird play, after all, to spy on yourself.

38. No Space Race Necessary

Before his tragic death, JFK was actually formulating a plan to work together with the Soviet Union in order to get to the moon, instead of engaging in a space race.

37. Getting Around

Certainly, JFK was a hound, but not everyone knows that Jackie was as well. While the President was parading about with other women, Jackie had her own long list of affairs—and not with just anybody. It’s rumored that she was with the likes of Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Warren Beatty during these years.

36. Brother Love

While JFK was alive, Jackie forged a close relationship with Ted Kennedy, who would prove to be the rock she could stand by for the rest of her life, as he was always by her side when tragedy hit. Allegedly, Ted once even admitted that he had feelings for Jackie, telling one of JFK’s former aides “I’ve always been in love with Jackie, right from the beginning.”

35. Kicked From The Family

Kathleen Kennedy, known as “Kick,” was the favorite daughter of the family—right up until she married outside of the Catholic faith. After marrying the English aristocrat William Cavendish, who happened to be a Protestant, she was shunned by the family, especially her mother. Cavendish would die only four months into the marriage, and four years later was Kick killed in a plane crash. Her father was the only member of her family to attend the funeral. Her mother, Rose, chose instead to get some routine medical tests done.

34. Charity Donations

The richest president in the history of the United States—until Donald Trump took office—JFK was worth an estimated $1 billion. Because of this, he decided to donate his entire political salary each year he was in office. It was peanuts to him, but still, not a bad gesture.

33. Get Me My Cigars

The night before JFK signed the trade embargo with Cuba, he sent for his people to procure 1,000 of his favorite Cuban cigars. The next morning, he was welcomed by a pleasant surprise of 1,200 cigars, and once he learned about this successful procurement, took out the embargo and officially signed it into effect, making what he had done just hours before illegal.

32. “L” Family

JFK was known by the codename “Lancer” during his time in office, as the United States Secret Service used to give each First Family a letter in the alphabet by which to refer to them, with the Kennedys receiving “L.” Jackie was known as “Lace,” their son as “Lark,” and their daughter as “Lyric.”

31. Camelot Era

JFK was given the codename of “Lancer” in reference to the knight of the same name from the play Camelot. The recording of the original production was his favorite music to listen to at bedtime while at Harvard University, and so it subsequently became his nickname. It was first revealed to the public after his assassination when Jackie Kennedy said “There’ll be great presidents again … but there will never be another Camelot.” His presidency is now known as the “Camelot Era.”

30. When Death Knocks

Ted Kennedy had a brush with death in the 1960s after the plane he was in crashed while on the campaign trail. After going down a mere three miles from the runway, the pilot and another passenger died, but Ted was pulled from the wreckage in time before death came to visit him.

29. A Bribe to Save the President

Because of the way the marriage was going in the early years, Jackie wanted out. With the plan for JFK to reach to White House, the family knew that he could not go through a divorce, so instead, Jackie was allegedly bribed with a $1 million offer to stay in the marriage and not file for separation.

28. Last Rites

By the time he took the oval office, JFK had already received his last rites on three different occasions, when it seemed death was imminent. They all occurred in a span of seven years, between 1947 and 1954. The closest of these scares was in 1954 when he fell into a coma after having spinal fusion surgery.

27. Not-Autobiography

JFK won a Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957 after he released his widely acclaimed book Profiles in Courage. The book was a great success, but rumors swirled that it wasn’t actually written by him, but mostly by his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. In 2008, Sorensen released his own autobiography, in which he finally confirmed these rumors. By that point, taking away Kennedy’s Pulitzer seemed a little pointless.

26. Puppy Points

After the Soviet Union sent dogs into space, Jackie Kennedy was intrigued. During a dinner at a summit in 1961, the First Lady asked Nikita Khrushchev about the dogs, which he then used to score some points with the Kennedys by sending a puppy of one of the dogs from space to the White House a few weeks later. Its name was Pushinka.

25. Nostrakennedy

In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy may have predicted the presidency of Barack Obama, declaring that in 40 years, an African-American “can achieve the same position my brother has,” in reference to John’s presidency. Exactly 40 years later, that very thing finally happened.

Kennedy Family FactsBiography

24. Look At Your Legs

Joe Kennedy had to settle for his children’s political potential when his own failed. And oh, did his political ambitions fail. In 1937, he was invited by his friend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to the White House for an interview for the gig to be the US ambassador to the United Kingdom. Things took a turn when FDR asked Kennedy to drop his pants and then ridiculed him for being bow-legged, because if he was bow-legged, then he would be the laughing stock of the induction ceremony where he would have to wear knee breeches and stockings.

23. Eye On Your Weight

In order to keep her kids in shape, Rose Kennedy took to extreme measures, such as banning them from eating certain foods and even keeping track of their weight. She also kept things tight at the dinner table, physically punishing her kids with a ruler if they acted out of line and flying off the handle if they, or any of their guests, were late.

22. Dinner Quest

The dinner table was an intense place for the Kennedy family; the children were forced to present reports on topics given to them by their parents during the evening meal.

21. No Crying in The Kennedy’s

The number one rule in the Kennedy household was that there was to be no crying, no matter how tragic things got in the family, and boy, did they get tragic.

20. Catholic Countess

Rose Kennedy was heavily involved in the Catholic Church (as evidenced by the fact that she disowned her daughter for marrying a Protestant) and was eventually named a Countess by the Pope. I didn’t even know he could do that!

19. Favorite Child

The favorite of the Kennedy children? Bobby. It was said that he was quite introverted, at least compared to his siblings, and would often stay at home and spend a lot of time with his mother, who subsequently developed an particular affection for him.

18. Unfit Kennedy

While JFK did serve in the military during World War II, he was actually declined for service at first, due to health issues such as his chronic back issues. Instead, he used his father’s political sway and financial ties to manipulate the Army and get himself into the service, despite the fact that he was considered unfit for duty.

17. Stranded President

Jack showed his chops while in the military, however, and he was named commander of a patrol ship in the Solomon Islands. After the boat was sunk, he and the surviving crew swam over three miles to a stranded island and waited a week to be rescued. It took almost 60 years for the wreckage of the ship to be found.

Kennedys factsKristina Dimovska | Factinate

16. Wounded in Action

In 1943, while at war, JFK was wounded in action, and subsequently received a Purple Heart. He’s still the only president in United States history to receive a the commendation.

15. Missing in Action

John went missing at one point during the war, and after a fruitless search, was presumed dead by his crew. This news reached home to his father, Joseph, but was not relayed to the rest of the family for a week—which turned out to be a good thing, since he learned shortly after that his son was actually still alive.

14. Best Man

The best man at JFK’s wedding was his baby brother, Bobby. Bobby had a grand ol’ time as the best man and got so rowdy that he caused a scene by stealing a police officer’s hat. Needless to say, an enraged Joe Kennedy didn’t take the shenanigans too kindly and promptly lectured his son about disgracing the family name. And Bobby was supposed to be the demure one!

13. Last Mission

Joseph Kennedy Jr., John’s older brother, was supposed to be the golden boy of the family, but met a tragic death during World War II when his plane crashed. Sadly, he had already completed his service in the military but decided to stay on for another mission. It was only after Joe Jr.’s death that the Kennedy patriarch started grooming John for public service.

12. Four Children

Jack and Jackie had a total of four children, yet only two survived past infancy. One child was stillborn and another passed away days after being born over five weeks early. This is the Kennedys after all, tragedy is an inevitability.

11. White House School

Determined to keep her children away from the omnipresent eye of the press, Jackie Kennedy established a professional kindergarten in the White House for her children. The classroom, on the 3rd floor of the building, was qualified and had as many as ten students in it.

10. Brace of Death

Due to his health problems, JFK wore a large back brace to alleviate the pain he suffered. It’s believed that this brace may have aided his assassination because after being wounded by the first shot, he was unable to properly bend over and take cover.

9. Tragic Flight

It was tragic enough when Joe Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash, however it takes on another level of sadness when you learn that both of his parents were terrified of him flying, and his mom even made sure to ban him from getting his pilot’s license. This would prove futile, as he went against his mother, took up flying, and eventually made her greatest fears come true.

8. Supporting the Wrong Guy

When JFK visited Nazi Germany in 1934, he wrote a letter to his father in which he—ahem—supported Hitler’s sterilization policy and even wrote in his diary that he believed Hitler would rise above the hate to be a great leader, calling him “the stuff of legends.” Ya, that part of his life tends to get glossed over just a little bit.

Kennedy Family FactsCNN

7. Ted’s Accident

The Chappaquiddick Incident is one of the great, life-altering tragedies that the Kennedy family has been involved in, and it dissuaded Ted Kennedy from running for President in the 1970s. In 1969, he was in a car with a woman named Mary Jo Kopechne, when he lost control and went careening off a bridge and into the water below. Managing to free himself, Ted swam to shore and fled the scene, leaving Kopechne to die alone, trapped in the sinking vehicle. He didn’t report the incident to the police for ten hours. The story is the basis of the 2018 film Chappaquiddick.

6. Underage

When Michael L. Kennedy died in a skiing accident in 1997, he was in the midst of an affair with the family’s babysitter, who was 14 years old. He claimed that he never slept with her before she was 16 years old (still doesn’t sound great, if you ask me), and he was under investigation for statutory rape at the time of his death.  

5. Forced Lobotomy

Rosemary Kennedy was the Kennedy family’s eldest daughter and was growing into an attractive adult when her father grew worried that she would prove to be dangerous to the family’s reputation. Already worried about her mental capacity, which was the same as an eight- to twelve-year-old child, Joseph Kennedy brought his daughter to a mental facility and forced her to have a lobotomy, which left he severely incapacitated for her entire adult life. He did this all without telling his family about it, and it would be 20 years before family members visited her at the mental institution where she spent the rest of her life. She passed away in 2005.

4. Delayed Birth

Rosemary’s stunted mental capabilities have been attributed to that fact that her her birth was delayed. As Rose Kennedy was waiting for her doctor to arrive and deliver the baby, the nurse tried closing her legs to stop the birth. This resulted in the baby’s head being stuck in the birth canal for almost two hours, leading to a detrimental loss of oxygen which is linked to brain damage.

3. Indulgent  Figure

Jackie Kennedy’s father was known as “Black Jack” due to his gambling addiction and indulging of vices. A well-known hedonist, he was too drunk to walk his daughter down the aisle during her and JFK’s wedding.

2. Keep It Quiet

Everyone knows about the sexual appetite of the Kennedy men. This behavior, however, was reinforced by the matriarch, Rose Kennedy, as she would teach the women who married into the family to simply ignore her sons’ infidelities, just as she had with her husband, Joseph.

1. Electroshock

Jackie Kennedy was not happy about the way JFK slept around and one night, after a huge argument, he had her admitted to a hospital for depression—because, you know, when your wife is upset with you for having affairs, it must be because she’s depressed! While in care, Jackie underwent three electroshock therapies that would only make things worse for her, and she would refer to it as “the nightmare ride of my life.”

Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


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