They say it’s not about what you know, but who you know. For Peter Lawford, both were his claims to infamy—and ultimately, his tickets to tragedy. The story of this glamorous Hollywood actor, brother-in-law of notorious president John F. Kennedy, disgraced ex-member of a wild celebrity clique, and secret-keeper of one Marilyn Monroe (along with just about everyone else in his life, actually), reads straight out of a tabloid. But as many stories as the rags ran about the star—ranging from dishy to downright dark—his reality was even harder to believe.
1. He Blew His Parents’ Cover
Peter Lawford was always getting caught up in secrets—even before he was born. When his parents found out they were expecting, both were married…to someone else. It didn’t take long for their jilted spouses to figure them out, but Peter didn’t learn about the scandal until he was 27. With the way his mom felt about the situation, though, his ignorance might have been bliss.
2. His Mother Regretted His Birth
In her autobiography, Peter’s mother made a cruel confession: “I can’t stand babies! They run at both ends; they smell of sour milk and urine…Ugh! Peter was such a mistake!” At least in his early years, Peter’s mother made no secret of her distaste for her only son. Still, strangely enough, she wasn’t exactly pushing him out the door…
3. He Never Went To School
The Lawfords’ travels kept Peter out of regular school, and he instead took private lessons as he bounced from city to city around the world. Most say he was taught by private tutors. But some have claimed this was an exaggeration by his mom, and Peter really received a less-than-complete education from his nannies. Either way, his upbringing was far from conventional.
4. He Was A Natural Performer
Whoever taught Peter Lawford his ABCs and 1-2-3s, they were out of a job when his mom discovered his talent for acting. “I decided he was quite unfitted for any career except art, so I cut Latin, Algebra, high mathematics and substituted dramatics instead,” she bragged of the young performer, who appeared in his first film at seven years old.
Lots of kids would consider that a dream come true—but for Lawford, it ended up like more of a nightmare.
5. He Had A Terrible Accident
At just 14 years old, Lawford took a fall straight through a set of French glass doors. The consequences were devastating. He was so badly hurt that he never regained the full use of his right arm and hand. Peter’s first response to the life-changing injury? “Give me a Band-Aid.” He took the fall with good humor, but I guess it ended up a little more serious than he originally thought. At least in this case, there was a silver lining…
6. It Was A Lucky Break
Thanks to Lawford’s injury, he was safe from the draft when WWII broke out, since regulations deemed him unfit to fight. This was a major disappointment for his family, who’d hoped he would follow in his dad’s footsteps with his own military career. Fortunately for Lawford, though, it meant he was free to pursue his true passion.
7. He Worked His Way To Hollywood
Peter Lawford knew that in showbiz, California was the place to be—but getting there wasn’t easy. In 1939, the Lawfords were stuck in Florida with next to nothing to their name. War had broken out during their travels, and their fortune was back home in England. But Lawford had his sights set on the star-studded West Coast, so he took a job parking cars until he could afford the fare.
If he’d known what was waiting for him, maybe he’d have pumped the brakes…
8. He Went From Rags To Red Carpets
When Lawford finally made it to Hollywood, he didn’t exactly gain instant stardom. While running around auditioning for his first roles, he took a ho-hum job as an usher at the Westwood Village Theater in Los Angeles. But patience was key. Eventually, Lawford returned to the very same theater for the glamorous premieres of his highly anticipated films.
9. His Sound Stood Out
Peter Lawford had acted since his childhood in England, and being from across the pond had its perks in Hollywood. Lawford’s strong British accent quickly became one of his most recognizable traits, charming fans from Beverly Hills to Brighton. One of those fans, by the way, would become much more.
10. He Had One Special Admirer
The first time Patricia Kennedy saw Peter Lawford, it was on the silver screen. And yes, that Kennedy—Pat was JFK’s little sister. Lawford quickly became not only one of her favorite actors, but what sounds like something of a celebrity crush. Sources quote her as calling him “divine.” You can imagine she was a little starstruck when they finally met through her sister Eunice.
It had all the makings of a Hollywood fairy tale—but it ended up more like a horror story.
11. They Were Twin Flames
With everything Peter and Patricia had in common, it was no surprise fate brought them face-to-face. They’d both traveled the world as kids and fallen in love with Hollywood at a young age, and Pat had made her way as a director and producer just as Lawford built his acting career. Clearly, the two of them had plenty to talk about. But they didn’t spend too long getting to know one another…
12. He Rushed To The Altar
We don’t know much about the first two run-ins between Pat and Pete, but the third time’s the charm. It was after this meeting that they started dating, and only two months later, Lawford proposed with an opulent 8-carat diamond ring. Patricia started planning a quiet wedding, but between a movie star and a Kennedy? It wasn’t gonna happen.
13. It Was A Celebrity Wedding
Patricia might have felt like the world’s luckiest Lawford fan on her wedding day, but she definitely wasn’t the only one. Their big day quickly took a frantic turn. The ceremony had 250 invited guests…and a few thousand who’d invited themselves to crowd outside the church, mainly Lawford’s young female devotees. The crowd shouted his name as the couple emerged from the church, and even mobbed the limo on their way to the reception.
14. He Joined A Notorious Las Vegas Crew
In 1959, a run-in with the legendary Frank Sinatra landed Peter Lawford a spot in the Rat Pack, the infamous group of entertainers with Sinatra as the big cheese (sorry, I had to). While the boys were known for their wildly popular movies and live performances, their real claim to fame was a wild reputation for drinking, partying, and womanizing.
Lawford had no idea what he was getting himself into.
15. He Had An Interesting Nickname
Frank Sinatra casually dubbed Peter “Brother-in-Lawford” for his family tie to John F. Kennedy…and the nickname stuck. Pretty clever, but did the playful pun reveal what Sinatra really saw in his newfound pal?
16. He Played The Middle Man
We’re not saying Sinatra and the Rat Pack only liked Peter Lawford for his Kennedy connections…but they were a pretty sweet perk. Peter Lawford even arranged for his brother-in-law President John F. Kennedy to stay with his buddy Frank during a 1962 West Coast trip. Sinatra built his hopes up high—not to mention a helipad outside his house for JFK’s arrival. But it ended in disaster.
17. …And Then He Played The Fall Guy
Peter Lawford landed in some hot water when, days before the visit, Kennedy pulled out of the plan. Apparently, rumors about Sinatra’s dealings with mobsters weren’t a good look for the prez, so he opted to crash with Bing Crosby instead. Sinatra was seeing red—and, after promptly trashing his new helipad, he turned that fiery gaze onto Lawford.
18. The Pack E-Rat-i-cated Peter
If Peter Lawford thought his friends would forget the feud, he was sadly mistaken. Frank fired his long-time pal from his role in the upcoming Rat Pack movie Robin and the 7 Hoods, replacing him with—guess who?—Bing Crosby. Ouch. From that day on, the group wanted zilch to do with Lawford, and he was officially out of the inner circle. But that wasn’t the last they had seen of him.
19. He Tried To Make Peace
Even after his friends left him out to dry, Peter Lawford didn’t hold a grudge. Years later, he showed up at one of Frank’s legendary performances in Las Vegas, hoping to call a truce before the show. But Sinatra wouldn’t budge, and wouldn’t start his first number until Peter was shown out. That said, when Frank really needed those Kennedy ties, he changed his tune…
20. The Crooner Came Crawling Back
It’s not a huge surprise that when Sinatra showed back up in Lawford’s life, it was for a favor from his famous family. After Frank’s son was kidnapped, he knew the attorney general Robert “Bobby” Kennedy was the man to call. Unlike Peter’s, though, that number wasn’t in his address book, so he rang up his old friend. Little did he know, Pete’s main “in” with the family was on the rocks.
21. There Was Trouble In Paradise
Patricia Kennedy and Peter Lawford looked straight out of a movie—but behind the scenes, their differences made things pretty tough. Even Lawford’s Hollywood background hadn’t prepared him for Kennedy superfame, and his nonreligious upbringing clashed with the family’s Catholic image. But Lawford’s scandalous lifestyle caused an even bigger rift.
22. His First Wife Got Fed Up
Peter Lawford was far from the picture-perfect partner. Throughout the marriage, he drank to excess and ran around with other women behind Patricia’s back. Patricia eventually decided that her former dream man wasn’t the type of guy she wanted around for the rest of her life. She filed for a separation, and divorced him in 1966. And let’s just say, Peter knew exactly how to move on…
23. He Was A Total Player
To call Peter Lawford a ladies’ man is putting it lightly. Patricia was the first of four wives, not counting a constant revolving door of girlfriends, flings, and affairs. But not just any girl would do. Peter’s penchant for stars and socialites reached well into his love life, including alleged romances with femme fatales like Rita Hayworth…and another household name that would come to haunt him.
24. He Had Surprising Tastes
With Peter Lawford’s long line of glamorous lovers, you might think he had a thing for divas—but what he really liked in a girl wasn’t quite so glitzy. Apparently, his interest in his once-girlfriend Marilyn Monroe was all about her down-to-earth personality and athletic interests. Not exactly the iconic actress’s claims to fame, but they were catnip to Lawford.
25. He Won The Trust Of A Hollywood Icon
Peter Lawford’s romantic relationship with Marilyn fizzled out quick, but he remained one of the blonde beauty’s closest confidantes for the rest of her life. According to one of Marilyn’s best friends Jeanne Carmen, “He was always the good guy. Peter could do no wrong as far as she was concerned.” But was he really so trustworthy?
26. He Sold Out A Famous Friend’s Secret
When Elizabeth Taylor revealed to Peter Lawford that she’d checked into rehab, he promised to join her there. Little did she know, he was planning on betraying her. Soon enough, instead of seeing an old friend walk through the doors, Liz saw her secret plastered across the front of a tabloid. Turned out, Pete had tipped them off himself for an alleged $15,000. So much for loyalty.
27. He Set Up An Infamous Affair
(Seriously, how many affairs are in this list?!) It’s no secret anymore that President John F. Kennedy messed around with Marilyn Monroe, but you might not have known that it was Peter Lawford who first set them up. He took playing Cupid to a new level when he invited Marilyn to the same party as his presidential brother-in-law in 1954, where the pair first met.
28. He Was The Family Wingman
Monroe wasn’t the only woman in Lawford set up with the men of the Kennedy clan. “He was the go-between,” said Jeanne Carmen, another of JFK’s infamous flings. She recalled the day Peter introduced her to the president…right in front of their JFK-smitten best friend Marilyn. Seems Lawford was more than happy to help his brother-in-law with his “hunting expeditions” for Hollywood girls. How, um, romantic?
29. He Orchestrated An Iconic Moment
Peter Lawford was always behind the scenes of his friends’ flirtations, and one of those scenes was one the world would remember for years to come. He had the idea to close out a lavish party for JFK with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” by Monroe, and her dazzling gown and sensual delivery were immortalized in American pop culture history. But Peter Lawford had another part to play on that infamous night.
30. He Was A Jokester
Before Marilyn hit the stage, it was Peter Lawford’s sense of humor that saved the show. While her nerves (and typical tardiness) delayed the evening’s big finale, Peter improvised, announcing her name before each of the other guests walked on stage, and finally introducing her as “the late Marilyn Monroe” when she walked out to sing.
31. What Happened At His Beach House Stayed At His Beach House
Peter Lawford’s Santa Monica vacation home wasn’t just a sunny getaway—it kept as many secrets as he did. From political opponents to mob bosses, the Kennedy clan and company had plenty of enemies eager to expose their scandals. They soon needed a low-key rendezvous point for seeing their lovers undercover, and the beach house was just that. But, as you can imagine, it made things…complicated for our friend Pete.
32. The Crew Turned Complicated
Peter Lawford knew how to bring his friends and family together, but those connections formed one tangled web. After the Marilyn-JFK fling ended, Marilyn started seeing Bobby Kennedy—another politician/married man/once brother-in-law of Lawford. Whether it was a coincidence or she had a type, their nights in Santa Monica had some serious consequences for everyone, Peter included.
33. Enemies Bugged His Hideout
Unfortunately, there were some things Peter Lawford and the beach house couldn’t keep hidden forever. One day, he made a shocking discovery: Someone had planted recording devices in the so-called safe haven. Remember those Kennedy enemies? It’s hard to know who, but someone clearly wanted dirt on the family. Peter Lawford’s job as secret keeper had just gotten a lot harder.
34. He Had Too Much Information
Getting caught in the middle of his family’s affairs left Peter Lawford in some very uncomfortable positions. One drunken night with Marilyn, he heard a confession he couldn’t believe: She had bugged her own house during her trysts with Bobby. The scarier part? She was threatening to release the tapes unless Bobby, who had gone MIA on her, explained his absence in person.
35. He Was The Bearer Of Bad News
Alone on his way home, Peter Lawford frantically told his driver to pull over by a payphone…and didn’t emerge for a full half-hour. In the booth, he did something Marilyn never thought her confidante would: He called Bobby Kennedy and told him everything. I can only imagine how difficult that call must have been—but it would be far from the toughest call of Peter Lawford’s dramatic life.
36. He Went On A Cover-Up Mission
Peter Lawford usually had a soft spot for Marilyn Monroe, but he and Bobby couldn’t take her threats sitting down. On an eerie recording from her apartment, you can allegedly hear Peter Lawford’s voice telling her to calm down over the chaotic sounds of the place being searched, while Bobby demands she hand over the tapes. But despite the help he offered her heartbreaker, Marilyn still trusted Peter like none other.
37. He Heard Marilyn’s Last Cries For Help
In Marilyn’s darkest moments, Peter Lawford was still the one to call—and as the star spiraled out of control, it became a heavy burden to bear. At the height of her tensions with Bobby, she ended a tearful phone conversation with Peter by saying, “Say good-bye to Pat, say good-bye to Jack, and say good-bye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy.” The line went silent…but Peter Lawford didn’t rush over.
38. He Had Reputations To Protect
After a talk like that, anyone’s first instinct would be to check on the distraught caller, but some tough advice stopped Pete in his tracks. Knowing all eyes were on Lawford, the Kennedys, and their ties with Monroe, Peter Lawford’s manager urged him to stay away from Marilyn’s house, or the press would be sure to “have a field day.” That callous advice sealed Monroe’s fate.
39. He Was Too Late
As far as the official story goes (more on that later), Marilyn’s chilling words to Peter Lawford at the end of the call were likely the last anyone heard from her. Peter made plenty of calls that day about his troubled friend, likely struggling with whether to check on her himself. Tragically, when the ambulance arrived—long before Peter Lawford ever did—Marilyn Monroe was found dead, telephone still in hand.
40. He Regretted Waiting
Keeping out of Marilyn’s house might have been a smart PR move, but it was one that haunted him longer than any nasty rumor ever could. “To this day I’ve lived with this,” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times some 24 years later. “I should have got in my car and gone straight to her house. I didn’t do it.”
41. He Was Terrified It Would Happen Again
A year after Marilyn’s passing, Peter Lawford’s strange actions proved just how heavily the loss weighed on him. He arrived unannounced one night at his friend Judy Garland’s house, banging frantically at the door and shouting “I’ve got to get to her!” Judy was fine—she had just fallen asleep while on the phone with Lawford. The eerie similarity to Marilyn’s last call sent Peter into a panic.
42. He Was Banned From His Best Friend’s Funeral
Despite his playing a major role in Marilyn’s story, nobody invited Peter Lawford for a curtain call. Marilyn’s ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, who managed her funeral, included Peter, the Kennedys, and the Rat Pack on a long list of Monroe’s celebrity friends who were banned from the proceedings. He claimed the exclusions were to fend off a “circus,” but it was clearly a deep wound for Peter Lawford.
43. He Resented The Snub
Peter Lawford wasn’t shy about his frustration at DiMaggio barring him from saying goodbye. “The whole thing was badly handled,” he snapped. “Marilyn had lots of good friends here in town who will miss her terribly and would love to have attended her final rites.” Another cutting comment from Joe came later, as if in reply: “If it wasn’t for her so-called friends, Marilyn would still be alive today.”
44. He Was In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time
Peter Lawford’s whereabouts after his dear friend’s tragic end made him the subject of some dark suspicions. According to many accounts, Peter was one of the first to visit Marilyn’s apartment in the aftermath, and he cleaned the place out himself. But what exactly was he cleaning—or covering—up?
45. Some Called Him A Killer
Shockingly, there are those who believe that the secrecy surrounding those final days points to the unthinkable: That Peter Lawford, along with Bobby Kennedy, murdered Marilyn Monroe. It’s a fringe theory, but one thing’s for sure: The tragedy left everyone with more questions than answers.
46. He Kept The Kennedys Out Of Trouble
A more common—and less extreme—interpretation is that Peter Lawford’s suspicious visit to Marilyn’s apartment was a mission to clear out any evidence of her Kennedy affairs. Plenty of evidence points to longtime secret-keeper Lawford being part of the cover-up: For one, he called a helicopter to get Bobby to the airport and out of the city the night Marilyn passed.
47. He Took The Secrets To His Grave
Peter Lawford spent his life saddled with sought-after secrets, but when it came to Marilyn and the Kennedys, he was eternally tight-lipped. Despite the press offering him big money to talk, he brushed off the affair rumors as “nonsense” for the rest of his life. “Even if those things were true, I wouldn’t talk about them,” he swore, getting strangely closer to the truth. “That’s just the way I am.”
48. He Wanted To Be By Her Side Forever
Even though his friend was torn from his life too soon, Peter Lawford hoped he could find some way to always be near her. That’s why, when Peter himself passed away in 1984, his ashes were originally kept in the very same cemetery where Marilyn’s were laid to rest 12 years earlier. Tragically, even this union wasn’t built to last.
49. His Family Didn’t Pay
Peter and Marilyn parted for the last time when the cemetery owners told his last wife, Patricia Seaton, she’d have to pay big money or have her late husband’s remains removed. Turns out, no one ever covered Peter Lawford’s funeral costs. More family drama ensued—as if Lawford’s lifetime hadn’t seen enough of that already—when Seaton claimed the four children from his first marriage refused to pay up.
50. The Tabloids Never Left His Side
The gossip-hungry celebrity press that had complicated Lawford’s life didn’t back off when it was over. In a popular tabloid, a story ran about Peter’s evicted remains, dishing the dirt about the unpaid funeral fees. Patricia Seaton herself had sold the scoop to buy a boat, and scattered Peter’s ashes over the ocean in a ceremony complete with plenty of paparazzi pics.