Best Known For
Ethel Kennedy is best known as the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, the former U.S. Attorney General and New York Senator who was assassinated in 1968.
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While her husband climbed the political ladder in Washington, Ethel battled with personal tragedy when both her parents were killed in the 1955 mid-air explosion of their private plane. But Ethel, known for her bubbly and vivacious spirit, showed little of her grief. Instead, she poured herself into taking care of her growing family—and helping her husband and in-laws run their political campaigns.
After the 1956 Democratic National Convention,
Robert and Ethel bought Hickory Hill—a mansion in McLean, Virginia—from Robert's brother, John, to help house their growing family. Parties and gatherings at the 13-bedroom Hickory Hill manor were numerous and legendary under Ethel's watchful and energetic eye. In addition to politicians and their wives, Ethel entertained musicians, artists and actresses at the home.
In 1957, Ethel's interest in politics was heightened after her husband became chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee. Two years later, she joined forces with other members of the Kennedy clan to campaign for Robert's brother, John, during his run for the U.S. presidency. In 1960, John F. Kennedy won the election, at which time he appointed Robert to his cabinet as the attorney general.
Following John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, Ethel supported her husband while he campaigned for and won a seat in the U.S. Senate. Ethel was a likeable presence, and her personality always won over the public. Known for her no-nonsense, candid demeanor, she was also good at handling the press. She thrived on her identity as a Kennedy, and her lighthearted humor made a good match for the more serious Robert.
Like his brother, Robert decided to enter the presidential race. Determined to win the 1969 election, Ethel and the rest of the Kennedy family geared up for the campaign trail. Ethel, three months pregnant with their 11th child, was again by Robert's side. But in 1968, immediately after he won the California Democratic primary, Robert F. Kennedy was shot in a Los Angeles hotel three times. He died the next day. In 1969, Palestinian assassin Sirhan Sirhan, was convicted for Kennedy's murder.
During the late 1970s, with a renewed commitment to public service, Ethel focused much of her time and energy on various social causes, most notably the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Project. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, her life began to unravel as she endured one personal misfortune after another. In 1984, her son David was found in a local hotel room, where he fatally overdosed on drugs. Her grief was compounded in 1997 when another son, Michael, died in a skiing accident. And in 2002, her nephew Michael Skakel was tried and convicted for the 1975 murder of his then-neighbor, Martha Moxley.
Ethel endured her own scandal as well, when her friendship with singer Andy Williams—who began to escort her to events after her husband's death—was attacked by media outlets. Many speculated about Williams' own rocky marriage, and believed that the friends were having an affair. In the end, Ethel refused to remarry, citing her Catholic faith as part of the reason behind her decision to remain single. Williams would later divorce his wife and remarry a younger woman. He and the widowed Kennedy would continue to remain platonic friends.
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