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Joan Bennett Kennedy is a pianist, a former model, and the former wife of Senator Edward Kennedy. She has publically struggled with alcoholism.
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At 24, Joan became the youngest wife of the youngest senator ever elected in the United States.
Just as she had seen the rise of the Kennedy family, Joan was also a witness to their greatest losses. Her brother-in-law John was assassinated in 1963. The next year, she gave birth to a stillborn boy and, soon after,
her husband was badly injured in a private plane crash while on the campaign trail for his re-election. Ted had suffered six spinal fractures and two broken ribs, and two passengers on the plane with him died.
While her husband remained immobilized for several months, Joan campaigned for his re-election to the Massachusetts senate in his stead. The state convention nominated Kennedy in absentia, and he won the election by a landslide. Joan thrived on the campaign trail, feeling that her efforts brought her closer to her husband. But after his victory, their marriage stalled. According to Joan, Ted all but ignored his wife, and his very public affairs deeply wounded her.
The arrival of their son Patrick in 1967 was a bright spot in this difficult time. But then in 1968 her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy, then a senator and presidential candidate, was assassinated. The sudden, violent death hit the familiy hard. Joan was so distraught that she was unable to accompany the funeral party to Arlington. In the wake of their grief, Ted's affairs were also becoming more and more indiscriminate.
On July 18, 1969, Ted was traveling with 28-year-old campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne—rumored to be his new girlfriend—on the island of Chappaquiddick in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. For reasons still unknown, Kennedy drove their car off a bridge. He was able to swim out of the vehicle and make it to shore, but Kopechne drowned. The media speculation regarding what happened on that July night was painfully revealing for Joan, who had been busy ignoring her husband's drinking and philandering ways.
On July 25, 1969, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. Although the judge speculated the Kennedy may have also been operating his vehicle in an unsafe manner, the senator was only sentenced to two months in jail. This ruling was later suspended. While publicly standing by her husband, Bennett was privately falling apart. When she accompanied her husband to Kopechne's funeral, she had already suffered two miscarriages and was on bedrest for a new pregnancy. When she lost her third child a month later to yet another miscarriage, she turned fully to alcohol for solace.
Her private struggle started to become quite public after Bennett was arrested for drunk driving in 1974. By 1977, Joan moved to an apartment in Boston while Ted stayed in Virginia, and the couple affectively separated. She began seeing a psychiatrist, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and pursuing a graduate degree in education in Cambridge.
Bennett still supported her husband as he made a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980, but the reunion was superficial.
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There's no such thing as royalty in the United States, but if anyone has ever come close to that level, it's the Kennedy family. For 64 years, Washington had at least one Kennedy in public office. Descended from Irish Catholics who fled the potato famine, the family has a strong tradition in the Democratic party, the most prominent member being President John F. Kennedy. In addition to fame and political power, the Kennedy clan has had more than its fair share of tragedy—several members of the family have died in accidents and assassinations, in what's been called the "Kennedy curse."
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