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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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After Ted lost out to President Jimmy Carter, the Kennedys' marriage dissolved. They officially divorced two years later. In 1984, Bennett received an honory degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Manhattanville for her "quiet courage" and her ability to prevail "against circumstances to emerge victor rather than victim."
For decades, Bennett wrestled with sobriety. She had a drinking-related car accident in 1988, when she crashed her car into a fence in Cape Cod. She was ordered to attend an alcohol education program, but the class didn't effect her drinking in least. She faced another drunken driving arrest in 1991, after she was seen drinking vodka straight from the bottle while driving. She fought to sober up, spending time in several rehabilitation facilities, including St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City and McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.
For some of the time, Bennett was active and vital. With a master's degree in education, she was involved with teaching children about classical music. Bennett even wrote a book on the subject, The Joy of Classical Music (1992). An accomplished pianist, she performed with the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and other orchestras for charities. From the mid to late 1990s, she also served on the Boston Council for the Arts and Humanities.
In July 2000, the Boston Globe published an article on Kennedy that portrayed her as a busy socialite and grandmother. The piece reported that she had been sober for nine years at the time, and was on good terms with the rest of the Kennedy clan, including her ex-husband and his second wife. Proving how difficult it is to break free of addiction, however, Bennett was arrested again for drunken driving in the fall of that year.
Continuing to struggle with substance abuse, Bennett experienced a role reversal in 2004, when her children filed a petition to take over their mother's affairs. Her three children became her legal guardians, managing her $9 million estate. The next year, Bennett made the news again when she was found lying in a Boston street after falling while intoxicated. Taken to the hospital, she was treated for a shoulder and head injury. During this time it was revealed that Bennett had been secretly imbibing mouth wash and vanilla extract in large doses to slake her thirst for alcohol. The intake was enough to cause Bennett serious kidney problems.
A legal battle between the Kennedy children and Webster Janssen, reportedly a distant cousin who Joan selected to handle her finances, erupted not long after her fall. Janssen had set up two trusts for Joan's estate and refused to provide the children with any information about her assets. A piece of her property was also put up for sale without their knowledge. The Kennedy children claimed that their mother was suffering from some form of mental illness in addition to her substance abuse problem. An agreement was reached in June, with a Boston lawyer being appointed Kennedy's guardian.
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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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