By rite and out of respect, we honor those recently passed with praise for their accomplishments. For Senator Ted Kennedy, who died on Aug. 25 at age 77, there is no shortage in that regard. He boasts the most productive Senate career in memory, a public life that shaped five decades of national politics and a loving family, who will now draw together to mourn their loving patriarch.
But for Kennedy, even more than for most great men, these accomplishments are difficult to separate from the turmoil and tragedy that he endured throughout his life, including trials both personal and professional that arose both by fate and his own doing. There is perhaps no other politician in American history who has achieved so much despite such public controversy and personal loss.
Kennedy was only 12 years old when his oldest brother, Joseph Jr.,
died during a World War II bombing mission. By the age of 36, Teddy, as
his family called him, had lost three more siblings, including his two
remaining brothers, Jack and Bobby, who were killed at the hands of assassins.
In 1964, a plane that Kennedy was taking to a campaign event crashed
into an apple orchard in western Massachusetts. The pilot died, as did Ed
Moss, a Kennedy aide. The Senator, then just 32 years old, faced months
of recuperation from a serious back injury.
Other personal tragedies followed, as family members struggled with
drug abuse, disease and premature death. His first wife, Joan, suffered three miscarriages, and after their separation, she was repeatedly treated for alcoholism. Two of his children have battled cancer, with his oldest, Ted Jr., losing a leg to the disease at age 12.
A lifetime of hard, and often selfish, living also took its toll on
Kennedy. In 1951, as a freshman at Harvard who was more interested in football
than his studies, Kennedy arranged for a friend to take his spring
Spanish exam. He was caught cheating and was subsequently expelled from the school for
two years, during which time he served as a military police officer in
Paris, at the arrangement of his father. Years later, while he was a law student at
the University of Virginia, Kennedy was arrested for reckless driving,
after a chase with police.
See TIME’s complete Ted Kennedy coverage.
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