When the late Sen. Edward Kennedy was growing up, there was a family edict: Kennedy men don’t cry.
On “Larry King Live” Monday night, the senator’s sons — Ted Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick Kennedy — said times have changed, and that includes the no-tears rule of an earlier generation. In a wide-ranging interview, they also discussed the moment of their father’s passing, how their mother, Joan, was handling her ex-husband’s death, the legacy of Chappaquiddick, the Kennedy “curse” and their impressions of their dad’s soon-to-be published memoir, “True Compass.” The 77-year-old senator died August 25 after a battle with brain cancer. “You know my father was very good at overcoming his own kind of old, traditional sense of not talking about your feelings, not really expressing a lot of emotions,” Patrick Kennedy told King. The family has had plenty of moments over which to shed tears. King asked Ted Kennedy Jr. if there was crying when he lost his leg to cancer as a boy. “Absolutely,” he replied. Ted Kennedy Jr. said his father’s memoirs explore his father’s emotional tribulations. “[It talks] about the very difficult things that he had to do, for example telling my grandfather that my uncle Jack had been killed.” Both sons said their father’s last year was a gift to them and the family. His brothers — President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy — had their lives cut short by assassinations in the 1960s. Watch sons tell of their last year with their father
Full transcript of Larry King’s interview
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“He also was able to enjoy a lot of accolades, not just from obviously his natural constituencies in the Democratic Party, but … quite moving testaments from many of his Republican colleagues,” Teddy Kennedy Jr. said. “It was really wonderful to see my father actually be able to revel in a lot of those compliments that people had to say about my dad.” “The really beautiful part about having that extra year with him where he didn’t have to traipse all around the world and all around the country was that he was able to spend time with us, and we were able to be there for him emotionally and physically,” Patrick Kennedy said. Despite their many family tragedies, they debunked the so-called “Kennedy curse.” “You don’t buy the idea of a curse” King asked. “No. No. Obviously my dad had a sense of spirituality that transcended his ability to face these problems, you know, in a way that would have otherwise paralyzed the normal person,” Patrick Kennedy said. Ted Kennedy Jr. added, “The Kennedy family has had to endure these things in a very open way. But our family is just like … every other family in America in many ways.” He also described the moment of his father’s passing. “I was there, Larry. It was very peaceful. … He was suffering in those last few weeks [so] it really did take the sting out of his final passing. … And it was a very peaceful, extremely spiritual thing.” The sons elaborated on how their mother, Joan, has handled being divorced, her ex-husband’s death and their thoughts on their stepmother. “My dad was and remains a central figure in her life. Obviously, they both shared so much of their lives together,” Patrick Kennedy said. “The fact is that my dad and Vicki [Sen. Edward Kennedy’s second wife] were so gracious. In all of the holidays, my mom was included. There wasn’t any of this bitterness and everything. … And I really am so grateful to Vicki for that, to my dad for that. “Vicki was such a great sense of support to my dad at the end. “My mom has been such an inspiration to me,” Patrick Kennedy went on. “She has struggled, as we talked about in an earlier program, with this disease called alcoholism, which I suffer from as well. She’s been so public in her fight on this that she’s inspired so many people and inspired me.” The sons also talked about their father’s memoirs, including the now-infamous episode at Chappaquiddick. After a July 18, 1969, party for those who had worked on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign, Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Although he managed to escape, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. Kennedy did not report the incident immediately and later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. “Years ago, he spoke to me about exactly what happened that night,” Ted Kennedy Jr. told King.”And I knew how sorry my father has been each and every day of his life for what happened that night. If he could undo that moment, he would give anything to have been able to do so. “And in this book … he doesn’t make an excuse — any excuses. He accepts responsibility for what happened. But … it’s what you do with these tragic events that happen in your life that’s really the measure of the person.” They said they drew a lot of inspiration from reading “True Compass.” “I feel like this book … is a gift. It’s a gift to me and my children who of course knew him as a grandfather but never really knew him as a man in the fullest sense of the word,” Ted Kennedy Jr. said.
“I was a little worried when I first opened up the pages because even though he’d been talking about it and even though I’d heard many of these stories before, I really didn’t know what to expect. And what I found was … a riveting, riveting two-day read.” “Many people castigated him and attacked him and made him a caricature where he actually was a very real person as we’ve seen in this book,” Patrick Kennedy told King. “There wasn’t a better politician around. My dad had the ability to just connect with anybody.”