They have been called American royalty, boasting one president...

By JERRY BERGER, United Press International

They have been called American royalty, boasting one president and two United States senators, but death and tragedy have been more than equal partners to the glory of Joseph and Rose Kennedy.

After the violent deaths of three sons and one daughter and a near-fatal plane crash involving a fourth son, tragedy enveloped the Kennedy grandchildren in a string of car accidents, drug arrests and the death of two children -- one within days after his birth.


The death of David Kennedy Wednesday in a Palm Beach, Fla., motel - where he was staying during a visit with ailing matriach Rose -- ended the stormiest life of the third generation of the star-crossed family.

The 28-year-old son of Robert and Ethel Kennedy broke his back in a Cape Cod, Mass., Jeep accident, suffered a potentially fatal heart inflammation related to drug use and was arrested in a heroin 'shooting gallery' during a life that turned stormy after watching his father die on television.


The family's tragic blows began when Joseph and Rose Kennedy's eldest daughter Rosemary was born mentally retarded. Her mother lamented 'we had all the financial means in the world; we could contact any doctor and none of it meant anything.'

In 1943, Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy was lost for several days after the Japanese sank his PT boat in the South Pacific. One year later, Joseph Kennedy Jr., the eldest of Joseph and Rose's nine children, died when his plane exploded over the English Channel during a secret World War II bombing mission.

A plane crash claimed still another child -- second daughter Kathleen -- four years later in southern France.

In 1961, patriarch Joseph suffered a serious stroke that would handicap him until his death in 1969.

President John Kennedy, who assumed his older brother's ambitions, was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. His death came just months after his second son -- Patrick Bouvier -- died within days of his August birth.

Youngest brother Edward, who was expelled from Harvard for cheating, had his first brush with death in 1964, when a plane carrying him to a political appearance in western Massachusetts crashed, breaking his back.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel minutes after claiming victory in the California presidential primary.


Slightly more than one year later, an outing on Chappaquidick Island, Mass., ended with the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a passenger in the car Kennedy drove off a narrow wooden bridge.

Before that pain could pass, Joseph suffered a series of heart attacks and died at the age of 81.

David watched his father die on television and was nearly decapitated on the funeral train carrying his coffin to Washington. The assassination came the day his father rescued him from a heavy undertow while swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

In 1970, an undercover police officer arrested Robert Kennedy Jr. for possession of marijuana, the first of a string of drug incidents involving the increasingly alienated brothers Bobby Jr. and David.

'I remember it clearly: This was the point in my life when everything began to turn against me,' David told Peter Collier and David Horowitz, authors of 'The Kennedys,' excerpted in the May edition of Playboy.

Three years later, Edward Kennedy Jr. lost his leg to cancer while Joseph Kennedy II, the oldest son of Robert and Ethel, was fined for negligent driving in a Jeep accident in which David broke his back and a female companion was paralyzed for life.


The rebellious brothers, often accompanied by cousin Chris Lawford, continued to experiment with drugs through the 1970s, courting danger and pulling pranks that rolled up a list of prep school supensions and expulsions.

In 1976, a 40-day heroin shooting binge while at Harvard landed David in the hospital with a problem diagnosed as bacterial endocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the heart lining caused by dirty needles.

David, taking 40 Percodans a day prescribed by a psychiatrist hoping to break him of a heroin habit, was arrested in 1979 during an apparent drug-buying episode in a Harlem, N.Y. 'shooting gallery. That led to a publicized hospital stay for endocarditis.

The pendulum swung back to the second generation in 1981 when Edward and Joan Kennedy announced the end of their 22-year marriage, which had been plagued by rumors of his infidelity and her bouts with alcoholism. The divorce was finalized in December 1983.

A few months earlier, in September 1983, Robert Jr. was arrested for heroin possession after becoming ill on a flight to Rapid City, S.D. He pleaded guilty in March and was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Latest Headlines