The Kennedys have been one of the most prominent families in American politics since the late 19th century. But throughout their eventful history, the dynasty have also suffered unspeakable tragedy. Indeed, in August 2019 Saoirse Kennedy Hill became the latest family member to fall victim to the ongoing Kennedy curse.
Aged just 22, Kennedy Hill was the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, who was famously assassinated in 1968. Just five years earlier, his brother John had been publicly gunned down in one of the most shocking moments that contemporary U.S. politics has seen. And the Kennedy family’s torment doesn’t end there.
Indeed, suicides, mental illness and drug abuse are just a few of the afflictions that the dynasty have had to deal with over the past near-century. And then there’s the astonishing number of plane crashes too. Here’s a look at their remarkable run of bad luck and how it’s continued with Kennedy Hill’s untimely passing.
The Kennedy curse appeared to begin in 1941 when Rosemary Kennedy underwent a lobotomy that went terribly wrong. Concerned about the impact that her intellectual disability may have had on the family’s rise to power, father Joseph Sr. had organized the operation. But instead of improving her condition, it ended up heavily affecting both her speech and mobility, and she lived in an institution for the rest of her life.
Three years later, Joe Kennedy Jr. lost his life in a World War II air catastrophe. JFK’s older sibling had willingly signed up to pilot Project Anvil, a highly dangerous bombing raid targeted at France. Joe and his fellow pilot were killed when their aircraft suffered an explosion over the English county of Suffolk.
Incredibly, just four years later JFK also lost another sibling, sister Kathleen, in an air disaster. Nicknamed Kick, Kathleen Kennedy was en route to the French Riviera with her other half Lord Harrington when a devastating storm ripped the wings of their aircraft. The couple and the other two individuals on board all perished.
Kathleen herself had also previously suffered the heartbreak of losing her husband in World War II. In 1944 she became a Lady when she walked down the aisle with the Marquess of Harrington, a.k.a. William Cavendish. However, her new husband died in combat just four months after the wedding ceremony.
Remarkably, the Kennedy family then went 13 years without any notable major tragedy. But then in 1961 Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was left paralyzed entirely on the right side of his face and body after suffering a severe stroke. The patriarchal figure’s speech also suffered strongly as a result.
Two years on, John F. and Jackie Kennedy’s thirdborn passed away from the condition known as infant respiratory distress syndrome. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy had been born prematurely just two days previously. His mother was still in recovery at the Otis Air Force Base when his funeral took place.
Just over three months later, the Kennedy family curse struck again, and in the most publicly shocking of ways. Indeed, the entire world felt dumbstruck when John F. Kennedy met his end in Dallas, Texas. The U.S. president sat alongside wife Jackie in an open convertible, waving to an excited crowd, at the time.
Remarkably, a shell-shocked Jackie had to watch her late husband’s presidential successor Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration just a couple of hours later. The First Lady was still sporting the same blood-stained pink outfit at the time. She later admitted her regret at removing the blood that had been on her face as she wanted to “let them see what they’ve done.”
The plot thickened two days later when Jack Ruby fatally shot the man responsible for the murder: Lee Harvey Oswald. The Warren Commission ruled in 1964 that Oswald had acted entirely alone. However, in 1979 the HSCA, a.k.a. the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations, stated that he hadn’t been a lone gunman.
In 1964 Ted Kennedy miraculously escaped with his life following a plane crash that killed both an aide and the pilot. The U.S. senator was traveling to accept a full-term nomination at the Senate when the aircraft hit some trees just a few miles from the runway. Fellow Senator Birch Bayh rescued Kennedy from the wreckage, and the latter spent five months in hospital recovering from a collapsed lung and several broken ribs and vertebrae.
As if the Kennedy family hadn’t already suffered enough by this point, yet another major tragedy occurred in 1968. This time it was JFK’s younger sibling Robert who was publicly gunned down just moments after emerging victorious at the California Democratic primary. Sirhan Sirhan received a sentence of life in prison after pleading guilty to the assassination.
In 1969 Ted Kennedy was taking Mary Jo Kopechne, one of his campaign workers, home by car when he accidentally veered off a Chappaquiddick Island bridge. Although the senator managed to swim to safety, Kopechne was left fatally trapped. Incredibly, after returning to his hotel, Kennedy took several hours to alert emergency services.
As a result of his behavior, Kennedy received a suspended sentence of two months for leaving the scene of an accident. Attempting to justify his actions, the senator later said, “All kinds of scrambled thoughts went through my mind, including such questions as whether some awful curse did actually hang over the Kennedys. I was overcome, I’m frank to say, by a jumble of emotions: grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock.”
Of course, Ted wasn’t the only member of the Kennedy family who caused devastating harm to others while in the driving seat. In 1973 Joseph P. Kennedy II crashed his Jeep in an accident that paralyzed his brother David’s girlfriend Pam Kelley. David, who had nearly drowned as a pre-teen just five years earlier, was also injured in the crash. Tragically, he passed away in 1984 from a lethal overdose of pethidine and cocaine.
Ted Kennedy’s son Edward became another victim of the family curse in 1973 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer. The youngster needed to undergo an amputation to his right leg due to the disease at the age of just 12. He also spent two years on a highly experimental, if ultimately successful, course of treatment to beat the cancer.
In 1991 JFK’s nephew found himself in the media spotlight after being charged with rape. William Kennedy Smith was alleged to have committed the heinous act on a 29-year-old woman at his family’s Palm Beach estate. However, Kennedy Smith, who claimed that the sexual encounter was consensual, was later acquitted of the charge.
In 1997 Robert Kennedy’s son Michael was alleged to have entered into a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old. As a result, police conducted a statutory rape investigation. That same year, he was skiing with his family in Colorado when he hit a tree. He died in hospital some time later.
In 1999 yet another plane crash, which claimed the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and his sister-in-law Lauren rocked the Kennedy family. An investigation determined that JFK’s son, who was piloting the aircraft, had lost control after venturing into featureless waters in the dark. The trio had been heading to the affluent Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard when the plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.
Kennedy was aged just 38, eight years younger than when his father had also been cut down in his prime. After his death, his uncle Ted remarked, “We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father he had every gift but years.”
The Kennedys once again made the front pages for all the wrong reasons in 2002 when Bobby’s nephew was convicted of murder. Michael Skakel was found guilty of brutally killing neighbor Martha Moxley in a fit of rage as a 15-year-old. Skakel continued to protest his innocence and in 2013 was released on bail after a new trial was granted.
In 2011 Ted Kennedy’s eldest child succumbed to the family curse when she passed away aged just 51. Kara Kennedy had reportedly overcome lung cancer nine years previously after an operation that removed a section of her right lung. But she passed away while keeping fit at a health club in Washington D.C. from a heart attack.
A year later Robert’s ex-wife Mary Kennedy committed suicide at her home in Westchester County. The architect had experienced problems with alcohol and drugs ever since she married into the family in 1994. And in the two years after her divorce from Robert, she lived her life as a recluse.
Sadly, the seemingly never-ending Kennedy family curse struck again in 2019 when Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughter Saoirse Kennedy Hill passed away. The 22-year-old was rushed to Cape Cod Hospital after her unresponsive body was discovered at the Kennedys’ Hyannis Port residence in Massachusetts. But she was pronounced dead shortly after.
Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Robert’s fifth child, Courtney, and Paul Michael Hill. The latter was famously part of the Guildford Four, a group of men who were wrongly found guilty of a 1974 pub bombing by the IRA. Kennedy Hill first made headlines as a 10-year-old when she claimed to have been nearly abducted while returning home from a game of tennis.
In 2016 Kennedy Hill bravely discussed her battles with mental health in a student newspaper article. She wrote, “My depression took root in the beginning of my middle school years and will be with me for the rest of my life.” After graduating from the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, Kennedy Hill studied communications at Boston University.
The 22-year-old had been due to begin her senior year at the institution and had just finished an essay hours before her body was found. She also spent her last evening enjoying dinner with her grandmother Ethel, watching the Democratic presidential debates and singing karaoke at a local bar. She eventually went to bed at approximately 6:30 a.m. after an ocean swim.
In a heartbreaking statement released to the Associated Press shortly after the news emerged, the grieving Kennedy family said, “Our hearts are shattered by the loss of our beloved Saoirse. She lit up our lives with her love, her pearls of laughter and her generous spirit. We will love her and miss her forever.”
In an Instagram post, uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr. commented, “Saoirse was fierce, both in her love for her family and yearning for justice. She inspired curiosity and daring in her friends. But her greatest gift was to find humor in everything and to give us all the gift of her laughter – and our own. The gaping hole that she leaves in our family is too large to ever heal.”
Aunt Kerry Kennedy also took to Instagram to pay tribute to her niece. She said, “Her life was filled with hope, promise and love. She cared deeply about friends and family, especially her mother Courtney, her father Paul, her stepmother Stephanie, and her grandmother Ethel, who said, ‘The world is a little less beautiful today.’”
One-time congressman Patrick Kennedy also commended his cousin for her advocacy of mental health issues in an interview with Kate Snow of NBC News. He said, “We mourn her loss. But her memory will live on as someone who wasn’t going to keep silent and wasn’t going to be feeling as if she had something shameful but rather something medical that she sought treatment for.”
Kennedy Hill was buried in a private ceremony at Saint Francis Xavier’s cemetery in the Massachusetts village of Centerville. Her funeral was held near to the Kennedy’s Cape Cod compound at the Our Lady of Victory Church. There, her grief-stricken father described his daughter as “the love of my life.”
According to reporter Jason Kolnos, the funeral service included a poem titled “When Saoirse’s Eyes Are Smiling.” Also featuring in the program were some particularly poignant lyrics taken from Beyonce track “XO”: “In the darkest night I’ll search through the crowd, Your face is all that I see, I’ll give you everything, Baby love me lights out.”
After burying his young daughter, Paul Hill was determined to pay further tribute to her in his own unique way. In an Instagram post uploaded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Hill can be seen jumping into the sea from a large buoy in an effort to conquer his two main fears. Indeed, Hill is afraid of both water and heights.
Kennedy captioned the various photos of Hill’s leap, “Having grown up in the catholic ghetto of the Falls Road in Belfast, and spent most of his adult life in 38 British prisons, he never learned to swim. Nevertheless, he wanted to jump off the HH buoy in Saoirse’s honor. He asked us to be there to rescue him when he hit the water.”
The report from the autopsy that happened shortly after Kennedy Hill’s death confirmed that there was no evidence of any trauma to the 22-year-old’s body. According to various sources, the youngster passed away from a drug overdose. However, an official cause of death wasn’t reported until the results of the report on Kennedy Hill’s toxicology came through.
Despite this latest tragedy, Patrick Kennedy dismisses any notion of a family curse. In a piece for USA Today, he wrote, “That offends me, and it would have offended Saoirse. What she knew, and what she wanted everyone else to know, is that the Kennedy family is, in many ways, painfully typical. We have an unsurprising incidence of mental illness and addiction.”
Kennedy continued, “Our illnesses are no different than anyone else’s and our tragic losses to them have not been so out of the ordinary. We have a big family. A lot of kids had a lot more kids. But mostly we are a more public family than most, under the eye of the media. Consequently, we are less able to hide these struggles than others.”