Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s Death Adds to Family’s Tragic History



02.08.2019 19:45

Saoirse Kennedy Hill, 22, a granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, died on Thursday after suffering an apparent overdose at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.

“Our hearts are shattered by the loss of our beloved Saoirse,” the Kennedy family said in a statement. “Her life was filled with hope, promise and love.”

[Read more about Ms. Kennedy Hill’s life here.]

Her death adds to a litany of tragedies that have befallen the Kennedys and taken on the grim aura of a family curse. Here is a look back at some of the misfortunes that have struck one of the most prominent and influential families in the United States.


The eldest child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, Joseph Jr. was set to enter his final year at Harvard Law School in 1943, but instead volunteered to serve as flier for the United States Navy in World War II.

He was sent to England, and died during a secret mission when an experimental aircraft loaded with explosives blew up over the English Channel.

The family was together in Hyannis Port on a Sunday afternoon in August when two priests came with news of his death, at age 29.

“My father took the two men upstairs,” Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Joseph Jr.’s sister, said later. “A little while later he came down and said, ‘We’ve lost Joe.’”

“Then he went back upstairs to his room and locked the door. It was the first thing that he valued tremendously that he ever lost.”

When Joe Jr. was born, his grandfather, Mayor John F. Fitzgerald of Boston, announced to the news media that the newborn would become president someday. And Joe Jr. told his friends before entering Harvard College that he was going to be “the first Catholic president of the United States.”

“Joe was the star of our family,” John F. Kennedy said years later. “He did everything better than the rest of us.”


Kathleen was a columnist at the Times-Herald newspaper in Washington, when she too volunteered for the war effort in 1943 and was sent to London.

While there she married William Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington and a member of the British Army. He was called for duty one month after their wedding, and killed in combat three months later.

Kathleen, a daughter of Joseph and Rose, was killed in a plane accident, when a flight she was taking from Paris to the French Riviera for a vacation crashed. She was 28.


Patrick, who was born prematurely to President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, in 1963, died three months before his father’s assassination. His life lasted less than 40 hours.


Like his older brother, Mr. Kennedy joined the Navy and was a lieutenant assigned to the South Pacific as commander of a patrol torpedo boat, the PT-109. A Japanese attack sank the boat and killed two of Lt. Kennedy’s men, but he managed to save the rest of the crew and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a purple heart.

He returned home to Massachusetts and won a congressional seat in 1946, and was elected to the Senate in 1952.

In July 1960, he became the Democratic nominee for president and defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon in November by the slimmest popular vote margin in history.

The 35th president of the United States and another of Joseph and Rose’s children, President Kennedy was the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic elected to the White House.

His assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 at the age of 46, was a searing moment of shock and grief not only for the family, but also for the nation.

“The sniper’s bullet left one wound that is not healed, a wound to our consciousness of ourselves as Americans,” the culture critic Dwight Macdonald wrote in December 1963.

Americans stayed glued to their television sets for nearly four days, from the assassination on a Friday afternoon to President Kennedy’s state funeral on Monday afternoon, which was watched in 93 percent of all homes with TVs, an unprecedented domestic audience.


Robert, the president’s brother and a former senator and attorney general, was assassinated in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. He was 42 and the seventh of the nine Kennedy children born to Joseph and Rose.

Robert resigned as attorney general almost 10 months after his brother’s assassination and captured a senate seat from New York. As the turmoil of the 1960s grew, many Americans looked to him to heal a nation torn by the Vietnam War and divided by race and class.

He began his own bid for the presidency and had just won California’s Democratic primary when he was fatally shot on June 5, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel.

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the only remaining brother, in his eulogy. “To be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”


David was 13, watching television alone in a Los Angeles hotel room, when he saw his father, Robert, fatally shot on the screen.

At the age of 28, David, who had a history of alcohol and heroin addiction, died of a drug overdose in a hotel near family vacation home in Palm Beach, Fla.

“It is a very difficult time for all of the members of our family, including David’s mother, Ethel, and his brothers and sisters who tried so hard to help him in recent years,” David’s uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, said at the time. “All of us loved him very much. With trust in God, we all pray that David has finally found the peace that he did not find in life.”


On New Year’s Eve 1997, David’s brother Michael was in Aspen, Colo., playing a game, football on skis, that the family had enjoyed for years. Michael, 39, had been tossing a small rubber football with several relatives, lost control of one ski and crashed into a tree. He died from his injuries.

Michael ran a nonprofit that delivered heating fuel to the poor and had worked on political campaigns for his family members.


Born during his father’s campaign for the White House, John Jr.’s salute in a blue dress coat and short pants at his father’s funeral is etched into many American hearts and minds. He attended Brown University and New York University Law School before serving as a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Though he never ran for political office, he raised money for Democratic candidates and was the editor of George, a political magazine that he founded in 1995.

John Jr. was killed in 1999 when the airplane he was flying crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard, Mass; his wife and sister-in-law were on board and were also killed.


Kara, the daughter of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, died of a heart attack after working out at a Washington-area health club. She was 51.

Ms. Kennedy was a filmmaker and the eldest of the three children of Mr. Kennedy and Joan Bennett Kennedy. She was a mother to two teenagers.

“Unlike my father, I felt more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it,” she wrote in the Boston Globe Magazine a few months before her death. “But like him, I found my greatest fulfillment in showing the needs and successes of others.”


NYTimes-Politics added by Barbara Bush


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