Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption
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Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption

4.5 26
by Christopher Kennedy Lawford

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The firstborn child of famed Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, sister to John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford grew up with presidents, senators, and movie stars as close relatives and personal friends. When he was a toddler, Marilyn Monroe taught him how to dance the twist. He recalls being awakened late at night to hear his uncle Jack


The firstborn child of famed Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, sister to John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford grew up with presidents, senators, and movie stars as close relatives and personal friends. When he was a toddler, Marilyn Monroe taught him how to dance the twist. He recalls being awakened late at night to hear his uncle Jack announce his candidacy for president. His early life was marked by the traumatic assassinations of two beloved uncles—and during his teen years, he succumbed to the tragic allure of the 1970s drug scene.

Symptoms of Withdrawal is Lawford's unflinchingly honest portrayal of his life as a Kennedy—a journey overflowing with hilarious insider anecdotes, heartbreaking accounts of his addictions to narcotics as well as to celebrity, and, ultimately, the redemption he found by asserting his own independence.

Editorial Reviews

New York Post
"JFK’s nephew Christopher Kennedy Lawford...spills some family secrets in his new memoir."
Norman Mailer
“Christopher Lawford . . . is in possession of a naturally good style. . . . Three cheers.”
Frank McCourt
“...jazzy, rocking, sometimes dark but, in the end, bright with hope.”
Tom Hayden
“...[an] honest, funny, touching and shocking account...A deeply cautionary tale.”
People Magazine
"This book didn’t have to be well-written to be riveting, but it is, nonetheless..."
“SYMPTOMS OF WITHDRAWAL is [Lawford’s] unsparing story of two generations of drug and alcohol addictions.”
“This book didn’t have to be well-written to be riveting, but it is, nonetheless...”
“Vigorously honest...”
Boston Globe
“Entertaining...[Lawford] is candid.”
New York Post (Page Six)
“JFK’s nephew Christopher Kennedy Lawford...spills some family secrets in his new memoir.”
Irish Voice
“Lawford’s memoirs are a powerful read because of their frank style and brutal honesty.”
Chicago Sun-Times
“Chris Lawford...dishes up plenty of humorous dirt in SYMPTOMS OF WITHDRAWAL.”
Entertainment Weekly
“ good dish.”
“...unlike most Kennedy books, it’s free of an agenda.”
“...the pages absent Frank, Marilyn, Sammy, and Jackie are every bit as interesting as those where they’re featured. ”
New York Times
“Lawford is so honest...A dishy Kennedy memoir is a rare thing.”
New York Times Book Review
“Lawford is laughing hard at his own stories, and you laugh along with him.”
InTouch Magazine
“...the most riveting and accurate details of the celebrated family’s most intimate moments.”
Hartford Courant
“More entertaining than most celebrity tell-alls.”
“...a suprisingly candid memoir.”
USA Today
“...a well-written account of growing up surrounded by movie stars and political heavyweights.”
“...a frank, funny account of his battle with drugs.”
This memoir mixes a riveting personal story of drug abuse and recovery with an intimate account of life inside America's most famous family. The Camelot credentials of author Christopher Kennedy Lawford are impeccable; he was the nephew of President Kennedy; the son of actor Peter Lawford; and the cousin of John F. Kennedy Jr. Even as he slipped into heroin addiction, he romped through their world with abandon, picking up more than his fair share of fabulous party stories. (Marilyn Monroe taught him the Twist.) Whether read as a detox tell-all or a JFK family chronicle, Symptoms of Withdrawal won't let you go.
Janet Maslin
Mr. Lawford packs so much material into one book that a Kennedy-parasite biographer could find a career's worth of stories here. But Symptoms of Withdrawal, for all its tales told out of school, has poignant legitimacy. Mr. Lawford may have had to exploit his relatives to get his story published, but he has found a way to step out of their long shadow. His book is sunlit in this way too.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Pity the poor shelver who has to decide where to put this book. Does it go with the wall full of Kennedyana, the tell-alls and critiques of the family America loves to hate and hates to love? Or does it go into the ever increasing "recovery" section of the memoir department, packed as it is with tales of debauchery, and finally, painful and hard-won sobriety? Because this offering, by the 50-year-old nephew of President Kennedy, son of the late actor Peter Lawford, and cousin of the late American prince, JFK Jr. (how's that for a legacy to live with?), is both of those things, it is hard to categorize, and harder to resist. There's plenty of dish here, even if it is dish of the gentle, almost old-fashioned variety. (Lawford tells of being taught to do the twist by Marilyn Monroe; of spying, as a 10-year-old, on a former First Lady taking a bath, of partying with Kennedys and Lennons and Jaggers.) But it is also a palpably painful and moving rendition of bad behavior with women and money and drugs, and 20 years of staying sober. If you've read any recovery lit, you already know the drill: the stories of lying and charming and messing up school, jobs and relationships. There's plenty of that, but in Lawford's case, the backdrop against which he misbehaved is in itself dramatic. He writes achingly of his relationship with his cousin David, RFK's son, with whom he regularly did drugs and who died in a Palm Beach hotel room in 1984. (Lawford broke with Kennedy family tradition and named his son for David.) When he arrives high at a family party, the photographic proof turns up in the newspaper-because it was a fundraiser for his uncle Teddy. If this were somebody with a less famous-for-carousing name, you might think he was just another self-dramatizing alcoholic; as it is, Lawford is clearly just recounting his life. Even so, he could come off as obnoxious-were it not for his frankness, humor and self-awareness. Lawford goes out of his way to own, as they say in recovery, his behavior, and while he acknowledges a family tendency, he blames no one but himself. He can also write knowingly and self-deprecatingly about his competitive relationships with his many cousins, his vanity as an actor (he has appeared in films including The Russia House and Mr. North, as well as many television programs but is, by his own admission, no Tom Cruise), and his tendency to refer to his many female conquests as "the most beautiful girl in the world." So where does this book belong? Does it matter? You don't have to care about Kennedys to find this a moving tale of self-discovery and redemption. Whatever else he may have been-son, nephew, cousin, etc.-Christopher Lawford shows himself here to be a writer of talent and grace. 32 pages of photos. (Oct.) Sara Nelson is the Editor-in-Chief of PW. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Born into wealth and favor as the son of Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford and JFK's sister Patricia, 50-year-old Lawford writes an engaging memoir of privilege, struggle, and recovery. The privilege meant growing up among such Hollywood elite as Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe and on the Washington scene among the Kennedys. All the while, he was trying to find his own identity. But in his dysfunctional family, bonding with dad included receiving a vial of cocaine for his birthday. Lawford writes about his struggle with and recovery from the oblivion of alcohol and drug addiction, an "800-pound gorilla" made heavier by his family legacy. For Lawford and cousin David (RFK's son), being anonymous panhandlers and heroin junkies was sometimes easier than being Kennedys. After David was found dead of an overdose in 1984, Lawford's aunt, Joan Kennedy, brought him to a church basement, where he was disabused of his professed "terminal uniqueness" as he listened to others share strikingly similar tales of addiction. (He has maintained his sobriety for 20 years.) Thoughtful, honest, and at times humorous, Lawford's memoir is recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/05.]-Patti C. McCall, Albany Molecular Research, Inc., NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rare and worthy first-person glimpse into the pitfalls of being a Kennedy, complete with instructions on how to step into the deepest hole available, from the son of Patricia Kennedy and actor Peter Lawford. "I was given wealth, power, and fame when I drew my first breath. Now what?" asks Lawford, admitting that he "failed to take advantage of any of them." The "what" was booze and drugs in quantities that would make even the most hardened liver quail. But you could hardly blame him. Here was a guy whose first stop before being brought home from the hospital was a bar so his parents could grab a drink (they'd already had a few while still in the hospital, of course). Lawford's memoir zeroes in on his shabby, feckless behavior until he was in his 30s, but it can't help revealing all sorts of minutiae of the kind craved by Kennedy-watchers. The story covers his mother's proprietary relationship with her family; the divorce that threw him in among his maternal relatives; life with Uncle Bobby; the daily protocols of Hyannis Port; what it meant to suffer the wrath of Big E (Ethel); how it felt to have family members murdered while the rest of the world described the deaths as assassinations. In a natural, jazzy voice, Lawford describes his years of "better living through chemistry," which beveled the edges of neglect and failed expectations until it became the 800-pound gorilla riding his back, queering his prospects and turning his life to trash amidst the grandeur. It wasn't easy for Lawford to get straight; consequences included alienation, divorce and crying children-the same things his parents had inflicted on him. Classier than the usual tell-all: an honest account of a personalpilgrimage through privileged self-destruction.

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Read an Excerpt

Symptoms of Withdrawal

A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption
By Christopher Lawford

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Christopher Lawford
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060732482

Chapter One

You can always do it wrong.
That's the beauty of life.

-- Anonymous

What happens when you are born with the American dream fulfilled? The dreams that drew my ancestors here had been realized for me at my birth. I was born just off the beach in Malibu, California. My father, Peter Lawford, was a movie star and a member of the Rat Pack. My mother's brother Jack would be president of the United States. I was given wealth, power, and fame when I drew my first breath. Now what?

My mother gave birth to me in Saint John's hospital in Santa Monica, California, on March 29, 1955, on the same day that Judy Garland gave birth to her son, Joe, in the same hospital. I was named Christopher because my mom liked the name and had a thing for Saint Christopher -- the giant Catholic saint who carried the baby Jesus and the sins of the world on his shoulders. I received a Saint Christopher medal on every birthday until he was decanonized when I was fourteen because the church determined that the evidence of his existence was entirely legendary. My name lost a bit of its luster on that day, and I remember wondering if the Church might be able to negate my existence also.

The circumstances of my birth were further extolled because Judy was up for an Academy Award that year for A Star Is Born and the press was keeping a vigil. Western Union delivered a boatload of telegrams to my parents from those known and unknown.

We're so happy for you both. He'll be quite a boy. Love -- Jeanne and Dean MartinDear friends -- I'm so happy for you both and may I say you picked my favorite hospital for this epic event -- and I'm a man who knows about hospitals. Hello to sister Mary David -- Bing Crosby

"Quite a boy."

"Epic event."

I was just out of the womb and there were already lofty expectations from some pretty accomplished folk. Uh-oh! I better get my shit together.

So thrilled for you both. Love Gary & Rocky Cooper

My aunt Ethel sent a telegram that read: What a difference a day makes. Whew. Little Ethel

She should know. She was pregnant at the time with her fourth child, David Kennedy, who would be born two and half months later and become my "best friend to the bitter end."

So Judy's son, Joe, and I were born on the same day to movie star parents in Hollywood, California, and the media were paying attention. From the moment I came into this world, I have had a bizarre and constant relationship with the media. They were rarely there to take a picture of me or get a quote from me, but I was always in the mix -- in the glow. I have known many people who have been touched by fame. For most of them -- whether movie stars, politicians, artists, or criminals -- it only lasts a short time. They go from ordinary to extraordinary and back again in the blink of an eye, but the damage done can last a lifetime. Once you have had a taste of the glare, it's hard to step back into shadows.

My family has maintained its currency with the press for most of my life. Very little we did went unnoticed. A flashbulb or television camera highlighted the ordinary events of life. Years later when I got sober, I realized for the first time that I thought everybody on the planet woke up every day and wondered what Chris Lawford and the rest of the Kennedy family were up to that day. In fact, it was something of a rude awakening when a friend of mine pointed out to me that "there are a billion people in China who don't know who your family is or more importantly, Chris, who you are!"

At the moment of my birth, my father was having lunch down the street at one of his hangouts, an ornate and hip Chinese bistro on Wilshire Boulevard named for its proprietor, the mysterious and ever-present Madame Wu. He was throwing down some of Madame's famous Chinese chicken salad with his sidekick and manager, Milt Ebbins, and talking to Cary Grant about the current state of affairs in Hollywood, as he awaited the call announcing the birth of his first child. Cary was reassuring him. Not about becoming a father but about his career.

"Don't worry, old man. As soon as you get a little gray in your hair, you'll work all the time. I didn't work for two years, my temples got gray, and it was a whole new ball game."

My dad began feeling a bit more optimistic, and then the call came. He thanked Cary for the encouragement by paying the tab and beat it to Saint John's, with the ever-present Milt in tow, just in time to see my mom being wheeled, semiconscious, out of the OR. A half hour later, he opened the door to her room to find her sitting up in bed with a bottle of J&B Scotch, ready to celebrate. "Come on in, boys, we've got a big beautiful boy. Let's have a drink." A few minutes later, the big beautiful boy was delivered to his celebrating mom and dad. My father looked down at me, saw my rather pronounced oriental features, and declared, "That's not my kid. He looks Chinese. Hey, wait a minute, Pat, wasn't the gardener Asian?" They laughed. And had another scotch.

My dad was right. I did look Asian. I was born with a Mongolian fold, which means that my eyelids droop slightly over my eyes. This condition is also referred to as "bedroom eyes" and I have milked it happily all my life. Thanks, Dad.


Excerpted from Symptoms of Withdrawal by Christopher Lawford Copyright © 2005 by Christopher Lawford.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Frank McCourt
“...jazzy, rocking, sometimes dark but, in the end, bright with hope.”
Norman Mailer
“Christopher Lawford . . . is in possession of a naturally good style. . . . Three cheers.”
Tom Hayden
“...[an] honest, funny, touching and shocking account...A deeply cautionary tale.”

Meet the Author

Christopher Kennedy Lawford is the New York Times bestselling author of Symptoms of Withdrawal. He has worked extensively in Hollywood as an actor, lawyer, executive, and producer. He has three children and lives in Marina Del Rey, California.

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Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down.I read it in a day.It was a well written book about growing up with the name Kennedy following you.It was insightful look into the world of a drug addict and tragic loss.I would recommend this book to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book to anyone who needs it. Also its interesting to read about history and the Kennedy's.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is worthwhile; despite all the advantages of personal wealth and family connections, Lawford manages to waste much, misbehaves as a youth, and still achieves some success; he seems to realize some of his own callow shallowness, but his shortcomings are those any young man could fall prey to; it is just that others might suffer much more. Even though the Kennedys have suffered very public losses they seem to bounce back well. Lawford's father and mother provided him with a dysfunctional upbringing. The opening chapters are the best. When he just tells a family story the book reads well, when he tries to explain his recovery it reads less well. The book might have more depth if he suffered even more. He escapes too easily; hard time or a knife attack might have helped him and his story. His cousin RFK depicted here too; the Kennedys endure some pressure and expectations and don't always measure up; the "character" RFK Jr. extols to Lawford seems not thoroughly present in either man's present life; these guys go from wife to wife to girlfriend with such ease; earning a living is never too difficult; attracting Hollywood actresses their forte. O well. Tough luck, sort of, but not really for them, it almost seems. Just keeping on keeping on.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I admire Lawford (or should I say Kennedy)humility and utter transparency in regards to the hell of addiction. I've never been addicted to any drugs, but I have known and lived with some so I understand the nature of it. Lawford's story of addiction is very real and very normal, the only circumstances that make him a rare case is that he was a Kennedy and that status required certain things. As he said about himself in the beginning, 'My awkward humanness is to free myself by finding myself.' This could be the Everyman's mantra. Chris Lawford has an incredible gift with storytelling and is a naturally talented writer. He has a unique style, as Norman Mailer observed. His engrossing read was made more engrossing by his insider accounts of such personalities as Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, his mother and father, Hugh Hefner, and the ruthlessness of Hollywood while always living on the edge. His friendship with David Kennedy was heartbreaking and in a weird way redeeming for Lawford. Maybe, ther were after all, 'best friends to the bitter end.' He also details his womanizing, failed marriage, pulls punches at Dominic Dunne and Oliver Stone, does the twist with Marilyn Monroe and rumps with the rough and tough Kennedy boys in football. He also talks sporadically about his present woes with money, his divorce, and Hepatitis disease. He is fearless in examining himself, his family's failures, his tumultuous relationship with his father and mother, and many other stories. A beautiful effort by a writer that lives up to the Kennedy emblem of courage.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book comes straight from the heart and all the gory details are included. If you don't understand an addict, you will after you read this book. Thumbs up to Christopher Kennedy Lawford for sobering up and letting us revisit his past. It makes you want to buy copies for anyone who deals with an addict or may be one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With refreshing candor and remarkable talent, Christopher Lawford has given us a great gift. As with all the best stories since the dawn of time, we come away stronger for knowing this man¿s courage and heart. It is always our hope that the great storms in life will leave us stronger and more beautiful. This book proves it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I admire Christopher Lawford's honest portrait of growing up in America's Royal family. We can all learn something from this book
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. I admire Mr Kennedy's honesty. I love anything about the Kennedys.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some trains leave right on time and some leave too soon. Brilliant book of where Chris got below the surface of his famous name to see who he really was and sat right there until he unraveled the mystery. While everyone else was walking around in their sleep, he was dugging down deep and had nothing to lose but his sleep. Not only did he find himself with the threads of life that were holding his life together, but the feeling in his heart that put a lump in my throat. This book will reel you in and keep you moving through the miracle of the beautiful healing a wonderful passionate person. Great piece of work. This is a great chance to find the road to heaven or stay on the road going nowhere.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometimes I have read books in the past, and the words and ideas keep traveling through the old neurons for a period of time. This is one of those books. Lawford's book is written with a generous dose of personal candor, and the book has all the more impact for that honesty. Sure, this is a book about addiction and dysfunction, but I'm thinking that this book has a deeper and underlying meaning for lots of life situations. As for the Kennedy's, I'm not going to throw one single stone. After all, I didn't have Lawford's courage to step up to bat and reveal my personal secrets to the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Christopher Kennedy Lawford has written an irresistible account of his own life and personal redemption. This is a book you wish would never end. And it ends with a surprise: a list of personal insights which exemplify the most precious part of recovery: clarity. 'Symptoms of Withdrawal..' will be recognized as an essential text and required reading in a small but growing body of literary works: books which speak directly to the unique havoc, wrought upon the lives of their sons, by distant and neglectful fathers everywhere. It is equally valuable for its depiction of the potential for ruin brought into the life of any son or daughter of an alcoholic parent. That would include anybody, anywhere, on the planet earth. Thank you, Mr. Lawford, for sharing the understanding and compassion which you found and extended to your own father. I could feel something of my own (very dissimilar) life in every page of your book. It will assist anybody in locating that understanding and compassion. Your book is a gift to all who have shared your experience, particularly to those who may not yet have been able to put their finger on the particular thread of pain which you have so keenly identified and written about. Your book reflects a lot of humility and a lot of grace. We owe you, big time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lawford's memoir is a gutsy, funny, romp in the rarefied worlds of Tinseltown and Camelot.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The author describes with insight, clarity, and compassion the details of his own suffering and in doing so puts to rest the tired fantasy that people of wealth, privilege, and fame suffer any less than the rest of us. He also movingly describes his remarkable and courageous progress out of despair and darkness. The reader is left with the prayer that the author will be able to maintain the delicate balance he has so hard won.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Symptoms of Withdrawal captured me from the first sentence. Mr. Lawford speaks to the reader as if he is sitting across from you telling his fascinating story. With candid honesty he describes his `privileged and colorful life¿ and his dive into addiction, proving this devastating disease can get its grip on anyone¿and knows no boundaries, no matter what family you are born into. I laughed in some spots yet shivered in others as he described his descent into the dark places his addiction took him. Fortunately, for all of us he came through to the other side¿ recovery. It is great news he is actively involved in bringing his message of hope and addiction awareness to the world--we need more people like him. Symptoms of Withdrawal is a must read!
bravewarrior More than 1 year ago
CD/abridged/autobiography: There were parts of this book that were great, but I felt that Lawford either skipped out on some details or they were cut in the abridgement. Lawford does a good narration, but there were thing I wanted to know. Like how did his wife put up with him all those years. When he wrote the book, he was separated from her and living with one of his various affairs, so I guess he was keeping mum until the divorce was final. While he gets into why he was addicted, there is an inference that he may not be completely clean. His son wrote a poem that infers he still gets high. He never talks about how he stays sober one day at a time while living in Hollywood and NYC, his two big problems. I do recommend this book. It does delve into addiction, the causes of addiction, enabling from relatives, and life after heavy narcotics abuse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honest self-appraisal. The charm and wit of both his famous father and uncle permeate this thoughtful bio.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't usually read 'gossip' books but after seeing a Christopher Lawford interview I thought I'd try this one. It didn't disappoint me. It was well written, great pictures and it was fun hearing some of the Kennedy inside stories. But, sad to see how this generation of the Kennedy family grew up...parents that were too busy with their own lives or problems, drugs and alcohol, being overly competitive, easy connections to get into schools they wanted to attend. There are only two Kennedy siblings families I thought were stable and level headed and I'm glad to read Christopher's words stated that, too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book for parents raising a family with 'high expectations' of their children. One does not need to be a Kennedy to feel the pressure and isolation that often goes with the unspoken demand to perform. The goal is commendable, but without continuous dialogue with the adults in their lives, very difficult for a young person to obtain. No wonder kids put in this position, seeming to 'have it all', find themselves lost, lonely and confused, turn to drugs to ease the pain. My hope is to get a message out, not just all the running with the Pack and the glamour, but the story of parental responsibility for the development of their beautiful children.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was ok i didnt really like how it was writtin. Lawford was out of place with snapshots, and some what repititve with some sayings. It was entertaining when it came to his familys history. It seemed as though he was descripitve with his writting during the more boring memorys in his life compared to the exciting ones. I think the title of the book should have been Life as a Kennedy rather than Syptoms of Withdrawal.