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Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption

Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption

4.0 11
by Christopher Kennedy Lawford

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Born into enormous privilege as well as burdened by gut-wrenching family tragedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford now shares his life story, offering a rare glimpse into the private worlds of the rich and famous of both Washington politics and the Hollywood elite. A triumphantly inspiring memoir, the first from a Kennedy family member since Rose Kennedy's 1974


Born into enormous privilege as well as burdened by gut-wrenching family tragedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford now shares his life story, offering a rare glimpse into the private worlds of the rich and famous of both Washington politics and the Hollywood elite. A triumphantly inspiring memoir, the first from a Kennedy family member since Rose Kennedy's 1974 autobiography, Lawford's Symptoms of Withdrawal tells the bittersweet truth about life inside America's greatest family legacy.

As 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 and movie stars as close relatives and personal friends.

Lawford recalls Marilyn Monroe teaching him to dance the twist in his living room when he was still a toddler, being awakened late at night by his uncle Jack to hear him announce his candidacy for president, being perched atop a high-roller craps table in Las Vegas while Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack swapped jokes and threw dice, and other treasured memories of his youth as part of America's royal family.

In spite of this seemingly idyllic childhood, Lawford's early life was marked by the traumatic assassinations of his beloved uncles Jack and Bobby, and he soon succumbed to the burgeoning drug scene of the 1970s during his teen years. With compelling realism mixed with equal doses of self-deprecating wit, youthful bravado, and hard-earned humility, Symptoms of Withdrawal chronicles Lawford's deep and long descent into near-fatal drug and alcohol addiction, and his subsequent formidable path back to the sobriety he has preserved for the past twenty years.

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

In this groundbreakingly courageous and exceptionally well-written memoir, Lawford steps forward to rise above the buried pain that first led to his addiction, and today lives mindfully by his time-tested mantra: "We are only as sick as the secrets we keep." Symptoms of Withdrawal keeps no secrets and is a compelling testament to the power of truth.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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
“...gives 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.”

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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 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
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 Jr.is 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.
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
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm sure that the Lawford book is very interesting, full of interesting stories, and jucy tidbits' however, THIS Lawford is not that much different from his sleezy father, Peter. I know that Peter was pretty much a 'pimp' for the Kennedys, and Marilyn was, just 'another piece of meat' for the Kennedy boys, thanx to Peter- that is why I will not spend my money on this book.