RFK Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream

RFK Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream

by Jerry Oppenheimer


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RFK Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream by Jerry Oppenheimer

“A bombshell unauthorized biography tells the haunting past that kept Kennedy from following in his father’s footsteps.” —New York Daily News

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. inherited his assassinated father’s piercing blue eyes and Brahmin style, earning a reputation as the nation’s foremost environmental activist and lawyer—the “toxic avenger”—battling corporate polluters. But in this, the most revelatory portrait ever of a Kennedy, Oppenheimer places Bobby Jr., leader of the third generation of America’s royal family, under a journalistic microscope, exploring his compulsions and addictions - from his use of drugs to his philandering that he himself blamed on what he termed his “lust demons,” and tells the shocking behind-the-scenes story of the curious events leading to the tragic May 2012 suicide of his second of his three wives, mother of four of his six children. If his late cousin JFK Jr. was once dubbed “Prince Charming,” RFK Jr. might have earned the sobriquet, “The Big Bad Wolf.”

Based on scores of exclusive, candid on-the-record interviews, public and private records, and correspondence, Jerry Oppenheimer paints a balanced, objective, but often shocking portrait of this virtually unaccounted for scion of the Kennedy dynasty. Like his slain father, the iconic senator and presidential hopeful, RFK Jr. was destined for political greatness. Why it never happened is revealed in this first-ever biography of him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250096661
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/13/2016
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 668,184
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

JERRY OPPENHEIMER is the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty, as well as unauthorized biographies of Hillary and Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, Rock Hudson, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, Ethel Kennedy, Jerry Seinfeld, and the Hilton family. He has also worked in several different capacities as a journalist, including as an investigative reporter and a producer of television news programs and documentaries.

Read an Excerpt


Parochial Schooling

Ethel Skakel Kennedy gave birth to her husband's namesake, Bobby Jr., on January 17, 1954, at Georgetown University Hospital, in Washington, D.C. He was the third of her and Robert Francis Kennedy's children, coming after Kathleen and Joe II in what would one day be a brood of eleven. As it happened, Bobby came into the world at an ironic moment in the Kennedy clan's chronology — just a few days after the Hollywood sexpot Marilyn Monroe married her second husband, the Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio. In the Kennedy family drama, Marilyn would famously play a starring role as the reputed mistress of both Bobby's father and Bobby's uncle, the president, during the era known as Camelot.

Eight more siblings would follow on Bobby Jr.'s heels, as his young, athletic, and zealously Catholic twenty-six-year-old mother was determined to have a bigger family than that of her revered mother-in-law, the Kennedy family matriarch, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who had given birth to only nine.

But young Bobby was the special one of Ethel's children, for he was named after the idolized U.S. Senator from New York, the assassinated presidential hopeful who, during JFK's ill-fated administration, had served as his brother's Attorney General of the United States, the nation's highest law enforcement officer.

RFK, at twenty-nine, had been out of work during a portion of the time Ethel was carrying Bobby. He had quit the job his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy — onetime reputed Prohibition-era bootlegger, ex–Hollywood mogul, Wall Street speculator, former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain under FDR, and notorious philanderer — had secured for him through his friend Joseph McCarthy.

An Irish Catholic, an alcoholic, considered evil incarnate by many, the Republican senator from Wisconsin was chairman of the powerful Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Government Operations Committee, better known as the McCarthy Committee.

RFK had a law degree from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and a diploma from Harvard when he was hired as an assistant to the McCarthy Committee's general counsel. He shared his father's and McCarthy's determination to search out and destroy suspected Communists in the U.S. Army, in federal government agencies, and just about anywhere else, many of whom were innocent and whose lives were ruined. He also went along with a parallel McCarthy persecution of homosexuals in government that became known as the "Lavender Scare."

Fortunately, RFK, an heir to the fortune his father had made, and his wife, Ethel, an heiress in her own right, didn't have to support their fast-growing family on his paycheck. His starting salary was $95.24 a week. He received a couple of raises along the way, eventually earning $7,334.57 annually.

But after just seven months he quit his job. He blamed his decision on McCarthy's right-hand man, Roy Marcus Cohn, who was two years younger than RFK but had earned a national reputation as the tough prosecutor who had controversially helped send the convicted Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair. RFK despised Cohn because it was Cohn's job that RFK had once coveted but didn't get. Moreover, he intensely disliked him because of his sexual preference; Cohn was a closeted homosexual, and RFK had a thing about those kinds of people.

Looking to his father again for another job, the patriarch secured his third son — born after Jack and before Ted — a position as an assistant on what was known as the Hoover Commission, then headed by former president Herbert Hoover, who had just turned eighty. Ambitious, restless for action, and hungry for power, RFK found the job, which had to do with the stuffy reorganization of the Executive Branch, tedious and boring, and he began feeling depressed.

But the birth of Bobby Jr., his namesake, lifted him out of the doldrums. Once again after his father made a call on his behalf, RFK was named counsel for the Democratic minority of Joe McCarthy's subcommittee. The appointment came just in time for the beginning of the infamous, history- making, nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings that began four months after Bobby Jr.'s birth at the height of the nation's red scare and at a dark moment in the Cold War.

Bobby was an easy birth for Ethel, who had at her side throughout the Kennedy family's longtime nurse Luella Hennessey-Donovan. Years later, Lulu, as she was known, recalled that Ethel had only one burning concern: how her first two, Kathleen and Joe, would respond to having a new brother who would garner much attention. After a week in the hospital, Ethel took Bobby home; she had prearranged for his siblings to be waiting outside to greet him.

"Ethel would say, 'Look at what the new baby brought home to you.' They'd each get a basket with a gift and then they'd each kiss the baby and say thank you," said the dutiful nurse who idolized the Kennedys. "It was quite a good idea."

She stayed with Ethel and the infant Bobby for another few days, but would return eighteen months later when Ethel had her third son, number four in the lineup — David Anthony Kennedy, born June 15, 1955. The closest in terms of bonding with Bobby, he'd also be the first, but not the last of her brood, to predecease her, succumbing in his case to a drug addiction that both brothers would share.

* * *

ANIMALS AND BIRDS SEEMINGLY were always part of Bobby's life even, he once claimed, when he was still in a crib. His mother had told him that when he was a baby he was fascinated with the bugs he saw crawling around in the garden of the Kennedy estate, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia, where the family had moved when he was three months old. The spectacular mansion had once belonged to Bobby's uncle Jack and his aunt Jackie and had been a gift to both couples by the Kennedy patriarch.

At nine, Bobby had a veritable menagerie at the family's fabled northern Virginia homestead, which included a variety of small pests, the scourge of most homeowners, ranging from raccoons to rats to snakes. He claimed he once bought a couple thousand ear-shattering crickets to feed to his lizards. He also had his own mini–poultry farm, in addition to a horse, a calf, and a variety of other animals.

The 2008 thriller Snakes on a Plane could have been based on an experience Bobby had as a kid when he took a sack of his pet reptiles aboard a flight from Washington National to LaGuardia in New York and all of the slithery, scary things accidentally got loose in mid-flight. As female passengers screamed and may have jumped onto their seats, Bobby crawled around and gathered them all up.

One of the stories he liked to tell about his childhood was about a visit he made to the Oval Office when his father was attorney general of the United States and young Bobby presented his uncle the president with a small spotted salamander that he had recently caught on Hickory Hill's almost six acres.

His mother had dressed him in short pants for the visit, and Bobby always kept a photograph of himself seated near Uncle Jack as the president gently poked the seven-inch amphibian with one of those presidential pens he used to sign bills into law. Uncle and nephew then gave it a new home in the White House fountain. There were those other visits to the weekend White House at Camp David, in Maryland. While his father and uncle held private meetings at the presidential lodge, Bobby, with Secret Service agents close by, tried to scope out the fierce wolverines that inhabited the surrounding woods.

In 1963 when JFK was murdered, Bobby had been taken on a safari in Kenya and participated in the capture of a huge leopard tortoise. Because he was a scion of Camelot, he was permitted to bring it home in a suitcase, unquestioned, as if he were a diplomat. It helped that his escort was his aunt Eunice's husband, Sargent Shriver, who then headed the JFK-established Peace Corps. Many years later the turtle, stuffed, was on display, along with a multitude of other Kennedy memorabilia, in the den of Bobby's own Hickory Hill–like estate in the fashionable New York City suburb of Mount Kisco, home to a number of celebrities.

At eleven, Bobby decided to become a falconer when his father, soon to be elected to the United States Senate from New York — his stepping- stone, he believed, to a second Kennedy presidency — gave him a red- tailed hawk, which Bobby named Morgan LeFay, after the sorceress in the King Arthur legend, which he had read about in T. H. White's book The Once and Future King.

Through the years Bobby's stories often conflicted, or were contradictory, or were outright inventions, even about something as mundane as who had interested and trained him in falconry. In his co-authored 1997 book, The Riverkeepers, about how he and a colleague battled Hudson River polluters, he said an engineer at the Pentagon had taught him the sport, which involved training falcons, which are birds of prey, to hunt for quarry.

Later, however, in a blog at PetPlace.com, an online source of pet information, headlined "Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — The Bird Rehabilitator," he was quoted as saying that an obscure Arab friend of his father's, one Alva Mai Nye, supposedly a State Department operative, had "piqued" his interest in falconry.

Also at the age of eleven Bobby had read a book called My Side of the Mountain, written by the naturalist and children's book author Jean Craighead George, which tells the story of a boy who runs away from home to the Catskill Mountains of New York State, where he lives in a hollowed-out tree with a falcon and a weasel.

In 1999, in writing about the book and how it also influenced his interest in falconry, Bobby observed, "I thought the Craigheads might be the only family in America that was having more fun than the Kennedys. Obsessed with falcons as I was from birth, I read [the book] in 1964. ... My years as a falconer helped drive my own career choice as an environmental lawyer and advocate."

* * *

AN ABUSER OF DRUGS for at least some fifteen years of his life, and a reputed sex addict for many more, according to his own diary entries and other accounts, Bobby once noted that the "central tenet" of his mother's life was her "devotion" to Catholicism, and that his father's "devotion" had even "rivaled" hers — and that all of it had carried over to him.

In his book The Riverkeepers, coincidentally published the same year his brother Michael was embroiled in a sex scandal involving his family's teenage babysitter, and his congressman brother Joe's wife wrote a tell-all critical of him seeking an annulment because he wanted a Catholic church wedding with his secretary girlfriend, Bobby waxed nostalgic about how religion was a major part of his family's home life when he was growing up.

For instance, he noted that his rosary-carrying mother always led the family in prayer as they knelt, and that the family attended daily Mass with her on holidays and in the summer. He recalled that they had "fainted from hunger" during high Mass; that Sundays were a day of fasting; that prayers were said before and after meals; that on Fridays fish was served, and they read about and "prayed with particular fervor" to various saints.

His parents, he stated, "frequently" quoted St. Paul's mantra, "To whom much is given, much is expected," and he said he and his siblings strived to "give them our best."

Bobby noted that he and his brothers and sisters had received parochial school educations, but that wasn't always the case.

His first school, with just eight classrooms, was on the fringe of Georgetown — Our Lady of Victory, founded by a Father Yingling. As it turned out, Bobby's matriculation there suddenly caused a problem for his uncle Jack's administration when it was revealed that Our Lady of Victory was all-white at a time when the Kennedy administration was advocating school integration, and the nation's first civil rights bill would soon be passed.

For Republicans and especially Southern politicians, the revelation by the school's Mother Superior that "We have no Negroes here. ... Apparently, there are no Negroes in our Parish" sparked a furor — the "Benghazi" of its time for the democrats of Camelot — and put the Kennedys on the spot. RFK wanted to immediately have Bobby transferred to the nonsectarian Landon School, in Bethesda, Maryland, but Ethel fought against the move, desiring that the namesake get a full Catholic education, just as she had gotten.

Ethel Skakel had inherited her religious fervor from her mother, the former Ann Brannack, a simple office worker from a blue-collar Irish Catholic South Side Chicago family who had struck it rich when she wed Ethel's father, George Skakel, a shrewd businessman, who wasn't Catholic and who couldn't countenance his wife's fanatical adherence. Rather than fight it, though, he had looked the other way when she raised Ethel (and her siblings) in her own religious image.

As a Catholic childhood friend recalled, "If we missed a day of church it wasn't a sin, but for Ethel it was. She was very devoutly religious, extremely so. She used to tell me she'd only marry a Catholic."

Her room in her family's mansion in wealthy Greenwich, Connecticut, had a large cross over the bed along with hanging rosary beads, and her night table was stacked with books on Catholicism. She once seriously teased a male cousin into crying by telling him he was going to hell rather than heaven because he wasn't raised as a Catholic.

At Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York City's Harlem, Ethel took Communion every day, meditated afterward for an hour, and said her rosary. Like her future mother-in-law, Rose Kennedy, Ethel was an active member of Children of Mary, an organization for zealous young Catholics, and led three-day class retreats that consisted of prayer and silence.

As a nun who knew her, Mother Elizabeth Farley, recalled, "Ethel had a lot of faith, and inherited a lot of faith, and influenced others with her faith."

Nevertheless, the political heat on the Kennedy administration far outweighed her desire for Bobby to have a Catholic (and presumably all-white) education. To end the embarrassing scandal, the fifth-grader was quietly transferred from the all-white Our Lady of Victory to the exclusive but integrated Sidwell Friends, of the Quaker persuasion, whose political alumni over the years included Nancy Reagan, Julie Nixon, and Chelsea Clinton.

The transfer, however, did not go over well with Our Lady of Victory's principal. She asserted that racism was not the issue, and claimed that Bobby and his sixth-grade brother Joe often missed school with the excuse that they had colds and that the transfer to Sidwell was because the fancy private school had a tutoring program for kids like the Kennedy brothers who got poor grades and had repeated absences.

Bobby completed elementary school, sixth grade, at Sidwell, temporarily leaving behind his mother's desired Catholic education for him.

As he noted in The Riverkeepers, his parents had "supplemented our parochial school instruction in the Catholic creed by emphasizing the life of saints and particularly the joys of martyrdom, secular or religious."

* * *

AS HE PREPARED TO BEGIN his junior high school years, a world of change was happening for young Bobby.

His mother had become pregnant with her ninth, which would tie the record set by the Kennedy matriarch, Rose. Despite Kennedy spin to the contrary, the kids' parents rarely were around, leaving their eight children behind with nannies and other volunteer help — Ethel and RFK, always obsessed with his political future, traveled to West Berlin, Greece, and Rome, where they met with Pope Paul, and everywhere spread the Kennedy gospel.

At thirty-eight, RFK, already looking ahead to a presidential run, announced at the end of August 1964 that he had decided to seek election to the U.S. Senate from New York. During the campaign, Bobby's spirited mother would be on the road day and night tirelessly campaigning for RFK, shaking as many as eight hundred hands at one of her highly publicized, exuberant campaign coffee klatches; women of all political persuasions came out in droves just to be in the presence of a Kennedy wife. With RFK running, the Camelot myth was alive and well.

The candidate and his wife used cute and lively young Bobby and his photogenic siblings, too, whenever they could to promote RFK's election. For instance, during the shooting of a campaign commercial directed by the famous agent and producer Leland Hayward, Ethel had gathered together her brood and dryly told a reporter, "Well, here we are, just an average American family."


Excerpted from "RFK Jr."
by .
Copyright © 2015 Jerry Oppenheimer.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 Parochial Schooling 5

2 Daddy's Dead 20

3 Surrogate Father 31

4 "Unrequited Love" 42

5 Practically Naked 49

6 "Rumpled Kid" 58

7 Breaking Bad 65

8 Millbrook Triumvirate 73

9 Friends Die 81

10 Chappaquiddick Summer 88

11 Pot Bust 99

12 Pomfret Blacks 104

13 Palfrey Street 129

14 Twisted Roots 148

15 Wild Uncles 155

16 Harvard Beckons 163

17 Author, Author 174

18 British Affair 185

19 Bloomington Love 193

20 Emotional Changes 207

21 Hate Mail 216

22 Wedding Bells 224

23 Bar Flop 239

24 Shooting Up 247

25 Community Service 255

26 Environmental War 265

27 Quickie Divorce 276

28 Another Bride 284

29 Sibling Scandals 291

30 Annulment Tell-all 299

31 Rape Rap 303

32 Killer Cousin? 308

33 Another Catastrophe 316

34 Marital Hell 321

35 Toxic Household 330

36 Fatal Ending 336

37 Aftermath 343

Epilogue 351

Acknowledgments 361

Notes 363

Selected Bibliography 385

Index 387

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RFK, Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Dark Side of the Dream 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just a bunch of third hand tales and superficial gossip. Save your money. Once I read the statement " who doesn't remember where they were on November 23rd 1963?" I realized what a hack job this was. The constant use of the word "moreover" in every 3rd paragraph could probably turn this book into a drinking game if your book club takes it on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Right wing biased trash!