Sunday, July 25, 1999

Week of 07/25/1999

The REAL Kennedy Curse
Got a mirror?
- by David Matthews 2

A rather attractive woman in her mid-thirties was brought before the state Pardons and Parole board. She was asked to describe herself and her love life before she was convicted and sent to prison.

"Well I guess you could say I’m jinxed," she said with a shrug and a grin.

But the chairman of the board didn’t like that answer. "Jinxed? No, no… Let’s go over your love life, shall we? You were married four times, right?"

"That’s right," she replied proudly. "Four wonderful men."

"And wealthy, right?"


"And they’re all dead, right?"

"Oh yes," she said with a frown. "Very tragically too."

"Yes," the Parole chairman replied cynically as he looked through her records. "It says here that your first husband died on your honeymoon, is that correct?"

"That’s right," she said sorrowfully. "He was such a sweet man. I even made him my favorite blowfish soup. Did you know that if you don’t cook that just right, you can die? I didn’t know that until then!"

"Hmm-hmm.." the chairman said. "And your first husband did just that, didn’t he?"

"Yes.. so tragic."

"Yes.. And so did your second husband, right?"

"Oh yes.. and that was a shocker for me because I thought I had that dish cooked at the right temperature too!"

"And your third husband, right? Also just days into the honeymoon."

"Oh yes.. I really was torn up over that. I mean, he was SUCH a sweet guy."

"And your fourth husband.. he was a sweet guy too?"

"Oh yes," she said with a tear coming down her cheek. "So sweet and decent and SO caring.."

"Then WHY, miss, did you kill your fourth husband with a hammer?"

She wiped away the tear and replied. "Well because I tried, and I tried, and I tried, but that stubborn SOB refused to have any soup!"

For those of you who spent a week under a rock, or perhaps in a deep coma, you missed out on an entire week of mourning over the disappearance, quest for, and subsequent discovery and burial of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Junior, and his wife Caroline Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette. The three were flying from New Jersey to Martha’s Vinyard when their plane crashed in the water just miles from their destination.

The public outpouring, however, took on a life all its own. People, it seemed, acted like the loss of John Jr. was a loss of their own family member. They sent flowers and cards and symbols of their grief that turned the sidewalk outside John-John’s apartment into a makeshift memorial. Various cities were actually holding special funeral services for people to mourn so they wouldn’t make a journey to New York.

Then there was all this talk about a "curse" that the Kennedy family seemingly has. After all, there have been SO many members of the Kennedy clan that have suffered. Of course, never mind that the Kennedy clan is quite productive.. and that some of these "tragedies" have come from human decisions.

But for the past week I was wondering just WHY there was so much of an outpouring over JFK Junior. Sure, he had dashing good looks, but so do many actors in Hollywood. He wasn’t a public servant, he never ran for political office like his father, he didn’t sacrifice his life for the military like his uncle Joseph Kennedy Junior did in World War II.

Most of the mourning public didn’t even know John-John... at least not in person. My father did, but it was highly unlikely that John-John would ever remember sonar specialist David Matthews. He probably wouldn’t even have remembered that he was just some sailor who stood guard at his daddy’s door on board the USS Joseph Kennedy when they were out to sea, and that his neck would make an excellent target to fling paperclips at.

But then it finally occurred to me what the obsession was with JFK Junior. The answer came to me in the form of a letter in the July 19th edition of USA Today. The letter writer finished her brief message of public condolences by saying "we had so many expectations of you."

And therein was the rub… "we had so many expectations of you."

Never mind what John-John wanted to do with his life, people had expectations of him, and they didn’t want to be denied! But they were denied, and that’s why they hoarded flower shops and created all sorts of mournful expressions for their grief. They weren’t saying good-bye to John Kennedy Junior, they were saying good-bye to all their expectations of him.

Now let’s get brutally honest here.. is there a Kennedy curse? You bet there is! And the public is a part of it!

Now in all fairness, I will say that we the public did not start this curse. No, that credit goes to Joe Kennedy, senior.. the patriarch of the whole Kennedy clan. Joe Kennedy was what they would call the "nuveax riche" (or "newly rich"). He made his money, it is said, through bootlegging. Not exactly a business one would want to be remembered for in social circles, but he made it nonetheless.

Problem was, Joe lacked the respectability he thought money would bring. After all, the Hughes and Rockefellers and the Du Ponts of the world had respectability. Why not the Kennedys? So Joe decided that he would get respectability.. he would put his son in the White House!

Well when Joe Junior was killed in World War II, the pressure was on middle brother John to do the deed. John Kennedy pulled out all the stops, including recruiting celebrities like Frank Sinatra to campaign for him, and it helped put him in the White House.

Now if that was the length, width, depth, and breadth of this situation, then the "curse" would have ended when President Kennedy’s term in office did. Aside from the Cuban Missile Crisis, getting us further involved in Vietnam, cutting support for the Bay of Pigs invasion when it was sorely needed, and inspiring a certain redneck from Arkansas to later become the world’s largest con artist to ever set foot in the Oval Office, the Kennedy legacy would have been otherwise not really noteworthy. JFK, relatively young, brash, and the first Roman Catholic president, and a symbol of the younger generation.

But there was something else that happened to him.. he was publicly assassinated in Dallas, Texas. And because of that, the "curse" continued.. only this time it wasn’t Joe Kennedy behind it, but the public.

In many ways, the generations of Americans who supported John Kennedy and admired him felt cheated. Their guy was killed in front of them. He wasn’t allowed to live out his term or terms in office. Yes they blame it on Lee Harvey Oswald, but he was never allowed to live to see a trial. Oswald was killed - in public and on live television - by Jack Ruby. And in that, the public once again felt cheated.

So the pressure was on the next Kennedy son - Robert - to continue what John wasn’t allowed to finish. But again, this Kennedy was killed by an assassin’s bullet. The public felt cheated even more.

From that point on, folks, the Kennedy clan has been socially canonized as saints that can do no wrong. Every time a member of the Kennedy clan got involved with tragedy they could not be held accountable for their actions, rather it was the "Kennedy curse" that would take the blame.

A year after Robert’s death, the last Kennedy son - Senator Edward Kennedy - was involved in a rather scandalous incident where he drove his car into the waters of the Chappaquiddick, killing a young aide by the name of Mary Jo Kopechne. That scandal, and the subsequent private inquiry by the request of the family, would haunt him for the rest of his career, and perhaps forever deny him a run for the White House. But people refused to blame him.. rather it was the "curse."

When William Kennedy Smith was charged with rape in 1991, people were saying "Say it ain’t so Billy, say it ain’t so!" And even the jury agreed with him.

When David Kennedy was killed in a drug overdose, it wasn’t his fault, it was "the dreaded Kennedy curse" that did him in.

And then along comes John-John.. all grown up. John-John, who was branded as the "Sexiest Man Alive" and the most eligible bachelor until he married Carolyn Bessette. John-John, whom everyone remembered as the little boy in front of the White House who saluted the coffin bearing his father. John-John, the social saint who could do no wrong.

And oh, did people have expectations for him! Let’s face it, who DIDN’T want him to run for office? We all wanted him to run. Everyone wanted him to politically avenge the assassination of his father by running for office and becoming the next president. Not necessarily for his own sake, but for our own.

Come on people, we need to break ourselves from this obsession with the Kennedy clan. They’re not gods, they’re not royalty, and they certainly are not saints, and we need to stop treating them like such. They’re mortal, just like the rest of us. Yes that includes in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Kennedys can be philanthropic at times, not out of some kind of twisted obligation to us, but rather because they can AFFORD to be so. They can live the high life, not because of the grace of God, but rather because of what their grandfather started during Prohibition.

And yes, the members of the Kennedy clan can make mistakes just like the rest of us. And when they do, we need to stop trying to blame it on some curse of fate, but rather on their own actions.

As Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves." We created the Kennedy curse through our own unrealistic expectations of them. We are also the only ones who can break this curse by leaving the Kennedys alone and letting them live their lives as they see fit.

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