The Most Troubled Kennedy Family Marriages

The Kennedy family is one of the most influential families in American politics, but that's not all they're known for. The family has suffered from a number of high-profile tragedies over the years, from the dual assassinations of brothers John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy and beyond. Family members have died in war, been killed in plane crashes, succumbed to addictions, and more. Joseph P. Kennedy II — son of RFK — downplayed the "curse" in the 1990s. He told The Baltimore Sun, "It's a big family — there's always going to be a few little problems along the way."

The Kennedy family's high-profile deaths are one thing, but various offshoots of the Kennedy family tree have also suffered what feels like incredible bad luck in their various marriages. The rumors of infidelity are numerous, as are the explanations for why various Kennedy wives either did or did not put up with what their husbands were doing. Cornelia Guest, daughter of a close family friend, told People, "For these women, if they ever did discuss [their husbands' infidelities], it was more like, 'This is what's going on; let's go out and get the kids and get on a horse.' They were much more pragmatic about the whole thing.'"

While some of the families hunkered down in the wake of shocking revelations and put on brave faces for the public, many Kennedy marriages have ended in divorce or death, sometimes both. Read on for a look at the most troubled Kennedy family marriages.

Rose and Joe Kennedy

Rose and Joseph Kennedy were the matriarch and patriarch of the Kennedy clan. When they first married all the way back in 1914, according to Time, Joe was a banker and Rose was the daughter of a Boston mayor. A shipping titan and occasional movie producer, Joe would eventually become the Ambassador to Great Britain under President Franklin Roosevelt, signaling the family's interest in politics. Rose and Joe would ultimately have nine children, three of whom entered the political sphere: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy.

Despite their busy lives, Joe found time to have numerous affairs. The highest profile was with Hollywood superstar Gloria Swanson, which the "Sunset Blvd." star revealed in her memoir "Swanson on Swanson." Joe made little effort to hide the affair, and he even brought Rose along on a trip to Europe with his Hollywood mistress. The actor was surprised to find that Rose treated her very well. "If she suspected me of having relations not quite proper with her husband, or resented me for it, she never once gave any indication of it," Swanson wrote. "Was she a fool ... or a saint? Or just a better actress than I was?"

Instead of leaving her powerful husband over his infidelity, Rose hunkered down. In his book "Jackie, Ethel, Joan," biographer J. Randy Taraborelli wrote, "Rose's modus operandi throughout her marriage was simple: If one doesn't see it, one doesn't have to deal with it."

Kerry Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo

Kerry Kennedy is one of several daughters of Robert F. Kennedy. In the early 90s, she married Andrew Cuomo, the son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. According to Michael Shnayerson's Cuomo biography "The Contender,"  the merging of the two famous families was a major source of concern for the dynasties in question, both of whom were suspicious of the other. Kennedy reportedly had to defend her interest in Cuomo, explaining, "Look, he was very handsome, very charming, very funny. It was a traditional crush." Cuomo, on the other hand, told reporters when he was planning to propose, gathering opinions about how the merger would play in the press.

Playing on the term for the supposedly idyllic years of Kennedy's uncle's time in the White House, the media called their union "Cuomolot." However, behind the scenes, this marriage was anything but idyllic. They attended couple's counseling throughout the decade, starting in their second year of marriage. They had three children, and Cuomo's political work left Kennedy to raise them mostly herself. She finally filed for divorce in 2002.

In 2021, Cuomo resigned from the New York governorship amid abuse allegations. Schnayerson wrote in Vanity Fair that he'd abused his ex-wife, too, who took to locking herself in the bathroom to avoid his anger. Kennedy told a friend, "I've been a human rights activist, and for women who have abusive husbands, and here I am enduring this abuse."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cheryl Hines

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is, of course, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, and he married "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Cheryl Hines in 2014. "I come from a big family and the Kennedys are a big family ... It feels fun," she told People. In recent years, however, RFK Jr.'s profile has risen considerably, leading to highly public political disagreements between the two.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy was vocally against the vaccines, even writing a book called "The Real Anthony Fauci" that suggested the doctor was in cahoots with Bill Gates and Big Pharma to wage a "global war on democracy and public health." That winter, though, the family's Christmas party required guests to be vaccinated. When Politico called him for comment, he replied, "I guess I'm not always the boss at my own house."

The following year, Hines had to issue a statement after RFK Jr. said Anne Frank had it better than people who had to get vaccinated against COVID-19. "The atrocities that millions endured during the Holocaust should never be compared to anyone or anything," Hines wrote in a since-deleted tweet (via CNN). "His opinions are not a reflection of my own." Kennedy later told The New York Times that he was willing to publicly say they'd separated in an effort to "protect" her, but she declined. However, in July 2023, in the wake of yet another antisemitism scandal, sources told Radar that Hines, as of this writing, might be rethinking her marriage.

John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy

After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Jackie Kennedy spoke with Life Magazine journalist Theodore H. White about her husband's legacy. Quoting from his favorite musical, she told the writer, "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot." The idea of the JFK presidency as a glittering castle inhabited by a beautiful, loving family is a tempting one, and there seems to have been some truth to that. Jackie loved being married to John, especially at first; in letters to an Irish priest a year after her wedding, she wrote (via NBC News), "I love being married much more than I did even in the beginning."

Behind the scenes, however, their marriage was occasionally strained. JFK reportedly had affairs while in office, including with blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe. Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli told People that Jackie considered divorce. "They did have many conversations about [his cheating]," he said, adding, "and she did tell him that she was sick of it and she didn't like it."

At least one book has claimed that not only was Jackie aware of her husband's infidelity, but that she actually spoke with his most famous mistress about it. In "These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie," Christopher Andersen writes that Monroe called Jackie to talk. Jackie told Monroe, "Marilyn, you'll marry Jack, that's great ... I'll move out and you'll have all the problems."

Joseph Kennedy II and Sheila Rauch

Robert F. Kennedy named one of his sons after his father, so the boy became Joseph Kennedy II. He would go on to become a Congressman for just two short years, from 1997 to 1999. Earlier that decade, however, Kennedy made headlines when he married and had twins with Sheila Rauch before getting divorced. Furthermore, not only did they divorce, but he had the marriage annulled in secret. She didn't find out for years that he'd done so.

Rauch wrote a book called "Shattered Faith" about the marriage and the annulment experience. She told The New York Times that her ex-husband would often belittle her, telling her that she was "nobody" compared to the Kennedys. "How can anyone say this marriage didn't happen? The annulment process is so hypocritical and so dishonest," she told the outlet. "It is important for children to know there are certain things you don't lie about simply because it's convenient. If you duck that, you send your children a very bad message.”

The Catholic Church agreed to reverse the annulment more than a decade later. Time reached out to Rauch, who told them she was happy about her own situation but was concerned that the practice would continue, letting people get away with claiming they'd never been married. "There was a real marriage," she confirmed. "It was a marriage that failed, but as grown-ups we need to take responsibility for that."

Patricia Kennedy and Peter Lawford

Patricia Kennedy was a daughter of Rose and Joe Kennedy, making her sister to JFK. She's notable among the Kennedy dynasty for one unfortunate reason: Patricia was the first Kennedy to get divorced — from actor Peter Lawford. According to "The Peter Lawford Story," a biography written by his final wife Patricia Lawford Stewart, Lawford initially dated Eunice Kennedy on and off. He then met Patricia at the 1952 Republican National Convention, and they struck up a relationship. More than 3,000 onlookers gathered outside the church when they finally wed two years later, the crowd interested in the fact that the worlds of politics and celebrity had collided. After all, that was still a rarity in the early 1950s.

Patricia's brother was happy to have a connection to Hollywood. Lawford was friends with Frank Sinatra, and he was in charge of planning the inaugural concert, attended by numerous celebrities. When JFK spoke that night, he said, "The happy relationship between the arts and politics which has characterized our long history I think reached culmination tonight."

Unfortunately, the marriage between Patricia and Lawford was not, ultimately, a happy one. According to Stewart, Lawford's regular cheating ruined the marriage, though he and Pat agreed to wait to divorce until after JFK's re-election campaign. Time reported that Lawford resented Patricia's separation announcement, complaining, "It just wasn't true." Nevertheless, they were officially divorced later in 1966. According to UPI, to Lawford's consternation, the proceedings took twelve minutes.

John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy

Sudden tragedy is a common theme in several troubled Kennedy marriages. That's certainly the case in the marriage of John F. Kennedy Jr. to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. According to those who knew them in the final years of their lives, before they were killed in a tragic plane crash, John and Carolyn's marriage was falling apart.

JFK Jr. was friends with Steven M. Gillon, who wrote a biography called "America's Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr." The book contains many anecdotes about arguments that John had with his wife in what would be the waning days of their lives, many of which were centered around John's responsibilities at George Magazine, which he founded. According to Vanity Fair, Carolyn was resentful and paranoid that John would leave her — much like her father had — so she would contact his offices. She once faxed her husband, "Please come home now, I need you." On top of that, John didn't seem to adjust to married life as well as his wife had hoped, and Carolyn had her doubts about how faithful he was.

In July 1999, days before the crash that would claim both lives, Edward Klein's book "The Kennedy Curse" claims that John told a friend, "It's impossible to talk to Carolyn about anything. We've become like total strangers ... It's got to stop. Otherwise we're headed for divorce." They were killed two days later.

Ted and Joan Kennedy

Ted Kennedy was the third son of Rose and Joseph Kennedy to enter politics, becoming a Senator just like his brothers Jack and Bobby. He married Joan Bennett in 1958. Tensions quickly became apparent; JFK was elected president two years later, and Joan found herself surprised by how her husband would change plans without consulting her. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli's biography "Jackie, Ethel, Joan," she later said, "With that family, I found out fast that if you didn't join in ... you were just left out."

Ted and Joan Kennedy divorced in 1981, after 22 years together. "With regret, yet with respect and consideration for each other, we have agreed to terminate our marriage," the couple said in a statement, according to The New York Times. The outlet noted that there were rumors that Ted had been cheating, while Joan said publicly that she believed him that he wasn't. Their statement did not give reasons for the separation, merely noting, "We have reached this decision together, with the understanding of our children and after pastoral counseling."  

Joan went public with her alcoholism after she was found unconscious in 2005. According to The Associated Press, Ted said, "It's been a long, difficult, very hard struggle. I think people whose lives have been touched by [alcoholism] can understand." They reportedly remained somewhat close; Joan bought a house near Ted as he dealt with the brain tumor that eventually took his life.

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Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Journalist Maria Shriver is a Kennedy; after all, she's the daughter of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy, who was one of JFK's sisters. All the way back in the 1970s, Shriver met and fell in love with bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, yet another example of the political world of the Kennedys intermingling with the entertainment industry. They married in 1986, and for decades, they were each other's biggest supporters. "She's a jewel," Schwarzenegger told Rolling Stone in the early 90s.

Two decades later, things were quite different. Schwarzenegger's second term as Governor of California had come to a close when he and Shriver announced that they were going their separate ways. "At this time, we are living apart, while we work on the future of our relationship. We are continuing to parent our four children together," they said in a statement to People. A week later, the news broke that he'd had an affair with the maid, and that he had a son he had kept hidden. In his Netflix documentary "Arnold," the "Terminator" star recalled, "I think that I have caused enough pain for my family because of my f**k up. Everyone had to suffer. Maria had to suffer. The kids had to suffer. Joseph. His mother. Everyone."

She filed for divorce two months later. Surprisingly, it took ten years to settle the divorce, according to Us Weekly. Ultimately, Shriver won half of Schwarzenegger's retirement money earned since their marriage.

Michael F. Kennedy and Victoria Gifford Kennedy

The Kennedy family legacy is littered with scandal and tragedy, and the case of Michael Kennedy — one of Robert F. Kennedy's sons — was no different. In 1981, Michael married Victoria Gifford, daughter of football legend Frank Gifford. The couple stayed lower-profile compared to some of their famous relatives, until suddenly they were all over the headlines. Michael was alleged to have started sleeping with the family babysitter when she was 14, which would have been statutory rape. The New York Times reported in 1997 that charges were dropped because the babysitter didn't cooperate. Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, Michael's brother, told the paper, "Obviously, this is a time when I hope that there can be healing in Michael's family."

The family didn't heal. Victoria and Michael divorced, and according to The Associated Press, the divorce was granted late that year. Massachusetts law requires a 90-day period before the divorce takes effect. "If there's a chance of a reconciliation, the state wants to do everything to encourage it," explained law professor Julius Levine.

Michael died a month later, killed in a skiing accident on New Year's Eve. Political consultant Robert Shrum told The Washington Post he worried Michael's scandal would overshadow his legacy. "Those of us who knew Michael ... feel not only terrible about his loss, but the fact that he's likely to be remembered not very much for the things that he did that were really quite extraordinary," he said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mary Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s marriage to Cheryl Hines wasn't his only troubled marriage. He was previously married twice, first to Emily Black and then to Mary Richardson. According to Jerry Oppenheimer's biography "RFK, Jr: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream," Kennedy proposed to Richardson while he was still married to Black; by the time he married Richardson the following year, she was pregnant.

Their marriage does not seem to have been a happy one. In leaked court documents published by Newsweek, Kennedy claimed that Richardson was physically abusive. "Mary's violence and physical abuse toward me began before we were married. Soon after Mary became pregnant with our first son, Mary, in a sudden rage about my continued friendship with [my ex-wife] Emily, hit me in the face with her fist," he told the court. For her part, Richardson told friends that Kennedy had an "astronomical number" of affairs, and that he "repeatedly told her that she would be 'better off dead,' and that it would be 'so much easier' if she killed herself," according to excerpts from "RFK Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream" published in the Daily Mail.

Kennedy filed for divorce in 2010; the marriage had not yet been officially dissolved when she died by suicide in 2012. The family released a statement to CNN that read, "We deeply regret the death of our beloved sister Mary, whose radiant and creative spirit will be sorely missed by those who loved her."

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Jean Kennedy and Stephen Smith

Jean Kennedy was Rose and Joe Kennedy's daughter, making her JFK's sister. She married businessman Stephen Smith in 1956. "From the day he married Jean, Steve was like a brother in our family," Senator Ted Kennedy said when Smith died from cancer in 1990, per Smith's obituary in The New York Times.

A year later, People profiled the Smith family amid rape accusations against one of their sons. The outlet claimed that Smith frequently cheated on his wife while he was alive, and that she had an affair in return. A number of family members wrote letters to People (via UPI), including Jean herself, who said, "This is demeaning not only to me but to my children — and to my entire family, all of whom had the greatest respect and admiration for my husband." Historian and Kennedy biographer Arthur Schlesinger Jr. backed her up, writing, "Steve and Jean Smith had a lively and joyous marriage, mutually loving and mutually reinforcing."

After Jean died in 2020, the rumors returned. Biographer Jerry Oppenheimer wrote a piece for the Daily Mail, quoting unnamed sources who claimed things like, "Cheating on their wives was a rite of passage for Kennedy men, and Steve was kind of a hero to Teddy and Bobby because he was more open about it." It's tough to know what actually happened. While many Kennedy indiscretions have been borne out in public, the truth of this one may simply be lost to time.

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