Kennedy Memoir: It Isn’t News Teddy Was an Alcoholic

A Common Struggle Book Cover

BOSTON – Patrick Kennedy must be doing something right – apparently everyone in his family is angry about his new memoir, which is already at the top of the best seller list before its official publication Friday.

“Patches,” as the former Rhode Island Democrat Congressman is called, after the 1970 Clarence Carter song about the son taking over for his dying father, claimed last weekend that his mother, fellow alcoholic Joan Kennedy, supported his writing of “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.

Not so, Joan immediately shot back, tossing her youngest child under the 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont her late husband was driving that fateful evening on Chappaquiddick.

“I had no knowledge,” she said in a statement to the family fanzines, People magazine and the Boston Globe, “that Patrick was writing a book and did not assist him in the project in any way.”

Her other son, Teddy Jr., another recovering alcoholic, had already denounced his brother’s book as “inaccurate and unfair.” Teddy’s second wife Vicki, whose father and brother are both convicted felons, has declined to comment. Apparently what the family finds most offensive is Patches’ description of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s “disabling alcoholism,” as Patches puts it.

The highlight of the book is perhaps the family’s aborted “intervention” with the senior senator in 1991, the same year as the family’s “traditional Easter weekend” in Palm Beach, which ended with rape charges against Patches’ first cousin, William Kennedy Smith. (Smith was acquitted in December of that year after a sensational trial in West Palm Beach that revealed the Kennedy family’s utter debauchery.)

Ted Kennedy’s shortcomings were not exactly state secrets. As the late Hunter S. Thompson once observed, “What can you expect of someone named after his father’s pimp?” That was Edward Moore, whose duties for Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. did indeed include procuring women for “the Ambassador,” as Joe liked to call himself. Teddy was the ninth and final child, the runt of the litter. Patches has been described as the runt of the litter’s runt of the litter.

The Kennedy family’s always-loyal media retainers have tried to portray A Common Struggle as ground-breaking, shattering the family’s Irish “omerta.” But once again, the hagiographers are revising history. As Patches himself noted, “These aren’t, frankly, big family secrets.”

As a poster to a Boston newspaper website noted today of Kennedy memoirs, “When you’re a Kennedy, what other material do you have to work with?”

Patches’ cousin, Chris Lawford, has covered much of the same ground in his own book. Lawford, a former soap-opera actor, once observed that at Kennedy family gatherings, it was easier to organize an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting than a touch football game. As a young man, Lawford used to take LSD with his own father, the late actor Peter Lawford, who was widely known as the West Coast pimp for his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy. The elder Lawford also helped cover up the mysterious death of Kennedy-family paramour Marilyn Monroe in 1962, hours after she was visited by Lawford and his other brother-in-law, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Compared to the Lawfords, Ted Kennedy was Ward Cleaver to Patches’ Beaver.

They were soooo close, father and son, particularly after the rape scandal in 1991 as they tried to defuse the revelations coming out of the family compound, sometimes called Comfortably Numb by the Sea.

For instance, on Easter Sunday 1991, Ted and his son, then a 23-year-old state rep from Rhode Island, ducked out of high Mass at St. Edward’s in Palm Beach and went around the corner to Chuck & Harold’s to discuss the pending rape charges “some girl” (as Teddy called her) was going to make against Cousin Willie. That afternoon on Royal Poinciana Way, Teddy sucked down three bloody Marys in 40 minutes, while 23-year-old Patches, a few years out of cocaine rehab, guzzled three Long Island ice teas. Imagine – a father allowing his addict offspring to chug-a-lug three five-shot drinks — vodka, gin, tequila, rum, and triple Sec.

No wonder Patches used to call his dad a “fun terrific person.” Just ask Mary Jo Kopechne.

Given his traditional level of utter incoherence, Patches seemed downright Churchillian the other night on 60 Minutes. You watch that, and for the first time ever when trying to assess his IQ, you find yourself thinking: “Below average.” Which is a marked improvement for the runt of the litter’s runt of the litter.

Now Patches is a big 12-step guy. But A Common Struggle is apparently short on the apologies that are considered an essential part of the recovery program.

For instance, has he called two of the more qualified political opponents he defeated – State Rep. Jack Skeffington, whom he ousted from the RI legislature in 1988, or Dr. Kevin Vigilante, the Republican physician he defeated in his first campaign for Congress?

Did he ever apologize to his elderly landlord in Providence, whom he stiffed for several thousand dollars in back rent when he abruptly vacated her apartment, breaking her lease? (Vigilante made a TV spot out of her complaints about not being paid, a common complaint among people who’ve done business with “America’s First Family.”)

How about Patches’ “date” who called the Coast Guard for a rescue from the yacht he had rented? Or the owner of another yacht that he rented that summer, then abandoned in the Atlantic, with thousands of dollars in damage?

Then there was the Massachusetts state attorney general whom he called “Marsha Coakley.” And the tennis instructor he told at age 10, “We Kennedys pay people like you to pick up balls for us?” What about the driver of the car he struck as he wildly tried to get into the parking lot of a CVS pharmacy in Portsmouth, RI? Or the two Capitol police he almost struck in D.C. while driving without headlights at 3 a.m. on his drunken way to what he called was a roll call vote in the House?

How about the maid at the family mansion in Palm Beach, Nellie McGrail, who said under oath in her deposition during the Palm Beach rape trial that “many times everybody is up and in the ocean, or somewhere and Patrick is still sleeping.”

Surely she meant to say, sleeping it off.

Patches once explained how many people told him that he was unqualified to run for public office.

“I was told to wait my turn,” he explained. “This was totally repugnant to me.”

Despite his problems with his father – when he was a youth, Teddy once took him to Chappaquiddick to explain what had happened that night in July 1969, then choked up, like Paul Simon in the song, “Slip Slidin’ Away.” But Patches learned much from his father. Shortly before he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House in 1994, he took to wearing a neck brace. Was that his own neck brace, or was it your dad’s, left over from when he had to attend Mary Jo’s funeral and needed to drum up a little sympathy for himself, even though he’d been given a clean bill of health (except for those unexplained fingernail scratches on his neck) by Cape Cod Hospital?

Why did Patches write the book? I suppose he has learned something – “I myself have educated myself,” as he said on another occasion. Then there was the time he described the U.S. armed forces as “well-prepared and well, uh, armed.”

So the Kennedys are back in the headlines for a few days, once again reminding everyone of a family that for more than a century now has been putting the “fun” back into “dysfunctional.”

Howie Carr is the author of the new Boston organized-crime novel, Killers.


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