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Joan Bennett Kennedy

Joan Bennett Kennedy
Joan Kennedy in the 1960s
Born Virginia Joan Bennett
(1936-09-02) September 2, 1936
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Residence Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.
Alma mater Manhattanville College
Lesley University
Occupation Socialite, musician, author, model
Known for First wife of Ted Kennedy
Home town Bronxville, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Religion Catholicism
Spouse(s) Ted Kennedy (1958–1982)
Children Kara Kennedy
Ted Kennedy, Jr.
Patrick J. Kennedy
Parent(s) Harry Wiggin Bennett, Jr.
Virginia Joan Bennett

Virginia Joan Bennett Kennedy (born September 2, 1936) is an American socialite, musician, author, and former model. She was the first wife of longtime U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Marriage, family and divorce 2
  • Later life 3
  • See also 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Virginia Joan Bennett was born at Mother Cabrini Hospital in New York City. She was raised in a Roman Catholic family, in suburban Bronxville, New York. Her parents were Harry Wiggin Bennett, Jr. (1907–1981) and Virginia Joan (née Stead; 1911–1976). Her father was a graduate of Cornell University and later worked as a advertising executive. Bennett grew up with one younger sister, Candace "Candy," (born July 1938). She attended Manhattanville College (then a Sacred Heart college), in Purchase, New York. Manhattanville is also the alma mater of her future mother-in-law, Rose Kennedy, and her future sisters-in-law, Jean Kennedy Smith and Ethel Skakel Kennedy. In 1982, Bennett received an MA in Education from Lesley College, now known as Lesley University. As a teenager, she worked as a model in television advertising.[2]

Marriage, family and divorce

In October 1957, at the dedication of a gymnasium at Manhattanville College in memory of another Kennedy sister, Kathleen – who had died in a plane crash in 1948 – Jean Kennedy Smith introduced Joan to her brother Ted, then a student at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville.[3]

Ted and Joan were married on November 29, 1958, in Bronxville, New York. The reception was held at the Siwanoy Country Club. Their small family wedding was held just a few weeks after Ted's older brother, Senator John F. Kennedy, won his landslide re-election for his Massachusetts Senate seat. Ted and Joan had three children: Kara Anne Kennedy (born February 27, 1960, in Bronxville, died September 16, 2011 in Washington, DC), Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy, Jr. (born September 26, 1961), and Patrick Joseph Kennedy II (born July 14, 1967).

Two of their children had cancer. Ted Jr. developed bone cancer at age 12, which resulted in the removal of a portion of his right leg in 1973, and Kara was treated for lung cancer in 2003.[4] Kara Kennedy died of a heart attack at age 51 on September 16, 2011.

Ted suffered a severe back injury in a 1964 airplane crash while campaigning for his first full term in the U.S. Senate. She assumed the full campaign-appearance schedule for his successful re-election in 1964. He had earlier won a special election in November 1962 to serve the final two years of his brother John's U.S. Senate term; John had resigned from the U.S. Senate upon his 1960 election as U.S. President.

In July 1969, Ted Kennedy was involved in a car accident off Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts that resulted in the drowning death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.[5] Although pregnant and confined to bed in the wake of two previous miscarriages, she attended Kopechne's funeral. Three days later she stood beside her husband in court when he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. She suffered a third miscarriage shortly thereafter.[6]

Joan Kennedy in Boston at the Rose Parade celebration of Rose Kennedy's 90th birthday in 1980

In early 1978, the couple separated.[7] She subsequently told McCall's about her alcoholism and her work to stay sober.[8] The couple remained together during his failed 1980 U.S. presidential campaign, announcing plans to divorce in 1981; the divorce was finalized in 1983.[9]

Later life

In 1992, she published the book The Joy of Classical Music: A Guide for You and Your Family. Her later years have been shaped by chronic alcoholism, which had developed during her marriage. It escalated with sporadic, uneven sobriety, repeated drunk-driving arrests,[2] court-ordered rehabilitation,[2] and a return to drinking. This ultimately led to kidney damage, with the possibility of dialysis[3] and protracted complications. Kennedy has worked with children's charities, remains an accomplished pianist and has taught children classical music.[10]

In July 2004, her son Ted Jr. had been appointed her legal guardian; in 2005 her children were granted temporary guardianship. That year, she was hospitalized with a concussion and a broken shoulder after being found lying in a Boston street near her home.[2][11][12] At her request in 2005, her second cousin, financial planner Webster E. Janssen of Connecticut, established a trust controlling her estate in violation of her sons' guardianship. Her children later took successful legal action against Janssen, removing him as trustee and later filing a complaint against him with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.[13] That October, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery.[14] She agreed to strict court-ordered guardianship and her estate has since been placed in a new trust overseen by two court-appointed trustees.[3]

Apart from a brief relationship shortly after her divorce, she has neither remarried nor pursued another relationship.[3] She attended Ted's funeral at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port.[15] As of 2005, she resides in Boston, Massachusetts, and Cape Cod.[2]

See also


  • Kennedy, Joan Bennett (1992). The Joy of Classical Music: A Guide for You and Your Family. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, New York. ISBN 978-0-385-41262-9.


  1. ^ "American Experience: The Kennedys".  
  2. ^ a b c d e Lindsay, Jay (April 2, 2005). "Joan Kennedy's troubles linked to alcohol struggle".  
  3. ^ a b c d McPhee, Michelle; Wedge, Dave (August 2005). "The Fall of Joan".  
  4. ^ Jacobs, Sally (May 25, 2008). "Kennedy, his children, and cancer".  
  5. ^ Bly, Nellie (1996). The Kennedy Men: Three Generations of Sex, Scandal and Secrets.  
  6. ^ Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2000). Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot.  
  7. ^ Staff writer (November 5, 1979). "The Vulnerable Soul of Joansie".  
  8. ^ Burke, Richard E.; Hoffer, Marilyn; Hoffer, William (1992). The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy.  
  9. ^ Maier, Thomas (2003). The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings.  
  10. ^ Staff writer (n.d.). "Joan Bennett Kennedy Biography (1936– )".  
  11. ^ Hancock, David (March 30, 2005). "Joan Kennedy Unconscious in Street – Senator's Ex-Wife Recovering from Concussion, Broken Shoulder".  
  12. ^ Johnson, Glenn (February 25, 2005). "Kennedy's Children Become Her Guardians".  
  13. ^ Ellement, John; Sacchetti, Maria (June 13, 2005). "Joan Kennedy, Children Reach Agreement – Medical, Financial Team, Rehab Cited".  
  14. ^ Staff writer (October 15, 2005). "Rep. Kennedy Gets 'Personal' on Cancer – With Mother Ill, He Lauds Advocates".  
  15. ^ ABC News, 28 August 2009Good Morning America,Report by Susan Donaldson James for

Further reading

  • Chellis, Marcia (1985). Living with the Kennedys: The Joan Kennedy Story. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-8161-4058-9.

External links

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