05.17.12

Mary Kennedy Death: RFK Jr.’s Wife Was Depressed Over Split, Friends Say

The estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who was found dead on the family estate Wednesday, battled drug and alcohol problems and was depressed that her marriage could not be reconciled, friends tell Eleanor Clift. Plus, Michael Daly on Mary Kennedy's tragic decline.

Friends of the Kennedy family tried to make sense of the apparent suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy, the 52-year-old estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who was found dead Wednesday in one of the outbuildings on the family’s estate in Mt. Kisco, New York. Some news reports said she was found hanged.

Mary Kennedy lived there with the couple’s four children, who range in age from 10 to 17. RFK Jr. had moved out two years ago after filing for divorce, but a friend said after hearing the news, “They were communicating, he was seeing the children, he was supporting her, I can only think she was terribly depressed.”

When word of Kennedy’s death broke Wednesday afternoon, her family released the following statement through her lawyer:  “We deeply regret the death of our beloved sister Mary, whose radiant and creative spirit will be sorely missed by those who loved her. Our heart goes out to her children who she loved without reservation. We have no further comment at this time."

Friends say she had been part of the Kennedy family’s network long before she married Bobby. She was especially close to Kerry Kennedy, the divorced wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Those who knew Mary were aware of her problems with alcohol and drugs. Around the time that her husband filed for divorce in 2010, there were episodes reported where police stopped her, and she was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Her license was revoked. “She had those problems,” says a friend, adding, “He did too, but he got over it.”

After being arrested for heroin possession in 1983, RFK Jr. was sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service. He joined Riverkeeper, became an environmental activist, and through his love of the outdoors, turned his life around.

Mary Kennedy was very active with her husband in making their Mt. Kisco estate a totally green home, and they entertained a lot. But RFK Jr. was on the road much of the time with his various causes, and the house didn’t turn out to be happily ever after, as Mary might have imagined. One of their children was born when Kennedy was in jail for protesting the Navy’s use of Vieques, Puerto Rico, for military training. The child’s middle name is Vieques.

Friends say that even though it’s been two years since RFK Jr. left the family home, Mary Kennedy had never really faced up to the fact that her marriage was over. She is described as depressed that her marriage could not be reconciled, and to use the vernacular of the day, she self-medicated, friends say.

“Maybe she did something when she was drunk and upset that she would not have done if she was sober,” says a friend. “She was not really well. She was in a state of depression.”

Mary Kennedy’s death is a tragedy on so many fronts—for the people who knew and loved her, for the four children she leaves behind, and for the estranged husband who must comfort those children himself knowing the pain of losing a parent, and how it leaves scars that endure long after the initial shock fades. Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of the elder Robert F. Kennedy, was born after Bobby had been assassinated. Rory’s documentary about her mother, titled simply Ethel, is currently making its debut at film festivals. Ethel Kennedy rarely gave interviews, and the film is a behind-the-scenes portrait of all she had endured since the death of her husband in 1968.

Mary Kennedy’s apparent suicide adds another name to the ledger of Kennedys who have died before their time, a ledger so laden with grief that it’s been called the Kennedy curse. Not so, say friends who remember how the late Sen. Ted Kennedy would bristle at the notion that his family was anything but blessed. He would say, “People know about us and they know about our tragedies, but many people have these tragedies, ours are just well known.”

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How drugs, alcohol and depression contributed to Mary Kennedy’s decline