The Kennedy curse: A look at how tragedy has historically followed this prominent family

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The Kennedys may have had another run-in with tragedy after two members of their prominent family, a woman and a young boy, have gone missing after going canoeing in the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday that 40-year-old Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her 8-year-old son Gideon were last seen Thursday struggling in the rough and choppy waters in the Chesapeake Bay off Maryland. 

Maeve McKean is the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the grandniece of former President John F. Kennedy. Her mother is Maryland’s former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert F. Kennedy’s oldest child. 

This isn’t the first time the Kennedys have faced tragedy.  Their family history is marred by events such as plane crashes, World War II combat, alcohol and drug addiction, and various other accidents that have compounded into the so-called “Kennedy curse.”

Here’s a look at some of the Kennedys who faced an untimely death: 

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., shown in this undated file photo, died in a plane crash during World War II; he was 29. The Kennedy family, dogged for more than half a century by tragedy and controversy, has lost another member.

The eldest brother of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

The naval pilot died in a plane crash in August 1944 when flying off the coast of Normandy, France, while serving with the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Joe, who was groomed by his father to be the politician of the family, was just 29 when he died.

He received many posthumous awards including the Air and Navy cross for heroism. The Navy commissioned a Gearing-class destroyer named after him, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. DD850, which saw action in the Korean War. 

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John F. Kennedy

In this May 25, 1961 file photo, President John F. Kennedy speaks before a joint session of Congress in Washington, urging congressional approval of additional funds to bolster space, foreign aid and defense programs.

The 35th president of the United States was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. He was 46. A few hours after the president was fatally shot, police arrested Harvey Lee Oswald and charged him with murder. 

As a popular politician, JFK served three terms in the House and then was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1954. He was inaugurated into the White House in 1961 and was the first Catholic president to take office.

He did many things during his short time in the Oval Office such create the Peace Corps and jump-start man’s mission to go to the moon at the height of a Cold War with Russia. 

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Robert F. ‘Bobby’ Kennedy

The brother of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1968 after winning California’s presidential primary against then-Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

He started out as a Senate aide to Republican Joe McCarthy and then became a civil rights advocate later in his political career. He served as attorney general in the administration of his brother.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, only two months before Bobby Kennedy’s death.

John F. Kennedy Jr.

John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette at the White House for a dinner for British Prime Minister Tony Blair hosted by President Clinton on Feb. 5, 1998.

The former president’s son was killed in 1999 when he crashed his airplane into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard.

His wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, were also aboard.

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Mary Richardson Kennedy

In this photo of April 6, 2010, Mary Richardson Kennedy stands outside her home in Bedford, N.Y.

The wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. died by suicide in 2012.

David Anthony Kennedy

David Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, is shown in a 1982 file photo.

Uncle of Saoirse Kennedy Hill, fourth of Ethel and Robert Kennedy’s 11 children.

David Anthony Kennedy struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. He was found dead in 1984 at a Palm Beach hotel, the Times reported.

The young Kennedy had been in Palm Beach to visit his grandmother and family matriarch, 93-year-old Rose Kennedy.

The Washington Post reported at the time that Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy eulogized his nephew during a 50-minute private service.

‘Our hearts are shattered’ Kennedy family mourns Saoirse Kennedy Hill

Michael Kennedy 

Michael Kennedy (left) with his brother Rep. Joseph Kennedy (right).

Michael Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was killed in a skiing accident during a family outing in Aspen, Colorado, in 1998.

A year before his death, he had admitted to an affair with his teenage babysitter and made a public apology, forcing his brother Joseph P. Kennedy II to abandon his run for governor of Massachusetts, the New York Times reported at the time. 

Kennedy was the second of the 11 children born to Robert and Ethel Kennedy to die under tragic circumstances, with his brother David dying in Florida in 1984 of a drug overdose.

Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy 

Sen. Edward Kennedy participates in a bill-signing ceremony in 2005.

The senator from Massachusetts died at the age of 77 after battling brain cancer in 2009, the same kind of cancer that killed his good friend Sen. John McCain nine years later. 

Additionally, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Chappaquiddick incident, in which Edward “Ted” Kennedy, then a senator, drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Martha’s Vineyard. Though he survived, his 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, was killed.

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Saoirse Kennedy Hill

The 22-year-old died at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, in August 2019. 

Hill was the only child of Courtney Kennedy Hill, the fifth of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s 11 children. Hill’s father is Paul Michael Hill, one of four falsely convicted in the 1974 Irish Republican Army bombings of two pubs.

Contributing: Cydney Henderson and Vandana Ravikumar, USA TODAY; the Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

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