Roger L. Simon

Thinking about Teddy Kennedy from Europe

Having spent about two years of my life living in Europe, I am not a complete stranger to observing events back home from afar. As a very young guy I watched the Chicago Convention on the BBC from a tiny London flat and felt jealous and out of it. Now I am amused. I was informed of RFK’s death by a security guard at the Brussels City Hall who had just heard the news and wanted to make sure the American nosing about knew about the latest tragedy in his country. I remember being shaken.

That was a different day and a different Kennedy. Nobody can be surprised about the death of Teddy, who has been sick for some time. I met the man once, back in the eighties, when on a movie assignment in Washington, and he was quite friendly and affable – almost oddly so. Of course, even then I was aware of (and disturbed by) his dark past, more than most because I was at six degrees of separation form the event. A literary agent of mine – a well known woman at the time – had been one of the women at the party with Teddy and Mary Jo Kopechne (1940-1969). I would try to probe her about what happened, whether Kennedy had been drinking, etc., but she would never speak about it, as if sworn to some kind of secrecy.

I put in Kopechne’s birth and death dates because, from the perspective of these many years, they surprise me. She was within days of her twenty-ninth birthday, older than I expected. Teddy himself was thirty-seven. These were not teenagers out on some drunken spree, who can be (somewhat) excused for their actions, but adults. Kennedy left the scene of a fatal accident for which he was at least partly responsible. Then he used his extraordinary power to get off, spending the rest of his career in pseudo-remorse, playing the most liberal of Senators. It was always an act to me, even when I agreed with him politically. This was not a life well lived.