But Senator Kennedy was determined to tell his own story in his own words before he died. So over the last two years, through his illness, he wrote the only memoir ever written by anyone in the Kennedy family. The result is a revealing, emotional account of "Big Teddy," as he called himself, and the life he led.
The book, called "True Compass," starts with a harsh diagnosis of his brain tumor, and the doctor telling him somberly that he was about to die.
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Senator Kennedy went on camera to talk about the book five months before he passed away.
It was an interview he gave for his publisher, while he was on chemo.
"What I've tried to do in the United States Senate is to be true to the things which have been important in my life," Sen. Kennedy said.
Stahl asked his son, Ted Jr., about the book.
"Even though he really felt he needed to hold it together throughout some really incredibly emotionally difficult experiences, he was kind of able to let it out in this book," Kennedy said.
60 Minutes went to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port to talk to Ted Jr., who recently bought Jack Kennedy's old house.
"It was actually right here where he held his press conferences when he was president. He learned that he became President of the United States. He woke up in this house," Kennedy explained.
His father's house, as well as Bobby and Ethel Kennedy's house, is located nearby.
He said one of the things that surprised him when he read the book was how personal and intimate it was.
"I think one of the things that comes out of this book is just what a humble man he is. His letter to the Pope, you know, just a few short weeks ago. You know, every time I read that letter, I cry. Because he's asking for forgiveness," Kennedy told Stahl. "And he says that he's fallen short in his life. But you know, he's never tried, never stopped trying to make right in everything he did. And that's a lesson we can all learn."
Redemption is a theme in the book; another is how hard it was for Ted Sr. to be the baby in the Kennedy family. "I was always catching up," he writes, "I was the ninth of nine."
"He was sitting there going, 'How the hell am I ever going to compete against these brothers of mine, who are just these, outstanding individuals?'" the senator's son explained.
"He felt a sense of inadequacy till he was quite old," Stahl remarked.
"I think that that's true," Kennedy replied.
There was a notion that Teddy was a mama's boy, but it turns out it was daddy who was the doting, loving parent. Joe Sr., the family patriarch, as Teddy writes it, taught them not to flaunt their wealth and imparted lessons about persevering and contributing.
"I had a sit-down with my dad. He said, 'Now Teddy, you have to make up your mind whether you want to have a constructive and positive attitude and influence on your time. And if you're not interested, I just want you to know I have other children that intend to have a purposeful and constructive life. And so you have to make up your mind about which direction you're going to go,'" Sen. Kennedy remembered during his videotaped interview several months ago.
"If you decide to have a non-serious life," his father went on, "I won't have much time for you."