From the archives: Ted Kennedy's hidden pain

This week, Lesley Stahl interviews Patrick Kennedy about his battle with addiction. In 1998, she asked his dad some of the same things

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On 60 Minutes this week, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy opens up about his history of mental illness and substance abuse, and what he calls a "pathology of silence" that left him feeling ashamed and alone. But this wasn't the first time Lesley Stahl interviewed a member of the Kennedy clan about addiction.

In 1998, Stahl asked then-Senator Ted Kennedy, Patrick's father, about his well-known struggles with alcohol. "I went through a lot of difficult times over a period of my life where that may have been somewhat of a factor or force," Ted Kennedy said at the time. "I never felt that myself. Others did, and I don't question their own kind of assessment of it. But, as I say, that's really in the past."

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Ted Kennedy, 1998 CBS News

Stahl remembers the conversation well. "Teddy in my 1998 interview was still keeping secrets," she says. "If I asked him a personal question, he would answer it indirectly. It was like pulling teeth."

The senator was just as reticent, for example, when she asked him about Chappaquiddick, the site of an infamous 1969 accident in which he drove a car off a wooden bridge. The senator escaped the submerged car, but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, died. Kennedy failed to report the accident until the following day.

"That will remain with me for my whole life, and it does," Kennedy told Stahl. "I've accepted responsibility for it. That doesn't change now. It won't change in the future, and it's something that I have to just live with."

His response sounded like "a stock answer," Stahl recalls. "It's not a full answer. It doesn't describe any sense of emotion at all." He was no more open about it at home, Stahl says. "Patrick said there were many issues he was never supposed to talk about -- and Chappaquiddick was one of them."

In this week's interview, Patrick describes his father taking him to a beach in Hyannis Port around the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, but then backing off and not telling him the story. "I learned more about this by looking in the books and newspapers and articles and on TV," Patrick says.

The family also refused to discuss alcohol abuse, Patrick says, which plagued both his parents. His father didn't drink for fun, he explains, but to escape the profound grief he endured after his brothers' assassinations. "My father went on in silent desperation for much of his life," Patrick says, "self-medicating and unwittingly passing his unprocessed trauma on to my sister, brother and me."

Patrick recounts what happened when he and his siblings tried to have an intervention for their father in the early 1990s. "He stood up, opened the sliding door and walked out," Patrick recalls. "He felt that we really had no place, no place whatsoever, to question him."

By the time Stahl profiled him in 1998, Ted Kennedy was a changed man. His second wife Vicki was "the key to his personal resurrection," Stahl said at the time. Interviewed together, the two told her they had spent only four nights apart in their six years of marriage.

But Patrick wells up in this week's interview when he thinks about how his father, who died of a brain tumor in 2009, suffered silently under the weight of tragedy and substance abuse for so long - and passed that legacy of shame down to his son.

In response, Patrick has launched a political movement to bring addiction and mental illness out of the shadows, and to have them treated as medical issues rather than character flaws. "Part of the message is that keeping family problems secret and buried is its own illness and it affects everyone in the family," Stahl explains. "If one person has a dark secret, everyone else becomes hostage to it."