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Intriguing Kennedy Cousins

They inspire admiration, sometimes outrage, lots of interest and often - sympathy.
John F. Kennedy Jr.'s generation of Kennedys inherited a legendary political name founded on Irish-American grit and a grandfather's fortune. They've extended the controversial dynasty to a third generation, along with a famous name that still evokes tragedy.

"I think they feel that this is the Kennedy legacy," historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said. "Their fathers and uncles were not out to make money. They had it. But they felt a sense of obligation to people in society who didn't have the good fortune to be born as they were."

The 30 Kennedy cousins include the prominent, the prodigal and the tragic.

Robert F. Kennedy, one of nine Kennedys of his generation, fathered 11 children, two of whom went into the family business of Democratic politics. Joseph Kennedy served six terms in Congress and retired last year. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is in her second term as Maryland's lieutenant governor.

With several Kennedy cousins in politics, they inevitably meet beneath capital domes.

Townsend shared her 1994 victory with her cousin, state Delegate Mark Shriver. That made things awkward recently when he championed a bill to fund after-school programs. Republicans argued that the money would end up being controlled by Townsend.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's son, Patrick, followed his cousin Joseph into Congress, representing a Rhode Island district, and often voted with him on issues. Patrick Kennedy is now in his third term in Congress and last fall was named chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Another career calling among the post-baby boom Kennedys is journalism.

Maria Shriver, daughter of Eunice and Sargent Shriver, is an award-winning Dateline NBC co-anchor. She formerly served as co-anchor of CBS Morning News. Eunice Shriver is a sister to the late President John F. Kennedy.

Robert Kennedy's son Douglas Kennedy is now a Fox News correspondent.

John Kennedy Jr. defied critics by giving up his prosecutor job to publish George magazine, blending entertainment and politics. Many speculated that he might later pursue political office like his father. President John Kennedy had his own writing credentials: He occasionally wrote dispatches from London while his father served as ambassador there and won a Pulitzer Prize for the book Profiles in Courage.

Several Kennedy cousins pursued nonprofit work aimed at improving conditions for the homeless, the environment and other groups.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an environmental law professor at Pace University in White Plains, N.Y. He recently announced he helped set up a company to sell Keeper Springs Mountain Spring Water. Profits are to go toward keeping tap water clean.

His sister Kerry, married to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, heads the Robrt F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.

Edward Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to cancer as a child in 1973, founded Facing the Challenge, which promotes self-help programs for the handicapped.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's 1994 re-election campaign was headed by his nephew, the late Michael Kennedy, who also led a nonprofit organization that supplies heating fuel to the poor.

The emerging generation of Kennedys has added tarnish as well as luster to the family name. John F. Kennedy Jr. called cousins Michael and Joseph "poster boys for bad behavior" in his magazine's September 1997 edition.

Michael Kennedy made headlines through an alleged affair with an underage baby sitter.

Joseph Kennedy, who had been strongly considering a run for governor in 1997, gave up the idea after being beset by bad publicity. His critics included his first wife, who objected when he sought an annulment of their marriage. In his youth, he was involved in a car accident that left a passenger paralyzed for life.

In 1991, William Kennedy Smith, one of four children of Jean Kennedy Smith, former ambassador to Ireland, was charged with rape. He was acquitted after a trial that included testimony from his uncle Ted. He is now a doctor.

Disputes divided the family even early on.

John's mother, the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, "made it a strict rule not to allow Caroline and John Jr. to fraternize with their Hickory Hill cousins," author Jerry Oppenheimer wrote in his book about Robert's wife, Ethel, titled The Other Mrs. Kennedy. Hickory Hill was Robert Kennedy's Virginia homestead.

Tragegy often brought the family together, however; three other members of this Kennedy generation have died. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, President and Jacqueline Kennedy's second son, was born nearly six weeks premature in August 1963 and died after two days.

In 1984 Robert's son David died of a drug overdose in a hotel after being kicked out of the family vacation home at Palm Beach. Shortly after the baby sitter story broke, Michael Kennedy, David's brother, died in a Colorado skiing accident.