The ninth child of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth, Feb. 22, 1932. His brother Jack, then at the Choate School in Connecticut, wrote to his parents, asking to be godfather and urging the new arrival to be baptized George Washington Kennedy.
The parents agreed to the first request but named the child Edward Moore Kennedy. Part of his boyhood was spent in London, where his father was US ambassador to Great Britain. After nine schools on two continents, he entered Milton Academy in 1946 and maintained midlevel grades, including in Spanish, a subject that would trouble him at Harvard College, where, in 1951, he asked a friend to take a Spanish exam for him. A proctor recognized the substitute, and both students were expelled but were told they could return if they showed evidence of "constructive and responsible citizenship."
The incident would become the first of several episodes creating public doubts about his character.
Born to one of the wealthiest American families, Mr. Kennedy spoke for the downtrodden in his public life while living the heedless private life of a playboy and a rake for many of his years. Dismissed early in his career as a lightweight and an unworthy successor to his revered brothers, he grew in stature over time by sheer longevity and by hewing to liberal principles while often crossing the partisan aisle to enact legislation. A man of unbridled appetites at times, he nevertheless brought a discipline to his public work that resulted in an impressive catalog of legislative achievement across a broad landscape of social policy.
Kennedy served in the Senate through five of the most dramatic decades of the nation's history. He became a lawmaker whose legislative accomplishments, political authority and gift for friendship across the political spectrum invited favorable comparisons to Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and a handful of other leviathans of the country's most elite political body. But he was also beset by personal frailties and family misfortunes that were the stuff of tabloid headlines.
Mr. Kennedy was a red-faced, white-haired figure, known for his belly laugh and strong Boston accent. Republicans for decades lampooned him as a quintessential liberal villain in their fund-raising appeals, but he forged friendships and legislative partnerships with many Republicans over the years.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a deeply conservative Utah Republican who became especially close to Mr. Kennedy, has long kept a painting by the senator in his office bearing the inscription, "We'll leave the light at the [Kennedy] compound on for you anytime." Mr. Hatch attended the funeral of Mr. Kennedy's mother, Rose, in 1995, and a few months later Mr. Kennedy attended the funeral of Mr. Hatch's mother.
For decades, his liberalism and labor ties made him a butt of ridicule for the right. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) first came to Congress literally campaigning against Ted Kennedy liberalism.
But over time, that standing allowed Kennedy to be an agent for compromise, an independent actor with a penchant for deal-making that even annoyed his own party leaders. This was true on education, immigration and health issues in the past decade. No other single Democrat could provide such political cover for others when he opted to move to the center.