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Ted Kennedy — The Last Brother

The nation marks the end of a historic era in American politics and an unprecedented family dynasty. Sen. Edward Kennedy is dead at the age of 77.

His family's story is our nation's history. But unlike his brothers, Sen. Edward Kennedy had the gift of years - a life of triumph and tragedy. The public face of the private man. This is Ted Kennedy's story - in his own words and from the people closest to him and from the CBS News correspondents who covered him.

Origins Of A Legend

Ted Kennedy was widely considered the most influential senator of our generation.

He grew up in a family of wealth and privilege, but he championed the causes of ordinary Americans, earning him the title "Lion of the Senate."

"He was unique. You couldn't compare him to anybody. Even the way he would get up there and give a speech, I mean he just basically shouted. Well who could pull that off?" says "60 Minutes" and CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl, who followed the senator around Capitol Hill for a report in 1998.

The Senate was Kennedy's home for the last 47 years, and where he cast, by his own count, over 14,000 votes.

If you followed the senator around Capitol Hill, as Stahl did, you saw what made him such an effective advocate. "These are good jobs with good wages, good benefits, good opportunities, and they ought to be American," he said in one meeting.

He was a favorite among colleagues and visitors alike.

"For him, it was his clubhouse. And he was the leader in the clubhouse; even when the Republicans were in control he was the guy who was pushing his agenda," Stahl said.

In the Senate, Kennedy had a couple of offices. Both, according to Stahl, were almost shrines to his legendary family.

A Tour of Kennedy's Office
Senate Icon

"Over here is one of my wonderful mementos of President Kennedy and his PT boat 109 and these are his dog tags," Sen. Kennedy pointed out, while giving Stahl a tour of his office.

Kennedy also showed Stahl a framed hand-written note from his brother Jack from Choate School. The letter, written when Ted was born, read:

"Dear Mother, It's the night before exams so I will write you Wednesday. Lots of love. Can I be godfather to the baby?"

Kennedy grew up along the beaches of Hyannis, Mass. The youngest of nine children, he was doted on by his parents and siblings.

"I can remember being in a large, boisterous, wonderful, warm and loving family. And always having someone who just seemed a little bit older looking out after me from the first years a And teaching me how to swim and teaching me how to sail," Kennedy said in an interview.

Kennedy Remembers His Family
The Kennedys: Images from an American Dynasty

That included the oldest Kennedy brother, Joe, who was killed during World War II.

Sen. Kennedy took correspondent Gloria Borger back to the family compound on Cape Cod in 2000. "I always remember the water here. I think for all of the family I remember growing up as a child, I remember my brothers being teenagers really here," he told her.

"A day doesn't go by where I'm not thoughtful about them and don't miss them," Kennedy said of his brothers. "I mean, I do in a very, very real way and it's still very raw…occasions and very close to the surface."

Just months before this 2000 interview, Kennedy had suffered another devastating loss: his nephew John, wife Carolyn and her sister were killed in a plane crash in the waters off Martha's Vineyard.

JFK Jr. Remembered

It was still a tender subject for the senator. "Well, that was a very difficult time. We've had, you know, the difficult losses in the family. I remember the Friday night, the night actually that he was lost and we gathered at Ethel's house," he told Borger, choking up with emotion.

"Nobody was more amazing than Teddy. He was everywhere. He took care of everything. He really brought people together in an amazing way. And I think he just gave so much of himself," his niece, Caroline Kennedy, remembers. "And that's the thing about Teddy - that you just don't know where he keeps finding the strength to do that, but he really does."

That inner strength may have come from his prominent and wealthy Irish Catholic parents, Rose and Joseph Kennedy, who shaped young Ted and all the Kennedy children.

"My parents were very hopeful and they looked to the future. And they were optimists and they believed that individuals could make a difference," Sen. Kennedy remembered.

From an early age, the Kennedy brothers and sisters were encouraged to dedicate their lives to public service. "It's really the teachings of the Bible, which my mother read frequently, and that's 'To whom much is given, much is expected.' That's been an enduring sort of challenge for all of our lives," he explained.

"The Kennedy's are unique and unique in many ways, but particularly because it is in every way a political family," says former Kennedy aide John Siegenthaler. "I think he and Rose raised them to be politicians."

Kennedy reminisced about a favorite memory, his mother's ritual of playing the piano before suppertime. He even sang one of her favorite songs, "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," for Borger.

Rose's boys grew to men - Jack wed Jackie, Robert wed Ethel, and Ted married Joan.

The Brothers' Kennedy

Soon, the close-knit trio of powerful brothers won over the country.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected the first Catholic president; brother Robert was named attorney general.

And in 1962, at age 30, Ted Kennedy became one of the youngest senators in history.

It was the dawn of the age of Camelot.

"[It was] great fun. I was always close to my brothers. We had worked together on many different things. We saw a great deal of each other down here at the Cape," the senator remembered. "It was that kind of - that wonderful period of time. We had great, what I call, quality time."

But it wouldn't last.

Tragedy in Camelot

It was the spring of 1968, and the country was in crisis.

"You're talking about literally dozens of American cities [that] exploded into violence. You're talking about a war which is costing several hundred American lives a week," said CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield. "Things were falling apart."

"Robert Kennedy realized that he couldn't live with himself if he didn't stand up against the war," said long-time Kennedy aide Melody Miller of Robert's candidacy.

The only person in the Kennedy camp who didn't want Robert to run was his brother.

"Edward Kennedy was very much against his running because he was very fearful for his safety," Miller said.

Just five years earlier, in November 1963, the unthinkable had happened when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

"What is hard to remember is how shocking the idea of that violent act was," says Greenfield. "He was this young, vigorous, active president. To be shot down in the middle - in broad daylight on a public street was incomprehensible."

The assassination devastated the nation and the two remaining Kennedy brothers. "The two of them were very close. They grew even closer after President Kennedy died because they were the only two left," Miller said.

On the evening of June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was greeting his cheering supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

CBS correspondent Roger Mudd had just finished interviewing Robert Kennedy, who had just won the critical California primary. "He was elated," said Mudd. "And it was a really, really good, funny, funny interview. And then he went down to the ballroom and we all went down."

Meanwhile, 400 miles away in San Francisco, campaign coordinator John Siegenthaler was with Ted Kennedy, who was preparing to deliver a speech in support of his brother.

"Our understanding with Bob had been that we would watch him accept the victory on television. And we did. We stood in the wings before going onstage and waited until we heard Bob say 'on to Chicago,'" Siegenthaler recalled.

Ted Kennedy began his speech in San Francisco as Robert Kennedy stepped off the stage in Los Angeles, exiting through the hotel kitchen.

"And suddenly you heard shouts and screams," said Mudd. "You just knew something awful had happened."

"The phone rang. It was one of the campaign workers who said, 'I think something's happened to the senator,'" recalled Greenfield, who at the time was a 24-year-old speechwriter for Robert Kennedy.

Greenfield was in a suite upstairs watching the returns on TV. "I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I think he's been shot' and at that point (snap) it was horror and outrage and just enormous grief," he said.

Unaware of the panic in Los Angeles, Ted Kennedy returned to his hotel room in San Francisco, where he heard the horrible news.

Siegenthaler said Kennedy was crushed. "It was a brutal moment for all of us - but particularly for him. Who could believe that this would happen to him again?"

"I think in a moment like that I got a sense of Ted Kennedy's, first of all, his strength. This devastating body blow - I mean, I would have collapsed," Siegenthaler said. "He somehow had it within him to take whatever steps were necessary to get us where we needed to go as quickly as we could get there and to really sort of put his arms around all of us and help us. Remarkable."

At New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral days later, Ted Kennedy delivered the eulogy for his brother.

"When he rose to give the eulogy, I don't think there was anybody in the place who emotionally was not reaching out to him," Siegenthaler recalled.

Ted Kennedy's Eulogy for RFK
Robert Kennedy
Legacy of Tragedy

Immediately following the mass, Kennedy accompanied his brother's body on the train to Arlington National Cemetery.

"There were miles in which people [were] wall to wall," Siegenthaler explained. "Mile after mile after mile. And the view of them - children and - waving an American flag, holding up signs 'We love you Bobby' - families holding hands, veterans saluting. It was a powerful experience."

"When you think of the three brothers, you think of them as being together," he added. "And somewhere, I guess in the back of all of our minds on that train ride down, suddenly you realize he's in [a] real sense, alone."

He was 36 years old and the last of the Kennedy brothers.

Many thought the presidency would be Kennedy's one day, but within a year, his political future would be permanently damaged.

On the evening of July 18, 1969, he left a reunion party for former Robert Kennedy staffers on Chappaquiddick Island with 28-year-old campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne. The car Kennedy was driving crashed off a bridge and sank.

Kennedy was able to escape, but Kopechne drowned. Kennedy failed to report the accident to police until nine hours later.

A week later, Kennedy took to the airwaves to explain his actions.

Explaining Chappaquiddick

"I saw it. It certainly did not answer any of the key questions about what in God's name had happened up there," Greenfield explained. "It put nothing to rest."

"It was a crafted speech… and did not to me come across as truth-telling," Roger Mudd said.

Ten years later, Kennedy thought he had put Chappaquiddick behind him and he
was preparing to run for president against incumbent Jimmy Carter. But questions about the incident resurfaced when Mudd interviewed him for a CBS special.

"Do you think, Senator, that anybody really will ever fully believe your explanation for Chappaquiddick?" Mudd asked.

"Well the problem is that from that night I found that the conduct and behavior almost beyond belief myself," the senator replied.

"I think what the Mudd interview did, and I think it was totally appropriate, was to say 'Wait a second. You're now seeking the highest office in the land. There are some very serious unanswered questions that have to do with the death of a young woman in a car that you were driving. And your explanations have never added up,'" Greenfield noted.

But it was another question from Mudd that some believe sank Kennedy's presidential aspirations for good.

Asked why he wanted to be president, Kennedy replied with a long-winded answer.

"His answer to the question revealed, I think, number one - he was probably unprepared. And number two, I think he was ambivalent. And together it produced this sort of this jumble of incoherence," Mudd remarked.

Why Do You Want to be President?
Mudd on his 1979 Kennedy Profile

"I thought that was one of the most remarkable self-inflicted political wounds I'd ever seen," Greenfield said.

By August 1980, Ted Kennedy gave up his run for the presidency and addressed the Democratic convention. It was a speech that would go far towards repairing his political image.

Kennedy's "The Dream Shall Never Die" Speech

"The 1980 convention speech of Ted Kennedy was as powerful an achievement as the Roger Mudd interview was a disaster. And that's where I think Ted Kennedy claimed the mantle of American liberalism," Greenfield said.

The stage was set for his future work in the Senate.

Kennedy's Personal Setbacks

America's political landscape changed dramatically after the 1980 election.

A charismatic Ronald Reagan took the country to the right, and the popularity of the new president and his conservative philosophy soon made "liberal" a label many Democrats ran away from.

But not Ted Kennedy. "We will restore the guiding value of American progress: that we must advance, not by climbing over each other, but by bringing everyone along," the senator said in a speech.

More and more, Kennedy wanted to bring everyone along by working in the Senate, not running for the White House.

"I think by nature, he was more comfortable with the legislative process than he ever might have been in the executive branch," said former Kennedy aide John Siegenthaler.

Still, whether he liked it or not, the public and the media saw Kennedy, first and foremost, as a presidential candidate.

Finally, Kennedy broke a long family tradition: for the first time in 30 years, there would not be a Kennedy in the presidential race.

Senate Icon

"I'm interested in the pursuit of public service, not just the pursuit of the presidency," he said.

Democrats - and the Kennedy family - had long seen the White House as Ted Kennedy's destiny. But the senator chose a different path.

"In your family, in the Kennedy family, the presidency was kind of the, the mark. Do you ever say 'I didn't reach the mark,'" "60 Minutes" and CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Kennedy during an interview.

"Oh, no. I mean… I ran for president. I wanted to be president. And that was not in the cards. And now my career's in the Senate. And I enjoy it. And [I] am just about getting the hang of it," he replied with a chuckle.

On issues from Apartheid in South Africa to health care to women's rights, Kennedy led liberal holding actions in the Senate.

But his most dramatic battle came over the nomination of conservative Robert Bork to the Supreme Court on 1987.

Kennedy didn't use the traditional tactic of challenging Bork's competence or ethics. Instead, the Senate rejected Bork's nomination after Kennedy attacked Bork's political philosophy head-on.

"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters," Kennedy said on the Senate floor.

But while Kennedy loudly supported liberal issues, he quietly courted conservatives.

"And he realized that in order to move his legislation forward, especially when Republicans were in control, was to go get a real conservative Republican, woo him, win him, compromise with him, jointly sponsor the legislation and move it forward that way," Stahl explained.

One of his unlikely allies was Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, one of the most conservative members of the Senate.

But there were no compromises for Kennedy as far as his extended family was concerned - a family that included his own children, as well as the sons and daughters of Jack and Robert Kennedy.

"Teddy calls every one of us on our birthday. And if I call Teddy, I'll be talking to him within a half an hour, no matter where he is in the world. He always makes us feel like we're in first place," said Bobby Kennedy Jr.

"I'd say the thing that really sets him apart from anybody is his thoughtfulness and his sort of huge heart. And he is just there for all of us all the time. He has been really for my whole life," added Caroline Kennedy.

In 1973, Teddy Jr., who was then 12, was diagnosed with cancer in his right leg. Doctors said it had to be amputated. At the same time, niece Kathleen Kennedy was planning her wedding.

Kennedy told CBS correspondent Ed Bradley he had to be with all his family in sickness and in health.

"I was over with Teddy when he went into the operating room. And then went to church; gave Kathleen away. And then came back. Was there when Teddy came out of it," Kennedy remembered.

"And you felt it your responsibility to be in both places?" Bradley asked.

"Both places. I mean, it was the natural thing to do. I wouldn't have missed either one of them," the senator replied.

As the years passed, Kennedy took special pride in the way Teddy Jr. dealt with his handicap.

But while Ted Kennedy was keeping his extended family and his career together, his personal life was falling apart.

"His life as a senator was very disciplined and very focused and very productive. But his private life was just the opposite: chaotic, without discipline. And I never quite understood how those two lived in the same body," former CBS correspondent Roger Mudd remarked.

Kennedy's long-troubled marriage to Joan ended in divorce in 1982. And his private life began attracting unfavorable attention in the media.

"He was spiraling out of control, with drinking and womanizing, at least that was the reputation," Stahl said.

It was not a reputation that would inspire the younger Kennedys.

"Do you ever feel that sometimes that you've set the wrong example for these kids?" Bradley asked Kennedy.

"Well, I think I have made mistakes. And I've acknowledged them. And I've tried to learn from them. And I think I have," the senator replied.

Asked if he thought they - his family - had learned from his mistakes, Kennedy told Bradley, "Oh, I think they learn from mistakes both their own and I imagine from mine and others."

But Kennedy's private life became very public on Easter weekend 1991, in Palm Beach: a night of bar-hopping ended with nephew William Kennedy Smith being charged with rape.

"Teddy was involved because he had taken William Smith out drinking as if he, Teddy, was one of those young guys," Stahl explained.

Smith was acquitted, but the lurid publicity left Kennedy devastated.

"That trial seems to have been a turning point. He came to some epiphany that he had to change," noted Stahl.

"I saw him as very vulnerable. And I thought this is a time to get through to him," said Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Sen. Hatch said that after the trial, a depressed Kennedy turned to him for advice.

"So I said, 'Ted, you better grow up and quit acting like a teenager.' And I said, 'You know what you've gotta do, don't you?' He said, 'What?' I said, 'You've got to stop drinking.' I don't know whether that was the first time it dawned on him. But it certainly came home to him there, that he had to change. And to his credit, he has changed," Hatch recalled.

And a bigger change in Kennedy's life was soon to come.

Teddy's Triumphs

In 1992, at the age of 60, Ted Kennedy married 38-year-old Victoria Reggie, a divorced lawyer with two children.

Kennedy on his Personal Life
Teddy's Intern

60 Minutes and CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl sat down with the couple in their suburban Washington home in 1998.

"Let me ask you a somewhat delicate question. He had a reputation at that time as kind of a rowdy bachelor. You hadn't heard? I don't want to be the first to tell you, but he did. And did that bother you at the time?" Stahl asked.

"I had absolutely no reservations about him whatsoever. None," Victoria Reggie Kennedy replied. "I just knew I had this wonderful, wonderful man who had come into my life. And I didn't have one tiny reservation."

Kennedy's children left the nest. Kara, the eldest, survived lung cancer and works for the Special Olympics, Teddy Jr. runs a group that helps the handicapped, and Patrick showed up for work on Capitol Hill.

Kennedy's youngest son was elected congressman from Rhode Island in 1994.

The senator's commitment to children went beyond his own family.

For example, he met Jasmine Harrison at an inner-city school every week for four years to help her learn to read.

"I loved the sessions, because they were fun. He would act out what was going on in the book, and add voices. And it, you know, it was something I looked forward to," Harrison said.

Stahl says the secret of Ted Kennedy is "personality and compassion. Plus, nobody's more fun loving… You want to be in his presence, because he had that laugh and that kind of twinkle."

"I think he was as natural a politician as the family produced," added Greenfield.

Even when his charm didn't carry the day, Kennedy pushed on. He never gave up on the goal he'd pursued for most of his career: enacting a national health insurance program.

"He figured out early that he couldn't really get it done in one big bite," Stahl said. "He figured out how to do it in little bites… winning people from the other side of the aisle, compromising… taking what he could get… and then coming back the very next day with another law."

And, even when he was out-voted, Kennedy was willing to take unpopular stands. He was one of the first politicians to oppose the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

But Kennedy supported the soldiers who served in Iraq, and their families -
especially those from his own state.

"He's gone to the funeral of every soldier who's come home from Iraq in a casket, whether it's up in Massachusetts or at Arlington Cemetery. And it's hard. But he knows it pays respect for giving the last full measure that these young soldiers have given. And after he goes to that funeral, he goes up and visits the graves of his brothers," according to long-time Kennedy aide Melody Miller.

In nearly five decades, through political thick and thin, he achieved remarkable success.

"You cannot tick off everything he accomplished in the Senate just sitting here. It's forever. He did children's health, women's sports, AIDS, immigration," Stahl said. "…COBRA, where if you change jobs you still get your insurance. I don't know how many health bills, how many education bills. Civil rights, the Voting Rights Act. Did I say minimum wage?"

Asked what he'd like to be remembered for, Kennedy told Stahl, "I think making a difference in the country, for the country."

"When you say that, do you have your brothers, your mother looking over your shoulder?" Stahl asked.

"Well the family set high standards. And they're always worthwhile measuring up to, exceeding them when I can," he replied.

And, in 2008, Kennedy found another Democrat who he thought would measure up to those standards.

The Final Chapter

Forty-seven years after President John F. Kennedy uttered the famous words, "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans," it fell to the last of the Kennedy brothers to bestow the legacy of Camelot on a young presidential candidate.

In 2008, Sen. Ted Kennedy endorsed Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for president.

His endorsement gave his relatively unknown Senate colleague enormous credibility. In this new candidate's vision, Kennedy saw a hope that goals he had long fought for might finally be achieved. Yet, even as he passed the torch, Kennedy was suddenly facing his own mortality. In 2008, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

After recovering from surgery, he returned to the Senate and was greeted with a standing ovation by colleagues who'd worked with him - and against him - for almost 50 years.

"He was, in the eyes of his colleagues, truly beloved," says Mudd. "There already is talk, you know, of his portrait going up in the Senate reception room - where the five great - Clay, Webster, La Follette, Taft and Calhoun - are already there. He would be the sixth. And I think he belongs up there."

"I don't know if, what, Ted Kennedy's legacy will be, but in the quarter-century I've been here, there's not been anyone quite like him," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"I was talking with Vicki this morning, and she said, "He was ready to go, Joe, but we were not ready," said Vice President Joe Biden.

"For his family, he was a guardian. For America, he was a defender of a dream," said President Obama

Even in his last months, Kennedy introduced legislation he hoped would make his career-long ambition a reality - guaranteeing universal health coverage for all Americans. It's a battle that rages on today.

As much as Ted Kennedy's life's work belonged to the Senate, his heart belonged at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., where he grew up by the sea.

"There's a lot to be learned from the sea," Kennedy said. "I think in many respects, it's sort of a metaphor for life - the storms that come out there that aren't predicted, and then the beautiful warm and lovely days. The good times."

One of those times was the day in 1986, when he gave niece Caroline away at her wedding to Edwin Schlossberg.

"She was so extraordinarily happy and joyous," he said. "And Jackie was absolutely radiant."

After the wedding, Jackie wrote Ted a thank you letter - a token of gratitude for what he'd meant to all the Kennedys over the years.

The letter read, "There have been 17 children besides your own - Bobby's, Pat's, Jack's and mine, for whom you have always been there. Every graduation, every big decision, every trouble, every sad and even every happy day. On you, the carefree youngest brother, fell a burden a hero would beg to be spared. Sick parents, lost children, desolate wives. You are a hero. Everyone is going to make it, because you are always there with your love. Jackie."

After hearing the letter read out loud, Kennedy took a long pause. His voice cracked as he said, "It's about as nice as you can get."

Stahl says, "I think he should be remembered as one of the, if not the greatest senator we have ever had."

"I just think… it's fair to say there's not been one like this," said Siegenthaler. "I dare say there won't be again."

Adds Miller, "Edward Kennedy is not perfect… He'd be the first one to tell you that. But, by God, he tries harder than anyone I've ever known… I just know that whenever Kennedy meets his maker, he's got nothing to fear."

Ted Kennedy - The Last Brother:

Part 1: Origins Of A Legend
Part 2: Tragedy in Camelot
Part 3: Kennedy's Personal Setbacks
Part 4: Teddy's Triumphs
Part 5: The Final Chapter

Produced by Katherine Davis and Michael Rosenbaum

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