Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kennedy memoir delves into Chappaquidick

The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy did not shy away from less savoury episodes in his life, including Chappaquiddick, in a memoir to be released later this month.

True Compass, his life story, is to be published Sept. 14, but the New York Times and New York Daily News have seen the 532-page book.

In the memoir, Kennedy admits he made "terrible decisions" the night of the 1969 car crash that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, a young worker for his brother Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island and Kopechne died in his car. He swam to safety and writes that he was dazed and panicked in the coming hours. He didn't report to police until her body was found 10 hours later.

Kennedy, then 37, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and got a suspended sentence and probation. But the incident haunted him throughout his life, he writes, calling his actions "inexcusable."

He denies any romantic involvement with Kopechne and says the scandal may have hastened his own father's death.

Kennedy is also open about the period of drinking and womanizing that followed his divorce and the deaths of his brothers.

Among his regrets was drinking with nephew William K. Smith in Palm Beach in 1991, after which Smith was charged with rape. He was later acquitted.

The memoir, which was scheduled for publication in 2010 but was moved ahead after Kennedy's death last month at age 77, provides new details about one of America's most famous families.

Kennedy writes about his relationships with his father and how Joseph Kennedy encouraged competition among the brothers.

"Competition, of course, is the route to achievement in America," Kennedy writes. "As I think back to my three brothers, and about what they had accomplished before I was even out of my childhood, it sometimes has occurred to me that my entire life has been a constant state of catching up."

He also speaks movingly of the period following his brother John F. Kennedy's death, when there was concern for the mental health of his other brother, Robert.

Kennedy says he always accepted that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, killed President Kennedy, in keeping with the Warren Commission findings into the 1963 shooting in Dallas.

He says he became apprehensive at loud noises after the deaths of both brothers.

In 1984 he decided against seeking the presidency after hearing the objections of his children, who feared for his life.

True Compass was written with the help of a collaborator, Ron Power, and was based on notes taken by Kennedy throughout his life and hours of recordings for an oral history project at University of Virginia.

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