Part 1: Living History: Ted Kennedy, Remembered.
In the lead-up to the 1984 election, Kennedy considered another run for president, but abandoned the idea when his children said they feared for his safety. After his divorce from Joan in 1982, the unseemly details of Kennedy’s second bachelorhood provided regular fodder for the tabloids, one of which photographed him having sex on a boat in Europe. But the most damning revelations about Kennedy’s behavior came from a 1990 GQ article titled “Ted Kennedy on the Rocks.” In the piece, Kennedy and his friend Senator Chris Dodd were portrayed as hard-drinking party boys who, at the end of one particular night, reportedly tossed a waitress at Washington’s La Brasserie restaurant onto their dining table and groped her.
John Aycoth, Washington lobbyist: I saw Dodd and Kennedy together many times in the late ’80s. They were like a tag team, I think.
Woodlief: You’ve heard about the great Kennedy-Dodd sandwich, right? This was standard gossip in all the papers down in Washington at the time. They got the [La Brasserie] waitress between them and were, you know, maneuvering around with her as she was trying to wriggle free.
Raymond Campet, former co-owner of La Brasserie: The restaurant business is almost like the monkey business: You don’t see anything, you don’t hear anything, and you definitely don’t talk about anything. There were times he was maybe indulging a little too much. What are you supposed to do?
Aycoth: The James Bond film The Living Daylights came out in 1987. I was representing Aston Martin. I had a car brought in for the DC premiere. It’s parked in front of the hotel with a spotlight on it. I was downstairs when a dealer came up to me and said, “Ted Kennedy and his son are in your car. They’re looking for you.” He and Teddy Jr. were sitting in it, looking for the keys. Clearly they had been drinking, and I wasn’t going to give up this $189,000 Aston Martin. He got very upset and his son started yelling at me a little bit. Two months later, I found out that the senator had contacted the company to get me fired. I thought that was pretty vicious.
Richard Rampell, Palm Beach neighbor: A lot of women came up to him. They would be touching him and smiling at him a lot, a very indirect way of hitting on him.
Aycoth: I was at Club Desiree one night, and when I came back from the bathroom the girl I was with was gone. She came over and said, “They sent champagne over while you were gone, and then [Kennedy] wanted to meet me.”
Tuck: We were in a Jeep one day in Aspen, and Ted was driving and we almost had a head-on collision. He jokingly said to me that I should know better than to get in a goddamned Jeep with a Kennedy.
Rampell: I was supposed to play tennis with Ted on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. He called me up and said his back was bothering him, but would I like to come over for a drink that night? So I went over there with my son, who was very young at the time, and Ted was very clearly intoxicated. I couldn’t really [understand] what he was talking about. I was a little concerned because I didn’t think it was a good thing for my son to see.
Susman: Sure, I saw the photographs of him on some boat with his pants down, and the story of him and Dodd and their girlfriends at the Monocle [restaurant]. The fact is, at 6:30 in the morning he was up, and he had done his homework. He kept his personal life compartmentalized.
Rampell: [One Saturday night] we did a lot of drinking, a real lot of drinking. Seven o’clock the next morning, he starts banging on my door. If it was anybody else I would have said, “I’m sleeping. Get lost.” He wanted to get a set of tennis in before he had to take his mother to Mass.
Gwirtzman: If the 1980s was a “lost decade,” he certainly got a lot of things done in the Senate. That was when he kept pushing the Equal Rights Amendment, and when he changed the Immigration Act. He put through a raft of healthcare legislation on various diseases, including AIDS, and he tried to get some sort of gun control. Each one of those takes a lot of work. So you just have to conclude that he was able to do that and have some drinks at the same time.
Kennedy’s most notorious political moment of the decade was his 1987 attack on Judge Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee. Kennedy’s speech denouncing Bork showed the senator at his most fiery, defending the progressive values with which he had become synonymous. “Robert Bork’s America,” the speech began, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, [and] rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids….”
Bob Dole, former U.S. senator: We were pretty openly critical of Kennedy and others who were dumping on this well-qualified judge. I’d be interested to see what Bork had to say.
Robert Bork, Supreme Court nominee: Every one of the lines from that speech—every one—was a lie. People told me that it was so obviously over the top that it would help me rather than hurt me. They were wrong.
Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law professor and Kennedy adviser: [The way he] made Bork seem like something of an ogre always made a number of people, including me, sort of uncomfortable. But putting it in terms that ordinary people could understand was an important part of organizing opposition to the nomination.
Bork: When you’re nominated for something, you make the rounds to various senators’ offices. I wanted to see Kennedy, and it was odd because he dropped his head and didn’t seem to want to look at me. He said, “Nothing personal.” Yeah, it was just business. Quite aside from my episode, I never had the slightest admiration for the Kennedys or for their behavior, publicly and privately.
In April 1991, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch pleaded with Kennedy to stop drinking. Kennedy took his friend’s words to heart. He curtailed his drinking and began seeing Victoria Reggie, the Louisiana-born daughter of close friends. They were married in 1992.
Clymer: She wasn’t really looking to find a new romance—she had two young children to raise. I think he pretty much despaired of ever finding another happy marriage. But they clicked. When you’d see them together, they gave off sparks.
Peter Meade, head of the Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate: Her children became his children. A friend of mine told me his kids were in the same class as one of Vicki’s children. He said, “Honestly, I think Senator Kennedy has been to more parent nights than I have.”
Clymer: Ted’s personal life had been lonely and restless, and it became happy and fulfilled.
Caplin: On his 75th birthday, Vicki was acting as mistress of ceremonies. He started trying to take control and she said, “Ted, I’m in charge here!” She really handled him beautifully.
Hagan: She had him on a diet; he told me he felt like a rabbit because he was eating so much lettuce. He gets on the phone with her: “Vicki, do you think it would be good, maybe, to get a few croutons on the salad? Could I have a few croutons?” She says okay, so the two of us go down into this pantry and he gets the whole box of croutons. We come upstairs and he’s eating them right out of the box. I say, “I don’t think that was Vicki’s intention.” “I know, Tim, but I gotta bite on something that I can chew. That lettuce was driving me crazy.”
Grossman: Ted and Vicki had my wife, Barbara, and me to dinner at Hyannisport. Vicki had made fish with a sauce. It was wonderful. As we finished, Ted jumps up and comes around with the serving platter. He said, “Isn’t this sauce wonderful?” He had this boyish enthusiasm. It was as if he were saying, “Isn’t Vicki an amazing person? Aren’t I lucky to have her?” It was a moment of personal adulation for a woman who, in many ways, saved his life.
Dowd: When we used to stop at a family’s house for dinner on the campaign trail, he kind of envied them. No matter how famous you are, it’s tough when you’re alone. But now he’d sit down and have dinner with Vicki and her children. He had a home again.