Kennedy's wives stood by him in trying times

When Kennedy ran for president in 1980, he had been separated from Joan for two years. She lived in her own apartment in Boston's Back Bay and studied for a master's degree in education. Nonetheless, she again campaigned for him, though it required answering questions about her alcoholism. She said that if he were elected, she would live with him in the White House. "She put herself out there many times for that family," Taraborrelli says.

The couple's divorce in 1982 was at Joan's request, says Edward Klein, author of Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died. It was "a real effort on her part to establish herself as an independent woman who would no longer be an extension of Ted's life. She tried very, very hard."

Trained as a classical pianist, Joan Kennedy has written a book about music appreciation, performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and promoted music education for children. Her battle with alcoholism has included at least four arrests for drunken driving and time in rehab.

In 2005, when she was 68, her three children went to court to become her legal guardians. Judge Robert Terry ruled that she "was incapable of taking care of herself because of mental illness."

Though she married Ted Kennedy long after the Camelot days, Vicki Reggie appeared made to order for the clan. She comes from a political family in Louisiana with power — her father, Edmund, ran campaigns statewide for all three Kennedy brothers — and a hint of scandal. Edmund Reggie, a judge and a banker, was convicted in 1992 of defrauding a failed savings and loan.

Ted Kennedy and his second wife first met — just for a photo op — when she was an intern in his Senate office. Because of their families' friendship, their paths would cross frequently. The senator had known Edmund Reggie since 1956, when the judge helped swing the Louisiana delegation at the Democratic National Convention to support John Kennedy for vice president over Estes Kefauver. As a delegate to the 1980 Democratic convention, Vicki's mother, Doris, cast the only vote for Ted Kennedy in his failed bid to oust President Carter.

In 1991, then a single mother of two young children, Vicki Reggie was working in Washington as a lawyer specializing in banks and bankruptcy. She invited the senator to a 40th anniversary party for her parents. Shortly after, they began dating, and he proposed at a performance of La Boheme.

A 'constructive force'

Reggie and Kennedy were married in 1992, not long after he had been embroiled in another seriously damaging scandal: the Palm Beach rape trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith. The senator, who had been with his son, Patrick, and his nephew at the bar where Smith met the alleged victim, was in the house at the time of the alleged rape.

The second marriage began a turnaround for the senator, his biographers say. Both handler and wife, Vicki kept him out of scandal, even making sure he was never photographed with a drink, Klein says.

Vicki Kennedy "came from a political family herself, so she understood politics and had been around politicians. She was able to deal with the social life of politics in a way that made her very effective," says Darrell West, a Brookings Institution fellow who has written a biography of Kennedy's youngest son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I. "All the people I know who have met her love her and think she's been a very constructive force in his life."

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