Ted Kennedy's First Wife Joan Kennedy: Casualty of Camelot

Ted Kennedy's first wife, sober since 2005, quietly welcome in funeral fanfare.

ByABC News
August 27, 2009, 3:23 PM

Aug. 28, 2009— -- In 2005, Boston police found a disoriented woman lying bleeding and alone on a Beacon Hill sidewalk after she had taken a drunken fall.

Joan Kennedy -- the first wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy -- was unrecognizable to the Good Samaritan who had helped her that rainy night.

The woman who called the ambulance later told Boston Magazine, "I had no idea who it was, that it was anything special."

Today, at 72 and living independently after struggling with a lifelong alcohol addiction, the mother of Kennedy's three children is still invisible as the world mourns the passing of the senator.

Trying "not to intrude" yet to honor the life of her ex-husband, Joan Kennedy attended the Thursday mass in the "big house" at the Kennedy compound, according to her sister Candace McMurrey of Houston, Texas.

"She feels it's very nice to be included in the final saying goodbye to him and she appreciates being included in that, because she was married to him for 25 years," McMurrey told ABCNews.com.

While her ex-husband fought a brain tumor at the Kennedy compound this summer, the once-striking blond who in the heyday of her beauty resembled "Mad Men's" lovely and lonely Betty Draper, rented the nearby home on Squaw Island that once belonged to her own wealthy family.

"She is a very private person and she been sort of victimized by the press who never let her alone," said another Bennett family member, who has remained close to Joan Kennedy over the years.

"They had an ongoing friendship," said the family member, who did not want to be identified. "There are all sort of emotions."

Joan Kennedy will attend the funeral services and has kept her sobriety since going into rehab treatment in 2005, according to people close to her.

"She's doing great," said McMurrey.

After that incident, Joan Kennedy's children intervened in her affairs, obtaining a court-ordered guardianship that put Ted Kennedy, Jr. in charge of his mother's care.

At her worst, Joan had been sneaking shots of vanilla extract and mouthwash to hide the smell of booze, according to Boston magazine.

"She's no longer under house arrest," said the family member. "She's been behaving pretty well. I think her health is reasonably good."

Joan Kennedy didn't return calls from ABCNews.com. seeking comment about her ex-husband's death.

"I've had trouble getting through to her the last few days," one person said. "She's been besieged with calls and staying at her house on the Cape and busy with her kids."

Joan received the Squaw Island home after her marriage dissolved in 1982. The pair of battered shingled houses were bought in 1901 by her grandfather and his brothers, 30 years before the Kennedys arrived on Cape Cod.

That was not the only thing she inherited. Joan Kennedy's parents -- New York City professionals Virginia Joan Stead Bennett and Henry Wiggin Bennett Jr. --- were also alcoholics, according to author Laurence Leamer.