Let’s Revisit RFK Jr.’s Second Marriage, Shall We?

In a new book, Ask Not: The Kennedys and the Women They Destroyed, the rampant misogyny of the Kennedy men—especially that of RFK Jr.—gets its reckoning.

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Let’s Revisit RFK Jr.’s Second Marriage, Shall We?

On Tuesday, a new book from investigative journalist Maureen Callahan, which lays bare—or, barer—the ugly and overwhelmingly unchecked misogyny of the Kennedy men, arrived. In Ask Not: The Kennedys and the Women They Destroyed, Callahan charts how American politics’ most famous family degraded and devastated the women in their lives—from Edward Kennedy’s car crash in 1969 that claimed the life of 28-year-old aid, Mary Jo Kopechne, to JFK Jr.’s arrogance and “risk-taking” in his marriage to Carolyn Bessette throughout the late nineties. For years, they all had a way of getting away with it, Callahan notes. Yet, it’s her detailed account of RFK Jr.’s second marriage that most leads you to wonder: how?

In 1994, thirty years before Kennedy was known as the conspiracy theory candidate for president, he married then- architect, Mary Richardson. After four children together, Richardson reportedly felt disconnected from her husband who was “rarely present.”

“Gaslit. That’s how Mary felt,” Callahan wrote. “The more pain she was in, the worse Bobby treated her. Some days he wanted a divorce; others, he wanted to bring another woman into their bed, an idea that left her humiliated. She rejected him outright.”

According to Callahan, Richardson—who was growing suspicious of her husband’s fidelity—once had a female friend over to their home and Kennedy “sauntered in, right out of the shower, and dropped the towel around his waist, exposing himself.” According to Callahan, Kennedy was, in fact, carrying on affairs. A lot of them.

“There were so many–astronomical numbers, Mary said, and she knew a lot of them: The celebrated actress who came to their house and went on vacations with her family. The older model who was always around. The socialite whose husband was one of Bobby’s good friends. A gorgeous royal. The wife of a very famous man. A lawyer. A doctor. An environmental activist. All these beautiful, accomplished women. How could Mary compete?” Before we proceed, who are all these dynamos and why the hell would they jockey for that guy???

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Staggeringly so. As Kennedy’s “lust demons” (as he once wrote in his diaries) became more hellbent on being satiated, Richardson grew increasingly despondent and turned to alcohol. For the book, Callahan interviewed Richardson’s therapist, Sheenah Hankin, who revealed that Kennedy asked for his wife to be diagnosed as mentally ill. She replied: “Your wife isn’t mentally ill. She is angry and depressed, but she is not ill.” Kennedy went so far as to “forcibly hospitalize” his wife, reportedly telling her that she would be “better off dead.” Previous biographies also included such details.

After the pair separated in 2010 and Kennedy began dating his current wife, Cheryl Hines, he cut off Richardson from her credit card and any access to cash. Callahan wrote that she often had no choice but to ask other mothers in the community for an extra $20 so she could purchase gas and groceries. After several months of suffering from depression, Richardson chose to end her life in her home.

“Mary put on her yoga clothes and sandals, walked out to her barn, stacked three metal crates atop each other, then used a metal ladder to tie a hangman’s knot around the rafter,” Callahan writes. “When she was found that afternoon, Mary’s fingers were stuck inside the rope around her neck. She had changed her mind. She had tried to save herself.” Her autopsy report affirms these gut-wrenching details.

After her death, Richardson’s siblings were adamant that her husband’s cheating, neglect, and threats to take their children were the cause of her depression. Kennedy, however, portrayed his wife as a pathetic alcoholic.

 “I know I did everything I could to help her,” he claimed in his eulogy at her funeral. Meanwhile, against the Richardson family’s will, she was buried in the Kennedy family plot, Callahan wrote. Yet one week later, in the dead of night—without alerting Richardson’s siblings or obtaining the required legal permitting—Kennedy ordered her coffin be exhumed and relocated seven hundred feet away. News reports at the time said Kennedy simply did so out of concerns over the increasingly “crowded” plot.

“Mary was left to face traffic, no headstone marking her grave, buried alone,” Callahan wrote. Truly, I don’t know how a story could become more bleak.

Thus far, Kennedy hasn’t responded to Callahan’s account—nor this damning Vanity Fair story in which he’s accused of sexual assault by a former babysitter for the family. But if he were, I imagine he’d offer an incoherent explanation and blame his repulsive behavior on something stupid: like a brain worm.

If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call 988 at any time of the day or night to speak with trained counselors.

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