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Mary Jo Kopechne

One of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s favorite topics of humor was the incident at Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., in 1969 in which he drove off a bridge and left behind a 28-year-old woman who drowned, according to a biographer who reminisced about the iconic Democrat on a Washington, D.C., talk show this morning.

Edward Klein, speaking to WAMU guest host Katty Kay, said one of Kennedy’s “favorite topics of humor was, indeed, Chappaquiddick.”

“He would ask people, ‘Have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?’” said Klein, a former Newsweek foreign editor and former editor in chief of the New York Times Magazine.

Klein’s revelation on the “Diane Rehm Show” can be heard here:

Kennedy died late Tuesday night at age 77 after battling brain cancer.

Klein, the author of a biography published this year, “Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died,” immediately tried to put his remarks in context.

“I mean, that is just the most amazing thing,” he said. “Not that he didn’t feel remorse about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne but that he still always saw the other side of everything and the ridiculous side of things, too.”


Sen. Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

Kopechne, a former campaign worker for the late Sen. Bobby Kennedy, was one of six single women at a party with the married Ted Kennedy and several other married men. Kennedy said he was taking Kopechne back to the ferry landing for a return trip to Martha’s Vineyard when he took a wrong turn and drove off a bridge. He managed to escape but left Kopechne behind and didn’t report the accident until the next day when he saw police had discovered the body.

After huddling with advisers, Kennedy made a televised statement that saved his Senate seat, but the incident is widely believed to have been a major factor in his failure to win the presidency.

Klein also is the author of a 1996 book about the Kennedys, “The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America’s First Family for 150 Years.”


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