LEST ANYONE forget that Teddy Kennedy, like most people, was a flawed human being, there will always be Chappaquiddick.
On the night of July 18, 1969, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island, on Martha's Vineyard. Ten hours later, Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, who worked with Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, and who had left a party with the candidate's brother, was found dead in the submerged car's back seat.
Teddy Kennedy, then 37, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence and a year's probation. A judge eventually determined there was "probable cause to believe that Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently . . . and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne."
At the height of the scandal, Kennedy went on national television to explain himself in an extraordinary 13-minute address in which he denied having driven drunk and rejected rumors of "immoral conduct" with Kopechne. He said he was haunted by "irrational" thoughts immediately after the accident, and wondered "whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys." Five years later, he said his failure to report the accident right away had been "indefensible."
He sought the White House more than a decade later, lost the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter, and bowed out with a stirring valedictory: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."
Along the way, Kennedy gained a reputation as a heavy drinker and a womanizer, a tragic figure haunted by the fear that he did not quite measure up to his brothers. As his weight ballooned, he was lampooned by comics and cartoonists in the 1980s and '90s as the embodiment of government waste, bloat and decadence.
In 1991, Kennedy roused his his son Patrick and his nephew William Kennedy Smith from bed to go out for drinks while staying at the family's Palm Beach, Fla., estate. Later that night, a woman Smith met at a bar accused Smith of raping her at the home.
Smith was acquitted, but the senator's carousing - and testimony about his wandering about the house in his shirttails and no pants - further damaged his reputation.
Kennedy offered a mea culpa in a speech at Harvard that October, recognizing "my own shortcomings, the faults in the conduct of my private life."
In his later years, after he had divorced wife Joan - who had much-publicized fights with her own demons - and remarried, he came to be regarded as a statesman on Capitol Hill, with a growing reputation as an effective, hardworking lawmaker.