Born into enormous privilege as well as burdened by gut-wrenching family tragedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford now shares his life story, offering a rare glimpse into the private worlds of the rich and famous of both Washington politics and the Hollywood elite. A triumphantly inspiring memoir, the first from a Kennedy family member since Rose Kennedy's 1974 autobiography, Lawford's Symptoms of Withdrawal tells the bittersweet truth about life inside America's greatest family legacy. As the firstborn child of famed Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, sister to John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford grew up with presidents and movie stars as close relatives and personal friends. Lawford recalls Marilyn Monroe teaching him to dance the twist in his living room when he was still a toddler, being awakened late at night by his uncle Jack to hear him announce his candidacy for president, being perched atop a high-roller craps table in Las Vegas while Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack swapped jokes and threw dice, and other treasured memories of his youth as part of America's royal family.
Pity the poor shelver who has to decide where to put this book. Does it go with the wall full of Kennedyana, the tell-alls and critiques of the family America loves to hate and hates to love? Or does it go into the ever increasing "recovery" section of the memoir department, packed as it is with tales of debauchery, and finally, painful and hard-won sobriety? Because this offering, by the 50-year-old nephew of President Kennedy, son of the late actor Peter Lawford, and cousin of the late American prince, JFK Jr. (how's that for a legacy to live with?), is both of those things, it is hard to categorize, and harder to resist. There's plenty of dish here, even if it is dish of the gentle, almost old-fashioned variety. (Lawford tells of being taught to do the twist by Marilyn Monroe; of spying, as a 10-year-old, on a former First Lady taking a bath, of partying with Kennedys and Lennons and Jaggers.) But it is also a palpably painful and moving rendition of bad behavior with women and money and drugs, and 20 years of staying sober. If you've read any recovery lit, you already know the drill: the stories of lying and charming and messing up school, jobs and relationships. There's plenty of that, but in Lawford's case, the backdrop against which he misbehaved is in itself dramatic. He writes achingly of his relationship with his cousin David, RFK's son, with whom he regularly did drugs and who died in a Palm Beach hotel room in 1984. (Lawford broke with Kennedy family tradition and named his son for David.) When he arrives high at a family party, the photographic proof turns up in the newspaper-because it was a fundraiser for his uncle Teddy. If this were somebody with a less famous-for-carousing name, you might think he was just another self-dramatizing alcoholic; as it is, Lawford is clearly just recounting his life. Even so, he could come off as obnoxious-were it not for his frankness, humor and self-awareness. Lawford goes out of his way to own, as they say in recovery, his behavior, and while he acknowledges a family tendency, he blames no one but himself. He can also write knowingly and self-deprecatingly about his competitive relationships with his many cousins, his vanity as an actor (he has appeared in films including The Russia House and Mr. North, as well as many television programs but is, by his own admission, no Tom Cruise), and his tendency to refer to his many female conquests as "the most beautiful girl in the world." So where does this book belong? Does it matter? You don't have to care about Kennedys to find this a moving tale of self-discovery and redemption. Whatever else he may have been-son, nephew, cousin, etc.-Christopher Lawford shows himself here to be a writer of talent and grace. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 31, 2006
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Excerpt from Symptoms of Withdrawal by Christopher Kennedy Lawford
You can always do it wrong.
That's the beauty of life.
What happens when you are born with the American dream fulfilled? The dreams that drew my ancestors here had been realized for me at my birth. I was born just off the beach in Malibu, California. My father, Peter Lawford, was a movie star and a member of the Rat Pack. My mother's brother Jack would be president of the United States. I was given wealth, power, and fame when I drew my first breath. Now what?
My mother gave birth to me in Saint John's hospital in Santa Monica, California, on March 29, 1955, on the same day that Judy Garland gave birth to her son, Joe, in the same hospital. I was named Christopher because my mom liked the name and had a thing for Saint Christopher - the giant Catholic saint who carried the baby Jesus and the sins of the world on his shoulders. I received a Saint Christopher medal on every birthday until he was decanonized when I was fourteen because the church determined that the evidence of his existence was entirely legendary. My name lost a bit of its luster on that day, and I remember wondering if the Church might be able to negate my existence also.
The circumstances of my birth were further extolled because Judy was up for an Academy Award that year for A Star Is Born and the press was keeping a vigil. Western Union delivered a boatload of telegrams to my parents from those known and unknown.
We're so happy for you both. He'll be quite a boy. Love - Jeanne and Dean Martin
Dear friends - I'm so happy for you both and may I say you picked my favorite hospital for this epic event - and I'm a man who knows about hospitals. Hello to sister Mary David - Bing Crosby
"Quite a boy."
I was just out of the womb and there were already lofty expectations from some pretty accomplished folk. Uh-oh! I better get my shit together.
So thrilled for you both. Love Gary & Rocky Cooper
My aunt Ethel sent a telegram that read: What a difference a day makes. Whew. Little Ethel
She should know. She was pregnant at the time with her fourth child, David Kennedy, who would be born two and half months later and become my "best friend to the bitter end."
So Judy's son, Joe, and I were born on the same day to movie star parents in Hollywood, California, and the media were paying attention. From the moment I came into this world, I have had a bizarre and constant relationship with the media. They were rarely there to take a picture of me or get a quote from me, but I was always in the mix - in the glow. I have known many people who have been touched by fame. For most of them - whether movie stars, politicians, artists, or criminals - it only lasts a short time. They go from ordinary to extraordinary and back again in the blink of an eye, but the damage done can last a lifetime. Once you have had a taste of the glare, it's hard to step back into shadows.
My family has maintained its currency with the press for most of my life. Very little we did went unnoticed. A flashbulb or television camera highlighted the ordinary events of life. Years later when I got sober, I realized for the first time that I thought everybody on the planet woke up every day and wondered what Chris Lawford and the rest of the Kennedy family were up to that day. In fact, it was something of a rude awakening when a friend of mine pointed out to me that "there are a billion people in China who don't know who your family is or more importantly, Chris, who you are!"