A year after Mary Richardson Kennedy’s suicide, many people are still at odds as to what was the ultimate inciting factor into her decision to take her own life.
The Daily Beast reports on stories from both Mary’s friends and her ex-husband Bobby’s friends and family, all of whom were close to the situation and have their own opinions as to what exactly Mary experienced.
Kerry Kennedy was a roommate of Mary’s while at Putney School in Vermont, and would later become her sister-in-law. Kerry said, “Mary’s was a classic mental illness, which made her so unlike herself—kind, generous, a wonderful mother, perfect friend, force for good on our earth—that it was as if she’d been invaded by a foreign body. Every time I saw it happening, it scared me. I never held her accountable because that was her disease, not who she was as a person, and we all knew it.”
Documents detail that Mary Richardson had struggles long before ever meeting Bobby Kennedy. The Daily Beast reports that early on, unable to handle or explain her feelings, she simply quit talking for 10 days.
At 22, her anorexia, diagnosed as a teenager, landed her in Boston’s McLean Hospital for three months. “During the bad episodes,” recalls a close friend, “Mary always talked about suicide.”
When she was 25, Mary made her first suicide attempt by putting a plastic bag over her head, but panicked and took it off. A year later, she vomited up the 200 barbiturates she took in hopes of killing herself. She continued from then to binge and purge, as well as plunge into regular use of drugs and alcohol for three years.
In 1989, Mary began AA and managed to stay clean until 2005.
However, countering Mary’s history of perceived mental instabilities, her own family maintains that it was Bobby Kennedy who was the main trigger in Mary’s suicide. “Bobby knew how to keep Mary off balance,” said one friend of Richardson.
“He wield[ed] power over her using emotional ping-pong, idealizing her one minute, putting her down, the next. Mary hung on to the positive moment hoping to get another. And if not, maybe she could figure out how to get it back, always striving to please."
Richardson had long dreamed of being a member of the famed Kennedy family. One friend recalls asking then Brown University–bound Kerry Kennedy and Mary where they saw themselves in 25 years: “Kerry [said], ‘With a couple kids in a house in a city,’ while Mary, in her dreamy way, goes: ‘That sounds really nice. If I could just have a room in Kerry’s house, that would be so great.’ She wanted to be part of that family so badly.”
Her teenage dream of officially being a member of the Kennedy family came when she bumped into Robert Kennedy in 1993 in New York City, when he was separated from his first wife. Though the two had met and worked together previously, Bobby was known to have commented on the chance meeting as, “It was like seeing her for the first time, the scales fell off my eyes.”
In April 1994, only three months after having divorced his first wife, Bobby Kennedy married Mary Richardson, who was pregnant with their first child Conor.
Mary was soon consumed with becoming the perfect wife and mother. A friend said she “fell so madly in love, becoming so emotionally invested in Bobby, that she lost sight of a life outside that marriage.”
However, friction soon developed between the two with Bobby travelling during the week, leaving Mary at home to become what sometimes felt like a single mother. The Daily Beast reports that Richardson began acting out, targeting Bobby specifically, flying into almost nightly, rage-filled, verbally abusive tirades, threatening suicide and picking fights, often physical, on her part—a side of Richardson that most never saw.
Within a few years, rumors of Bobby Kennedy “philandering” made their way to Richardson, who responded by “with unconditional love, constantly protecting, praising her husband.”
Even when Kennedy came clean about his infidelities, Richardson “justified [it by saying] that he was an addictive personality,” said a close friend, “with a disease, but in her heart she knew.”
On Father’s Day in June 2006, Bobby finally told Mary he wanted a divorce, and left. He only returned two weeks later after Mary had prohibited from seeing their children.
A Kennedy insider said that whenever Bobby tried to leave again, “Mary would threaten to commit suicide. He didn’t want his kids thinking that their mother killed herself because their father left.”