Actor and addiction recovery activist Christopher Kennedy Lawford, nephew of JFK and RFK, died Tuesday, September 4 at age 63 in Vancouver, British Columbia, having suffered a fatal heart attack at a yoga studio.
Here’s everything you need to know about Lawford and his inspiring life journey, ended too soon.
Lawford was the son of Patricia Kennedy and Peter Lawford
Christopher Kennedy Lawford was born on March 25, 1955 in Santa Monica, California, to British-born actor Peter Lawford and Patricia “Pat” Kennedy, sister of then-senator John F. Kennedy. He was the couple’s first child and their only son.
Patricia and Peter divorced when Christopher was 11, after which he and his sisters Sidney, Victoria, and Robin were raised by their mother in New York City.
He struggled with addiction from early on
Starting in middle school, Lawford turned to alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with the trauma surrounding his parents’ divorce and the assassination of two of his uncles, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy's nephew Christopher Lawford dies aged 63 after suffering a medical emergency in a yoga studio https://t.co/7vH1YXzteS— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) September 5, 2018
He later began using heroin and opioids. During this time, he graduated from Tufts University in 1977 and from Boston College Law School in 1983.
The death of his cousin David Kennedy was the inspiration behind Lawford’s journey into sobriety
Lawford’s close cousin David Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel, died of a drug overdose in April 1984. This was the wake-up call Lawford needed, and in 1986 he entered drug rehab.
He became a leading advocate and support for those struggling with addiction, including his cousin Patrick J. Kennedy.
After his own recovery, Lawford became a strong advocate for addiction recovery. Lawford shared his own story in his best-selling 2005 book “Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption,” and also authored the books “Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction,” “Moments of Clarity: Voices From the Frontlines of Addiction and Recovery," and "When Your Partner Has an Addiction."
Thank you to @WCIU_YouAndMe for a great discussion about recovery and the importance of compassionate partnership.https://t.co/gbnUlmvc0O— Chris KennedyLawford (@ChrisLawford) October 24, 2016
His cousin, Patrick Kennedy, credited Lawford with helping him kick his own addiction, and the cousins made a number of public appearances together in 2013, when Lawford had been sober for 26 years and Kennedy for two.
The recovery community lost a founding father today. My cousin, Chris Lawford, passed away from a heart attack yesterday evening. To the world he was an author, actor, & activist, but to the recovery community he was a pioneer – living proof that long-term recovery was possible. pic.twitter.com/NS9TLZgRlT— Patrick J. Kennedy (@PJK4brainhealth) September 5, 2018
According to CNN, Lawford “worked with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the White House Office on Drug Control Policy, the World Health Organization and the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse.”
Bearing a striking resemblance to his Rat Pack father, Lawford also found success in film and television
Working intermittently as an actor over the years, Lawford had roles in “All My Children,” “General Hospital,” “Fraser,” and the films “Terminator 3,” “Slipstream,” “Thirteen Days,” and more.
He was also instrumental in producing the films “American Graffiti” and “Kiss Me Guido.”
Lawford was married three times and was the father of four children
He married three times: to New York Mag sales assistant Jeannie Olsson in 1984, to Russian actress Lana Antonova in 2005, and to yoga instructor Mercedes Miller in 2014.
I will miss this man. No matter how different our lives have become, I have never forgotten the life we’ve shared. And the woman I have become because of him. My heart goes out to his kids. I’m beyond heartbroken and so so sad. 💔😢😖😩 #ripchrislawford #ChristopherLawford pic.twitter.com/5RIpivPtLD— Lana Antonova (@lanaantonova) September 6, 2018
With Olsson, he had three children: David Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Savannah Rose Lawford, and Matthew Peter Valentine Lawford.
We mourn the loss of my cousin Christopher Lawford, Rest in Peace.
Pictured here with our family at the 2004 Democratic Convention and with his wonderful son, David. pic.twitter.com/GLlCvN7xkv— Kerry Kennedy (@KerryKennedyRFK) September 5, 2018
May Kennedy Lawford rest in peace, and may his inspiring legacy long be remembered.