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Suicide of a Kennedy wife adds to tragic legacy
Estranged spouse of RFK Jr. found hanged at estate

Every family has its share of pain and triumph. And then there are the Kennedys.

America's great political dynasty is grieving again after Mary Richardson Kennedy, estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., hanged herself Wednesday at the family's 10-acre estate in this New York City suburb.

Her death, at age 52, came as a shock to some friends and family, even though the last two years had been undeniably tough ones. The couple was going through a divorce, and Mary had been charged twice with driving while intoxicated in 2010.

But Victoria Michaelis, a friend since Mary's college days, said she hadn't seemed suicidal, or crippled by the alcohol problems that briefly landed her in the headlines two springs ago.

"She was definitely suffering, but she was very, very spiritual and a resolute Catholic," Michaelis said. "I'd say she was depressed the last two years since the divorce. But she would put that aside and ask you how you were. I saw her a couple of weeks ago, and she was fine."

"I think every family has its tragedies. But this is too much," said Kim O'Connell, who dropped off a bouquet of Calla lilies at the family's home here Thursday morning.

Mary Kennedy had lived much of her life at the edge of the spotlight that shines on the Kennedy family. An architectural designer with New Jersey roots, she met her estranged husband's sister, Kerry, in boarding school when they were still teenagers and had stayed close to the clan through the decades before marrying Robert in 1994.

Robert is the son of Robert F. Kennedy, the former U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator from New York who was slain in 1968 while running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the nephew of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Mary was RFK Jr.'s second wife, and she entered the family in less-than-storybook circumstances.

When they married, she was already pregnant with their first child, and Kennedy was only weeks removed from the divorce of his first wife.

Yet the wedding had the usual Kennedy touch of romance and politics. The ceremony was held aboard an environmental research vessel on the Hudson River, which Robert had been fighting to protect as an attorney with the environmental group Riverkeeper.

The couple's fourth child -- Robert's sixth overall -- was born while he was serving a 30-day jail sentence for trespassing on U.S. Navy property to protest bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island Vieques.

She had been with the family long enough to become a partner in its rituals of grief. She was there when the clan buried Michael Kennedy, killed in a New Year's Eve skiing accident in 1997, and John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999.

"Mary married into the family. But, believe me, the Kennedys don't marry into your family, you marry into their family. So you're transformed when you marry into their family," said Laurence Leamer, author of the book "The Kennedy Women."

Police have said almost nothing about the circumstances of the death, but the Westchester County Medical Examiner's Office said after an autopsy Thursday that she died of asphyxiation due to hanging.

A person familiar with the investigation into her death says authorities have concluded that her death was a suicide.

"It's a terrible and tragic time for Mary, her family, and, perhaps most importantly, for Bobby and Mary's children, Conor, Finny, Kyra, and Aidan, and for all of us who loved her," said a brother-in-law, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. "We appreciate the expressions of condolence and ask for privacy during this difficult time."

A wake was planned today at the family's mansion here, according to Ken Sunshine, a publicist working with the Kennedy family.

Services were planned for Saturday morning at St. Patrick's Catholic Church here, with burial to follow in Hyannis Port, Mass., where the Kennedy family has a compound.