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Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s 10 Siblings: All About His Brothers and Sisters

RFK Jr. has six brothers and four sisters: Kathleen, Joseph II, David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas and Rory

<p>Jemal Countess/WireImage</p> Joseph Kennedy, Matt Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Ethel Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy the Third attend the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Bridge Dedication Gala on November 19, 2008 in New York City.

Jemal Countess/WireImage

Joseph Kennedy, Matt Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Ethel Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy the Third attend the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Bridge Dedication Gala on November 19, 2008 in New York City.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his 10 brothers and sisters are the largest branch of the Kennedy family tree.

Their parents, Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy, were married in June 1950 and welcomed 11 children between the years of 1951 and 1968: Kathleen, Joseph II, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas and Rory. The children grew up in the spotlight as the nation watched their family face triumphs (such as their uncle John F. Kennedy becoming president in 1960) and tragedies — including the assassinations of their uncle and father.

The highs and lows have continued for RFK Jr. and his siblings over the decades. They’ve had success as journalists, lawyers, businessmen, activists and politicians, with RFK Jr. even embarking on a presidential campaign in 2023 like his father before him.

“Everyone [in the family] loves him and recognizes his talent,” RFK Jr.’s youngest brother Doug told PEOPLE about his older brother’s presidential ambitions in April 2023. However, he added that “not everyone agrees with his positions” — referencing RFK Jr.’s various controversies over the years.

Related: A Timeline of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Controversies

But in addition to their achievements, RFK Jr. and his siblings have also had their struggles. There have been failed marriages and substance abuse problems — as well as untimely deaths, including the loss of two of RFK Jr.'s younger brothers (David from a drug overdose in 1984 and Michael after a fatal skiing accident in 1997). Those devastating incidents and others added weight to the theory that there was a “Kennedy curse” plaguing the family.

“Generally, they did not believe in the curse,” J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of The Kennedy Heirs, told PEOPLE of the family in May 2019. “But when things got rough for them, I think they slipped into wondering if maybe there really was some kind of curse.”

However, it was the family matriarch — Ethel, who celebrated her 95th birthday in 2023 — who helped RFK Jr. and his siblings cope in the face of tragedy.

“We feel like we ought to be able to write our own scripts to our lives, and sometimes we feel disappointed in God when life rewrites the plot,” RFK Jr. recalled his mother once telling him in his 2018 book, American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family. “The key is acceptance and gratitude. We need to practice wanting what we’ve got, not what we wish we had.”

From his childhood with his 10 siblings to their relationship as adults, here is everything to know about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his brothers and sisters.

The Kennedy siblings spent their childhood in Virginia and Massachusetts

<p>Bettmann</p> Robert Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, and their kids David, Robert, Joseph, and Mary at the Kennedy's McLean, Virginia home.

Bettmann

Robert Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, and their kids David, Robert, Joseph, and Mary at the Kennedy's McLean, Virginia home.

RFK Jr. and his 10 siblings split their childhood between their family’s homes in McLean, Virginia and Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

Robert Sr. and his wife Ethel purchased the Virginia home, known as Hickory Hill, from his brother John and his wife Jackie Kennedy in 1956, according to Architectural Digest. At the time, the Kennedys had five young children — Kathleen, Joseph II, David, Robert Jr. and Courtney — but Ethel would go on to raise all 11 children at the Virginia home, even after her husband’s death in 1968.

“After Bobby’s assassination she did not retire from life,” John Douglas, one of Robert Sr.'s assistant attorney generals and a close family friend, told Architectural Digest. “The family’s houses remained centers for her children. Continuity is very important to the Kennedys.”

Summers for RFK Jr. and his siblings were spent at the Kennedy family compound in Cape Cod. In his memoir American Values, RFK Jr. described how he, his brothers and sisters, and many cousins spent their summers being “raised communally” while practicing athletic training, horseback riding, sailing, fishing and more.

“Hyannis Port was a magical paradise for me,” RFK Jr. wrote about his childhood summers in American Values. “Here, surrounded by my family, I could indulge my obsession with the natural world.”

They attended their father’s presidential campaign announcement in 1968

<p>Bettmann</p> Robert F. Kennedy announces his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.

Bettmann

Robert F. Kennedy announces his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.

When Robert Sr. announced his candidacy for the presidency on March 16, 1968, the eldest 10 Kennedy children (who ranged in age from just shy of 1 year old to 16) were present in the audience of the Senate Caucus Room. Their mother, Ethel, was pregnant with the 11th and youngest sibling — Rory — at the time.

RFK Jr., who was 14 at the time, recalled details from the historic day in his memoir American Values.

“My nine brothers and sisters and I paraded behind my parents into the Senate Caucus Room and sat down in a long row of stiff chairs behind my mother, then pregnant with Rory, soon to be her 11th,” he wrote.

While watching their father announce his candidacy for president, RFK Jr. recalled that he spoke in a “soft voice” and that his “hands were trembling” as he spoke to the “tepid and skeptical” crowd. But what stood out the most to RFK Jr. from that day was “the anger his announcement provoked,” he wrote.

Their father was assassinated in 1968

<p>Harry Benson/Express/Getty</p> Senator Robert Kennedy speaking at an election rally in 1968.

Harry Benson/Express/Getty

Senator Robert Kennedy speaking at an election rally in 1968.

On June 5, 1968, Robert Sr. was shot after winning the California presidential primary and addressing his supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died the following day, June 6, 1968 — leaving behind his pregnant wife, Ethel, and his 10 children.

The tragedy came nearly five years after Robert Sr.’s older brother John was assassinated while traveling in his presidential motorcade in downtown Dallas. But RFK Jr. said their mother Ethel provided him and his siblings with valuable perspective in the aftermath of those devastating events.

“My family had a lot of tragedies, and many American families do,” RFK Jr. told CBS News 50 years after his father’s death. “My mother always said this after my dad died — ‘Everybody takes their licks’ — and that there’s kids in Watts, in Harlem, and in Bed-Stuy who have lost their parents."

He added, “They don’t have the support system that we had in our family.”

The Kennedy siblings have become divided in the years following their father’s death, though, over the issue of his assassin’s parole.

When Sirhan Bushara Sirhan, Robert Sr.'s convicted murderer, was granted parole in August 2021 (after serving 53 years of his life sentence), both Douglas and RFK Jr. spoke in favor of his release.

“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face-to-face ... And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love,” Douglas said at the parole hearing.

However, six of Robert Sr.’s children were “devastated” by the decision to grant Sirhan parole, they shared in a statement. The siblings — Joe, Courtney, Christopher, Kerry, Max and Rory — revealed that they were “in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release.”

“We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards for parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California,” they continued, adding that the decision had “inflicted enormous additional pain” on their family.

Many of the siblings followed their father’s footsteps into law, politics and public service

<p>Dia Dipasupil/Getty</p> Kerry Kennedy speaks onstage at the 2019 RFK Ripple of Hope Awards on December 12, 2019 in New York City.

Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Kerry Kennedy speaks onstage at the 2019 RFK Ripple of Hope Awards on December 12, 2019 in New York City.

RFK Jr. and several of his brothers and sisters pursued similar career paths as their late father, who was an accomplished lawyer, politician and human rights advocate at the time of his death in 1968.

Five of the siblings — Kathleen, RFK Jr., Michael, Kerry and Max — graduated from law school, with three of them (RFK Jr., Michael and Max) attending their father’s alma mater, the University of Virginia Law School. The Kennedy family history at UVA doesn’t stop there, however: Their uncle, Ted Kennedy, also attended UVA Law School.

In addition to his law career, Robert Sr. was also a champion for civil rights while he was alive — and several of his children have carried on those causes, as well. Kerry, in particular, has dedicated the bulk of her career to being a human rights activist: She is the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a non-profit dedicated to causes including mass incarceration, gender-based violence and racial injustice, as well as the chair of the Amnesty International Leadership Council.

But the Kennedy family is best known for their deep political roots, and several of Robert Sr.'s children have pursued public office. Kathleen, the eldest sibling, became the first Kennedy to ever lose an election when she ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Maryland in 1986, according to Vanity Fair. However, she became the first female lieutenant governor of Maryland in 1995, and held the position until 2003.

Her younger brother, Joe, represented Massachusetts for five terms as a member of the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1999. Joe also attempted a run for governor in Massachusetts in 1997 — and was considered the frontrunner — before a cheating scandal involving his younger brother Michael forced him to abandon his campaign, per The Washington Post.

RFK Jr. launched his own presidential campaign in 2023 — first as a Democratic challenger to President Joe Biden and then as an Independent — 55 years after his father sought the same office.

They all together have 34 children

<p>Cindy Ord/FilmMagic</p> Robert Kennedy Jr., Jean Kennedy- Smith, Ethel Kennedy, Rory Kennedy, Mark Bailey, Conor Kennedy and members of the Kennedy family attend the "Ethel" New York Premiere on October 15, 2012 in New York City.

Cindy Ord/FilmMagic

Robert Kennedy Jr., Jean Kennedy- Smith, Ethel Kennedy, Rory Kennedy, Mark Bailey, Conor Kennedy and members of the Kennedy family attend the "Ethel" New York Premiere on October 15, 2012 in New York City.

The Kennedy family tree is extensive, and Robert Sr. and Ethel’s branch is one of the largest — thanks to their 11 children. With the exception of David, all of their children went on to have kids of their own, resulting in 34 grandchildren for Ethel.

Kathleen and her husband David Townsend have four daughters: Meaghan, Maeve, Kate and Kerry. Joe has twin sons, Matt and Joe, with his first wife, Sheila Rauch. (The couple divorced in 1991.) RFK Jr. has six children: A son, Robert F. Kennedy III, and a daughter, Kick, with his first wife Emily Black; and four children (sons Conor, Finn and Aidan and a daughter Kyra) with his second wife Mary Richardson. Courtney had one child, a daughter named Saoirse, with her second husband Paul Hill. Michael had three children with his wife Vicki Gifford: A son, Michael Jr., and two daughters, Kyle and Rory.

Related: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s 6 Children: Everything to Know

Continuing down the line, Kerry has three daughters with her ex-husband Andrew Cuomo: twins Cara and Mariah, and Michaela. (Kerry and Cuomo divorced in 2005.) Christopher and his wife Sheila Berner have four children together, a son, Christopher Jr., and three daughters, Katherine, Sarah and Clare. Max and his wife Victoria Strauss have three children: a son, Maxwell Jr., and two daughters, Caroline and Noah. Doug has five children with his wife Molly Stark: Riley, Mary, Rowen, George and Anthony. Rory, the youngest, has three children with her husband Mark Bailey: Georgia, Bridget and Zachary.

The extra-large family will often gather at the Kennedy family estate in Cape Cod, with one such get-together captured on Instagram in July 2019. The supersized family portrait was shared by Kerry on July 4, with the caption, “Happy Fourth of July from our family (and friends) to yours!”

In March 2024, over a dozen Kennedy family members joined President Biden at the White House to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Kerry shared a group photo on X, which included her daughter Mariah, sister Rory nephew Joe. However, RFK Jr. was noticeably absent from the festivities.

Two of RFK Jr.’s brothers died

<p>Rick Maiman/Sygma/Getty ; Images/Getty</p> Michael Kennedy. ; David Kennedy, circa 1984.

Rick Maiman/Sygma/Getty ; Images/Getty

Michael Kennedy. ; David Kennedy, circa 1984.

Two of RFK Jr.’s six brothers died tragic deaths. David, the fourth child of Robert Sr. and Ethel, died in April 1984 of a drug overdose in a Palm Beach, Florida hotel room. He was just 28 years old at the time.

David struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in the years since his father’s death in 1968, which he witnessed on television alone in a Los Angeles hotel room when he was 13.

“All the others are tough. They are different soil than David,” Robert Driscoll, an artist and friend of David’s, told PEOPLE about the Kennedy siblings in 1984. “They handled their father’s death. But it hit David harder. He suffered too much.”

Michael, the sixth of the 11 siblings, was killed in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado, on New Year’s Eve in 1997. He was 39 years old and left behind three children.

The siblings have experienced tragedies within their own families

The deaths of their father, uncle and two of their brothers aren’t the only tragedies these siblings have endured over the years: Both Kathleen and Courtney have experienced the devastating loss of a child.

In August 2019, Saoirse Kennedy Hill — Courtney’s only child — was found dead at the Kennedy family compound in Massachusetts from an accidental overdose. She was 22 years old.

“Our hearts are shattered by the loss of our beloved Saoirse. Her life was filled with hope, promise, and love,” the family said in a statement to PEOPLE. “She cared deeply about friends and family, especially her mother Courtney, her father Paul, her stepmother Stephanie, and her grandmother Ethel.”

They added, “We will love her and miss her forever.”

In April 2020, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean — the second daughter of Kathleen — and her 8-year-old son Gideon died in a canoeing accident in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The mother and son had set out in a canoe to retrieve a ball that had gone into the water, when they were overtaken by high winds and large waves and reported missing. Maeve’s body was found four days later, on April 6, and Gideon’s was discovered on April 8.

“My heart is crushed, yet we shall try to summon the grace of God and what strength we have to honor the hope, energy and passion that Maeve and Gideon set forth into the world,” Kathleen said in a statement following the drowning deaths.

Many of RFK Jr.’s siblings disagree with his conspiracy theories and politics

<p>Mario Tama/Getty</p> Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month event at Wilshire Ebell Theatre on September 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

Mario Tama/Getty

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month event at Wilshire Ebell Theatre on September 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

RFK Jr. has frequently been at odds with his siblings over his controversial statements, conspiracy theories and politics.

Kerry, in particular, has been outspoken against her older brother’s statements over the years. In January 2022, when RFK Jr. compared anti-vaccine advocates to Anne Frank, Kerry responded on Instagram by calling her brother’s “hateful rhetoric” both “sickening and destructive.” Then, when RFK Jr. claimed in July 2023 that COVID-19 spared Jewish and Chinese people, Kerry denounced his remarks on X (formerly Twitter), calling them “deplorable and untruthful.”  She has also made it clear that Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the advocacy organization she has led since 1988, does not approve of his harmful views.

“I love my brother Bobby, but I do not share or endorse his opinions on many issues,” she said in a statement in April 2023.

Four of RFK Jr.'s siblings — Rory, Kerry, Joe and Kathleen — went as far as to call his presidential campaign “dangerous” in a statement released in October 2023.

“Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment,” the statement continued. “We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country.”

However, RFK Jr. has no issue with his siblings’ stance towards him and his beliefs, acknowledging in April 2023 that they “just plain disagree” on certain issues.

“My whole family including myself have long personal relationships with President Biden ... and many of them just plain disagree with me on issues like censorship and war and public health,” he said at the time. “They are entitled to their beliefs ... and I love them back.”

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