I just finished reading Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s memoir (2005) “Symptoms of Withdrawal.”
Yes, it was published in 2005, so I’m a bit behind on this one. Something reminded me of the Las Vegas trip when I won at roulette with one (1) bet on one number and went upstairs to watch young Lawford be interviewed about a book, which I think was this book. It was a long time ago and that would make it 16 years ago. I remember that the Japanese gamblers gathered around the roulette wheel when I placed exactly one $50 bet on one color and number clapped when I took the money and ran. I had had a spirited discussion with my spouse about the wisdom of betting on roulette at all, but I had just won $50 at the poker bar, so I figured I was playing with the house’s money. I wanted to make it upstairs to hear this interview.
The interview was worth it. The adult son of actor Peter Lawford and one of the fabled Kennedy clan (JFK’s sister Patricia is his mother) would have been 50 years old when this book was published in 2005. He shared that his father was the last person to talk to Marilyn Monroe on the phone the night she died, when Marilyn called him. He talked about his much-discussed 17-year addiction to drugs of all kinds, which ultimately led him to quit all of them and become a speaker and writer on the topic.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford was a handsome guy. He looked like a real charmer, and I’m sure he was. By the time he died of a heart attack (brought on, some say, by a hot yoga class) in 2018 at the age of 63 he had gone through 3 wives and was with a new girlfriend in Canada.
I found his book very interesting and I was a sympathetic reader up until Chapter 39. What happened in Chapter 39, you may ask?
The younger Lawford writes, “I left my marriage in sobriety because I was being dishonest and after seventeen years wasn’t sure I wanted to be married anymore.” Young Christopher went on to say, “To tell lies to others is foolish; to tell lies to yourself is a disaster.” He added, “I have always had a certain ambivalence about marriage…Something about that life didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t Jeannie (his wife) or my kids. It was me.” Interestingly enough, Wife #2 (Lana) uses the quote about telling lies to yourself in her IMDB biography.
In the next paragraph Christopher adds, “Many of the people in my life, including my kids, thought I was crazy to break up my marriage and got very angry with me. At the time, it was something I felt like I had to do. I could not lie anymore to others or myself. I thought we would all acclimate to the change and go on in the new circumstances. I seriously underestimated the pain my leaving caused and how difficult it would be for Jeannie and my kids to adjust.”
He adds, “I had made quite a show of trying to destroy myself, and now, after years of reconstruction, I was left with the knowledge that if you took away my sobriety, the only thing that I knew how to do was take advantage of the circumstances I was born into. I believed I needed to leave home to find out who I was.”
Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s therapist at the time said to him, “What about your children?”
By this point, he had three—2 sons (David and Matthew) and a daughter (Savannah Rose).
The therapist correctly added, “It is vital that you do not recreate unconsciously what was done to you by your father.” If you had read the book, you’d know that the divorce of Pat Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford meant that young Christopher—their only son—-really had no father and depended a great deal on the “fathering” of relatives like Robert Kennedy, until RFK’s assassination, and, after that, on Teddy Kennedy.
The therapist then added something that sounds like malpractice, really: “You can recreate it consciously. You can choose to turn away from your family, or not. It’s your life, but you must make a conscious choice.”
Christopher Kennedy Lawford then writes, “I think it was at that moment that I understood how to take responsibility for my own life.”
By this point in time we have learned that the good-looking quasi-Kennedy had always been a big hit with the ladies and was a real “pleaser.” However, all that pleasing did not extend to following the rules when it came to illegal substances and he paints a pretty vivid picture of someone who hit rock bottom more than once before getting sober. He had dabbled in the worlds of both of his parents, taking acting roles on both television and in the movies, and he had wangled some time as a driver to his Uncle Teddy, among other youthful forays into politics.
What it appears happened here is that the always-reluctant-to-grow-up Christopher—having fathered 3 children and spent 17 years as an addict—finally kicked his bad habits and then decided that he could substitute his appeal to the ladies for some of his other weaknesses. In rather short order, he threw over a close-to-20 year marriage and took up with a beautiful young Russian actress named Lana Antonova. [There went the marriage to Jeannie Olsson, which lasted from 1984 until 2000.]
Lana and Chris were married for 4 years and divorced in 2009. She is a Russian-born actress and, since she was born in 1979, she was 24 years younger than her husband.
Enter Mercedes Miller in 2014. That marriage would only last 2 years before the couple divorced in 2016. His last wife, Mercedes was a yoga instructor and Kennedy, who was worth $50 million when he died, was in Vancouver, Canada when his heart gave out. He already had a new girlfriend and was working to establish an addiction treatment center when he died at age 63, just 2 years later than his actor father, Peter.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford lost his Uncle Jack when he was 8. (He turned down an invitation to fly to JFK’s funeral to stay home and host a sleep-over with a friend.) Uncle Bobby was shot and killed when Chris was 13 and he lost his best friend David Kennedy (after whom his own son is named) at the tender age of 28.
He earned a law degree from Boston College Law School, but really didn’t care for the law and never passed the bar. He studied counseling at Harvard University and lectured on addiction at Harvard, Columbia University and other college campuses. He spoke out on recovery issues for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama and for the Caron Foundation, a nationwide drug and alcohol rehabilitation network.
This book by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, “Symptoms of Withdrawal,” is the only one of his many books I’ve read. It contained many family photos of the young Lawford with his Kennedy relatives.
I was sympathetic to his tales of how much he missed his father, growing up, and how that turned him to drugs and alcohol, until he turned around and did, to his own kids, exactly what his own father had done to him, breaking up the home he had shared with their mother for nearly 20 years.
It also appears that the young Lawford then snagged himself a “trophy wife” and, later, a third younger woman, whom he also dumped in 2016 (he died in 2018). He speaks at length of how he hopes to be a good father (unlike his own dad) to his three kids, and I hope he achieved that, at least, because he does not seem to have mastered the “good husband” part.
“We can re-create the days when Frank, Dean, Sammy and my dad were together,” Christopher told the Boston Globe in 2005. “But they all ended up dysfunctional, messed-up guys. And they once had everything. Money. Good looks. Success. Yet at the end, they were miserable, miserable men alone, angry, drinking. So what’s that all about?”
What’s that all about, indeed.