Sunday, May 07, 2006

Patrick Kennedy

Photograph Stephenie Hollyman Copyright 2006

I photographed Patrick Kennedy when he first ran for congressional office in Rhode Island some long time ago... was it 1988? So you can imagine how saddened I was to follow the story of Patrick's latest relapse and accident last week and his confession on Thursday that he was addicted to prescription pain killers. He claimed full responsibility for his actions and decided to bring it out in the open. For those of us who have watched friends suffer as they tried to overcome addictions, Patrick's story is so familiar.

" I struggle every day with this disease, as do millions of Americans, " this six-term Congressional representative from Rhode Island told the press on Thursday.

I immediately flashed back 18 years to the sticky torrid day I was assigned by Marcel Saba, then at Picture Group, to spend a Saturday with Patrick as he campaigned for his first term for the office of Congressional Representative for Rhode Island. Backed with a gurantee from Newsweek (or was it Time?) I followed Patrick in Providence, Rhode Island, while he pressed the flesh with voters accompanied by his father Teddy. I covered Patrick's back-yard birthday party that evening. Patrick told me he has severe back pain that day, and was tired. You can catch a glimpse of it in this photograph I took before he jumped into a public pool, this swimming ritual he performed daily as physical therapy.

Respecting Patrick's privacy I have never told this story except to a few close friends. But I feel it is now the time, after reading Patrick's public confession. He's very much his mother's son.

Patrick Kenndy: 1988

I arrived early at Patrick's house that morning in 1988 and quickly experienced first-hand the Kennedys' renowned ability to make members of the press feel as part of their extended family. Patrick put me at ease and we quickly bonded as we chatted about the gaff-rigged sailing boats we had both once owned called Beetlecats, his back pain, and my recent photographic work covering America's displaced homeless. My book, We the Homeless, Portraits of America's Displaced People ( Philospohical Library 1988)was going to press and I showed Patrick its cover. Patrick's mother Joan soon arrived and we were introduced.

The party that evening was going to be Joan Kennedy's first public appearence since she had ran her car onto a sidewalk while under the influence of alcohol, a few weeks earlier. Senator Kennedy had just announced that their marriage was over and that he was seeking a seperation.

Before the party, in Patrick's small dining room, Joan took me aside and told me that she planned to speak to the press about her problems with alcohol, if they attended Patrick's party. She asked my advice and I told her I really had none to offer other than to " tell it like it is."

Her eyes were clear and she was resolute. She spoke of the support she had received from her friends in the " rooms" to go public. Knowing that was how AA folks refer to their meetings I nodded. I really felt quite out of my league.

She then changed the subject, and asked me about what I had seen in Appalachia while traveling to finish up my book. She told me about her trip through the region with President Kennedy and his deep desire to begin breaking the cycle of poverty endemic to that hilly terrain.

Senator Kenndy Arrives

Senator Kennedy left the room as quickly as he had entered when he saw his soon to be ex-wife was in attendence. We moved out into Patrick's small back yard where his neighbors and other family members gathered.

A small band was playing. It was a strained but civil party. I took some pictures. But whenever Senator Kenndy was within the radious of a 24mm lens of Joan, he quickly moved away.

Joan told me that Patrick had insisted she attend. She looked relieved when no press appeared. She asked me to approach Senator Kennedy on her behalf, to request a family portrait.

Senator Kennedy was flushed when I approached him. He embraced me with his arm at first which he quickly dropped when he heard Joan's request. He swore mightily under his breath, "XXXX, she asked that?" breaking away abruptly to storm into Patrick's house. The screen door slammed shot. I looked across the yard and saw Joan quickly turn away from watching. She headed for the electric piano used by the party's band and quickly began playing "Happy Birthday."

Then in a scene only out of Fellini, a cake, Patrick and the Senator emerged from the house. The Senator was all smiles. After the singing died down and the cake was cut the Senator approached me. He put his arm around me again. He was sweaty and his shirt unbuttoned. He apologized for his reaction to Joan's request and said that Patrick had told me all about me. " Patrick told me all about your work with the homeless and even showed me your book. Powerful pictures inside. Terrific work."

There was no book by me in Patrick's Patrick's house. Just one picture from the cover.

Fast Forward

Picture Group began to fall apart for reasons better left alone. I joined Gamma-Liaison. Marcel has already left to start up an agency on his own. I thought Picture Group had returned all my pictures and was completly out of business until I received a message on my answering machine late one Friday afternoon. The William Kennedy-Smith story had just broken and Picture Group told me they had sent the photo of Patrick Kennedy with bath towel to People and several news magazines.

I called them back. They told they had already sent dupes to major publications and were lining up some big guarantees. I said I did not want the photo released as Patrick was not a suspect. This picture with a bath towel could place him in the public's mind on the beach in front of the clan's Palm Beach compound where the alleged rape occurred. I remarked I was puzzled that Picture Group still had the originals on hand.

They reminded me that I was a journalist and I needed to be more objective. I reminded them of my warning upon joing the agency that "I don't do paparazzi". I told them, " You'll just have to call the magazines and tell them the photos are embargoed. "

Career suicide? Perhaps.

Do I regret my action? No way.

Good luck Patrick.

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