Edward Kennedy, Statesman And Terrible Driver, Dead At 77

Senator Edward "Teddy" Kennedy (D-MA), the "Lion Of The Senate" and the only man to lose the Presidency because of an auto accident, passed away Tuesday night at his Massachusetts home. Jalopnik remembers the man and his legend below.

When Ted Kennedy was first elected to the Senate in 1962, it seemed the biggest tragedy in his life was being the Kennedy without prominent cheekbones. Before too many years had passed, however, his brothers John and Robert would be assassinated and he himself would barely survive an airplane accident. These experiences doubtless shattered him and left him with many personal demons, but they were at least matched by the ones he was about to bring upon himself and Mary Jo Kopechne.

On July 18, 1969, Kennedy gave Kopechne, a teacher, secretary and former political campaign specialist, a ride from a party of people who had worked on his brother Robert's presidential campaign. Although it's unclear why, Kennedy drove his Oldsmobile 88 down an unlit dirt road and off a bridge into a nearby tidal channel. Kennedy was able to swim free of the car; Kopechne was not. It was several hours before the overturned car was spotted by local fishermen, who alerted the police, while Kennedy himself only reported his involvement in the accident after Kopechne's body was discovered.

The actual circumstances of the accident and its aftermath are a confusing tangle that will be debated for years and has already been reduced to bumper-sticker commentary, but it undeniably put a stop to Senator Kennedy's Presidential political ambition. To his credit, Kennedy continued to work tirelessly for the causes he believed in, and was considered by many to be one of the most effective members of the Senate at the time of his death. Sadly, for many, his legacy will always be his role in the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne and the National Lampoon Volkswagen ad parody he inspired.