Time's Klein Recalls Meeting a Drunk Ted Kennedy While High on Pot

Reflecting on "How Ted Kennedy Found Himself," Time's Joe Klein today let readers in on an encounter with the Massachusetts senator in the 1970s when he was stoned and Kennedy drunk.

The occasion, Klein receiving an "honorable mention" journalism award from the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial foundation in 1974.

Klein explained how their conversation at the reception centered around an earlier incident in which Sen. Kennedy had been pelted with tomatoes by angry constituents:

I spent a fair amount of time with him in the 1970s, and most of the circumstances involved pain or awkwardness.... I was beginning to feel sorry for the guy. 

And no more so than the day we walked through Boston's City Hall Plaza together and got pelted with tomatoes thrown by some of his most loyal and mythic constituents — the aggrieved Celts of South Boston, whose children were about to be bused into a black neighborhood. Afterward, in his office, he offered me a towel to wipe the tomato off my ruined khaki suit and disappeared. But we talked again about that day soon after, and memorably so, since neither of us was sober. It was at a cocktail reception at Ethel Kennedy's home, for recipients of the Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards, one of whom happened to be me. In celebration, before the ceremony, a Kennedy who shall remain nameless took me down to the barn for an intense herbal experience. When I returned to the house, there was Teddy — and it was immediately apparent that he was as shiffazed as I was stoned. We greeted each other like old comrades in arms, sat in a corner and talked about how he wasn't angry about the tomatoes, about how sad and unfair it was that the Irish of Southie and the blacks of Roxbury had to endure busing while the rich kids out in the suburbs got off the hook. It was the first actual conversation we'd ever had. A picture was taken of him handing me the award, which has somehow, sadly, been lost. We were both smiling.

Klein then went on to describe how, a few months later, he lied to Kennedy about rampant drug use at Ethel Kennedy's home:

A few months later, I was back at Ethel Kennedy's house — living there as the deputy to Richard Goodwin, the J.F.K. speechwriter who had been tapped as the Rolling Stone Washington bureau chief. On July 4 weekend, Hunter Thompson showed up, and I don't remember much else after that, except that a fair number of Ethel's children were involved. Word spread quickly, as word will do in Washington. That Monday, by coincidence, I had an appointment with Kennedy to talk about a story I was working on, and he said, "Joe, before we get started, can I ask you something off the record?" I said sure, and he continued. "What on earth is happening at that house?"

"Why nothing, Senator," I said, summoning all the false gravity in my tiny arsenal. He smiled, raised an eyebrow. "O.K., O.K.," he said. "I asked."

Two years ago in a New York Times book review, Klein noted that his drug-laden Independence Day of '74 included a hare-brained scheme to protest President Richard Nixon with a truck load of vermin:

On July 2, 1974, I started work as deputy Washington bureau chief for Rolling Stone magazine. My unlikely boss was Richard Goodwin, the former Kennedy speechwriter, who invited me to join him in temporary residence at Ethel Kennedy’s home in McLean, Va. (the owner was in Hyannis for the summer). On July 3, Hunter Thompson joined us. Much of what ensued that holiday weekend is lost in the mists of history and a fog of controlled substances. There were extensive conversations about the viability of renting a truck, filling it with rats and dumping them on the White House lawn. There was also an effort to remove all the Andy Williams songs from the Kennedy jukebox and replace them with Otis Redding. But mostly I remember having a marathon conversation with Hunter about books and writers, settling finally on Joseph Conrad’s exhortation in “Lord Jim”: “In the destructive element immerse!”

Magazines Time Online Media Government & Press Hunter S. Thompson