- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Christopher Kennedy Lawford had just flown in from Boston to Washington for the second stop on the promotional tour for his first book, “Symptoms of Withdrawal.”

Tall and slim in a navy-blue suit and open-necked white shirt, the author sat with ease in a high-backed chair in a quiet corner of a hotel on Massachusetts Avenue. With a head of thick dark hair flecked with gray at the temples, clear gray eyes and smooth skin, he looks nowhere near his 50 years.

He is feeling good. With positive advance reviews — including jacket blurbs from Norman Mailer and Frank McCourt — his memoir quickly hit the New York Times best-seller list.

As an actor, Mr. Lawford has a strong role in “The World’s Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins. The film received warm reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival.

He is proud of the resonance of his middle name — prominently displayed on the book’s dust jacket — though as the actor, he is billed as Chris Lawford. He earned a law degree, but never practiced as a lawyer, and turned to acting in the 1990s, when he became a star on the ABC soap opera “All My Children.”

His father was English actor Peter Lawford, a member of Frank Sinatra’s high-living “Rat Pack.” Mr. Lawford looks a veritable clone of his father, who died in 1984. His mother is Patricia Kennedy, sister of former President John F. Kennedy. The glamour of it all is difficult to match.

Mr. Lawford fills many pages with recollections of his youth. His mother seems to have kept every note he ever wrote to her, which proved fortunate for his book.

Mr. Lawford was only 8 when his Uncle Jack was killed in Dallas. He remembers that he turned down his mother when she asked him whether he wanted to fly from Malibu, Calif., to Washington for the funeral with her, his father and one of his sisters. He was going to have his first sleepover with his best friend and wasn’t going to miss it, no matter what the family wanted. That was “the first time in my life my desires came into direct conflict with my family,” said Mr. Lawford, whose parents divorced in 1966.

He was 13 when Uncle Bobby — Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, a leading candidate for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination — was taken down by Sirhan Sirhan in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. At 13, Mr. Lawford’s school chums turned him on to LSD. He says: “Once I had made the decision to take drugs, there was no hesitation or doubt.”

Before long, on a summer vacation on Cape Cod, Mass., Mr. Lawford says, he introduced two of Robert Kennedy’s sons, David and Bobby Jr., to the excitement of illicit drugs. Of his descent into addiction, he says: “My parents seemed too busy with their own lives and dramas to intervene in my downward spiral. My mother sent me away to boarding school to be somebody else’s problem. And my father only showed up once or twice a year to take me out to dinner.”

He was in the grip of drugs and alcohol for 17 years. With determination and the help of a therapist, he has stayed clean “day by day.”

Mr. Lawford 389-page memoir pauses occasionally to zoom in on what he calls “snapshots” — details or dialogue that remain particularly vivid in his mind, such as running in the aisles of the train bearing Robert Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington as he and his young cousins waved from the windows to the thousands of people along the tracks. Another snapshot: Coming upon his aunt Ethel Kennedy — Robert Kennedy’s widow — weeping alone by the side of the coffin, which was “the first time in those three days that I saw a member of my family cry.”

At 10, Mr. Lawford says, he first saw a naked woman, Jacqueline Kennedy, when he was spending the night with Cousin John Kennedy Jr. and inadvertently walked into the bathroom as the former first lady was getting ready to step into the tub.

As for women in his adult life, Mr. Lawford spends many pages discussing his boyish fantasies about girls, but passes over details until he announces his marriage to a desirable young woman, to whom he remained married for 17 years until “I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married anymore.” He and his ex-wife have three children, the youngest 10 and the oldest a college student.

Questioned about sliding over many aspects of his relationships with women, Mr. Lawford leans forward earnestly.

“I want to write my next book about women,” he says. “It’s a very complex subject that isn’t really discussed enough in this country. I’m going to go into all that.”

As for religion, Mr. Lawford says, he decided in his early teens that he didn’t want to attend church any longer. He doubted his mother “ever attended the first 20 minutes of Mass unless it was at my grandmother’s house or at a funeral.”

In his book, he recalls from childhood his negative reactions to the Catholic Church, saying: “Many of the Catholics I know are some of the most prolific fornicators on the planet.”

As for politics, he has many kind words about Uncle Teddy — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, for whom he once worked as an intern.

Politics, he says, was something he hadn’t wanted to discuss in this book, although at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, he notes: “It would take 40 years for me to define my own beliefs when it came to Cuba.”

Among the many photographs in Mr. Lawford’s book are two with a caption that reads: “Me with the great dictator Fidel Castro in Cuba.”

Mr. Lawford’s enthusiasm for Cuba seems total. Havana, he says, is one of the most beautiful cities he has seen, and he says it’s too bad that the United States has always shown the wrong policies toward Cuba.

He throws both arms behind his head and bursts out, “Bush is impossible.”

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