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But even as Mr. Kennedy’s oratorical skills shined, he was just a few years beyond his ill-fated car accident, and it was too soon for him to have rehabilitated himself publicly for a presidential run. Mr. Kennedy later campaigned for higher office but lost the Democratic primary to upstart Jimmy Carter.

But unlike his brothers and sisters, some of whom had died suddenly, in war, by accident or by assassination, Mr. Kennedy had a longer time to reconcile himself to his position. As it turned out, he became the liberal lion of the Senate, both loved and hated by voters depending on their points of view, but respected among his peers in Congress.

The chink in the family image armor took another blow when Jacqueline Kennedy, long viewed as the bereaved and stylish widow — the queen of Camelot — married a Greek tycoon, Aristotle Onassis, angering some who had hailed her family devotion as iconic. Although she was the epitome of style and dignity for many, her remarriage, to a foreigner, was a signal that the Camelot utopia was fading into the sunset of real life.

Of his siblings, Ted Kennedy lost one brother to war, a sister to a plane crash and two brothers to assassination, and a sister was institutionalized after a failed lobotomy. Mr. Kennedy himself was injured in 1964 in a private plane crash that killed the pilot and a political aide. Five years later, he had that infamous Chappaquiddick car crash that killed Mary Jo Kopechne.

In 1973, his son Edward Kennedy Jr. lost his right leg to cancer while Joseph P. Kennedy II had a car accident that paralyzed his female passenger.

One of the most gut-wrenching of the family tragedies came in 1999 when John F. Kennedy Jr., the former president’s son, along with his wife and sister, perished in a plane crash off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Ted Kennedy’s sister, would pass away just days before Ted Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer early Wednesday.

“It is tragic that Ted is not well enough to be fighting for his signature issue, health care,” laments Robert Watson, a professor of American Studies at Florida’s Lynn University. “So many members of Congress have been show horses, but Ted’s record of work — has been prolific and without rival. He has shown remarkable resilience in remaining not only relevant but on top of his game throughout all the tough times. In this way, he is the epitome of the Kennedy family, a family that as many have noted, seems cursed but a family also defined by mystique and a burning passion for public service.”