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Mr. Kennedy also acknowledged being a drinker. His exploits during and after his first marriage were regular fodder for gossip pages, and made famous the Washington restaurants that were the scenes of some of the reported incidents.

His ups and downs would lead the Boston Globe’s political team, which completed a biography of the senator earlier this year, to describe his life as a “fall and rise.”

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Some constants in his life included the burdens of his famous family name and his Irish-Catholic heritage.

He received his First Holy Communion from Pope Pius XII at the Vatican. In July, when Mr. Obama had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, the president gave the pope a private letter from Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy also prompted countless debates within the Catholic community for taking Communion despite a pro-choice voting record.

As for family, it was both a source of respite and a reminder that he was always in the public eye.

His sailing trips off Cape Cod or time spent at the family’s Palm Beach, Fla., compound were favorite pastimes, but could prove to be sources of trouble as well. In 1991, his nephew William Kennedy Smith was tried and acquitted of rape charges stemming from an evening at the Palm Beach compound while he was visiting with his uncle.

It was after the Chappaquiddick incident that Mr. Kennedy questioned whether there wasn’t some sort of curse on the Kennedy family.

After his brain cancer diagnosis, Mr. Kennedy began an aggressive regimen of surgery, then weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

Mr. Kennedy was reviled by conservative Republicans, who used his name to help fundraising drives, and he was a frequent target of jokes about government and tax increases. However, he never lost his moral or political clout among Democrats.

He helped push Sen. John Kerry, his fellow senator from Massachusetts, over the line for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, and his early endorsement of Mr. Obama in the fierce primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton helped propel Mr. Obama to the nomination and the White House in 2008.

At last year’s presidential nominating convention, Mr. Kennedy made an appearance and declared that the torch his brother John had taken up at his 1961 inauguration had been passed once again to Mr. Obama.

“The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on,” Mr. Kennedy proclaimed.

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