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Mary Kennedy's family blasts stories on her death

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri May 18, 2012
Fifteen years ago, on July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, died in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Her sister was also aboard the plane. The tragedies the Kennedy family has faced have become part of American history. Click through to see other moments of tribulation for the family. Fifteen years ago, on July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, died in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Her sister was also aboard the plane. The tragedies the Kennedy family has faced have become part of American history. Click through to see other moments of tribulation for the family.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Mary Kennedy's family blasts "misrepresentations" of her life
  • Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed for divorce from his wife in 2010
  • The couple was still married at the time of her death
  • "It's very hard being ... a blood Kennedy or being married to one," biographer says

(CNN) -- The family of Mary Richardson Kennedy, the estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., blasted news accounts of her death Thursday for what they called "inaccuracies and misrepresentations" of her life.

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Kennedy was found dead Wednesday in Bedford, New York, north of New York City. She died of asphyxiation due to hanging, the Westchester County medical examiner said Thursday.

"While we would naturally prefer to remain private at this very upsetting time, we feel compelled to make this statement because the description of Mary carried by certain news organizations since her passing yesterday is wholly inconsistent with the sister we knew and the life she, in fact, lived," her family said in a written statement.

"We loved Mary and knew her to be an exceptional mother, sibling and friend to many," they said. "Countless people have described her as an extraordinary mother, selfless in her desire to help others, and one of the finest people in the world. We know her as all those things, and more."

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The statement did not single out any particular reports. But several accounts of her death noted her troubled marriage to the son of the onetime New York senator, who was assassinated in 1968, and the details of their private lives that were exposed when he filed for divorce in May 2010.

Despite the filing, the couple were still married at the time of Mary Kennedy's death, her family attorney, Kerry A. Lawrence, told CNN.

The evening after the divorce filing, Bedford police were called to the couple's home and found them arguing over taking their four children to a carnival. According to a "domestic incident" report filed by the officer on the scene, "Mr. Kennedy stated that his wife was intoxicated and was acting irrational so he took the children to the carnival to remove them from the situation."

No one was injured, the report said. Two days later, Mary Kennedy was arrested for driving while intoxicated, but the charge was later reduced to a violation, the criminal charge was dismissed and her driver's license was suspended for 90 days, Lawrence said.

A second arrest occurred in August of the same year in the town of Pleasant Valley, in which she was charged with driving while impaired by prescription drugs, Lawrence said. Those charges were dismissed completely in July 2011 because all the drugs were prescribed and taken as her physician advised, the attorney said.

Mary Kennedy's death was a blow not only to her own family, but a fresh wound for a political dynasty long shadowed by tragedy.

"We know from a history of this family, it's very hard being a Kennedy, either being a blood Kennedy or being married to one," Laurence Leamer, a Kennedy biographer, said on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront." "The overwhelming celebrity, the attention, the obligations, the expectations that you're supposed to do something with your life. It's very, very hard."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent environmental lawyer who is a professor at Pace Law School in White Plains, New York, is the third of 11 children born to Ethel and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. His father was gunned down in California while making a run for the White House, nearly five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, also died at the hands of an assassin.

More than three decades later, in 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, died when a plane he was piloting crashed in the waters off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. David Kennedy died of a drug overdose and Michael Kennedy was killed in a skiing accident.

Mary Kennedy was "a tremendously gifted architect and a pioneer and relentless advocate of green design who enhanced her cutting edge, energy efficient creations with exquisite taste and style," Robert F. Kennedy's family said in a statement.

"Mary inspired our family with her kindness, her love, her gentle soul and generous spirit," a statement by the husband's family said. She advocated finding a cure for food allergies and asthma and was a co-founder of the Food Allergy Initiative, which is the world's largest private source of funding for food allergy research, they said.

As a designer, Mary Kennedy specialized in green architecture. In a book titled "Kennedy Green House," co-author Robert F. Kennedy Jr. describes how he and his wife restored their flooded, black-mold-infested home into an eco-friendly residence.

In the book, her husband wrote that she had worked for the design firm Parish-Hadley and worked on the renovation of the Naval Observatory in Washington, the official residence of the U.S. vice president.

CNN's Nina Ibarra, Michael Martinez and Rob Frehse contributed to this report.

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