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For Kennedy grandchildren, family name is a burden and a blessing

Clockwise from top left: Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy is an actress; Jack Schlossberg has a high profile; Caroline Rose Kennedy was arrested in 2017 following a loud party; Conor Kennedy has dated Taylor Swift.Staff, wire file photos

They are actors and activists, politicians, and journalists. And many are private people living out of the spotlight, in college, high school, or elementary school.

Two generations removed from the glow of the Kennedy White House, the Kennedy family now includes more than 30 grandchildren who still find their lives — both their accomplishments and missteps — breathlessly tracked by a public fascinated by the descendants of “Camelot.”

Saoirse Kennedy Hill, a 22-year-old granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy who died Thursday at the family compound on Cape Cod, was one of the more private members of the famous family. A Boston College student, she had written of her struggles with depression.

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Still, her death made news worldwide, from Ireland to Australia. Many headlines described her as a grandniece of President John F. Kennedy and her death as the latest in a long line of tragedies to strike the family.

“The Kennedys are and remain American royalty, so even though you’re getting generations away from the children of Rose and Joe Kennedy, they still hold this fascination,” said Scott Ferson, a former press secretary to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, referring to the patriarch and matriarch who established the family’s wealth and power a century ago. “They have that intersection of political dynasty and celebrity.”

Larry Tye, a biographer of RFK, said the Kennedy legacy is both a burden and an opportunity for the grandchildren. Tye, a former Globe reporter, went to high school with David Kennedy, one of RFK’s 11 children, who died in 1984 of a drug overdose in a hotel in Palm Beach, Fla.

“This famous family continues to intrigue Americans, and that is better for some of the offspring, and worse for others,” Tye said. “I’m really struck by the burden part of it.”

Robert Dallek, a presidential historian and biographer of JFK, said Kennedy Hill’s death affects many Americans as it would the passing of a member of a royal family.

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“So much tragedy has followed them for so long, it strikes resonant chords with millions of people in this country, and they feel it almost personally,” he said.

Some of the Kennedy grandchildren have embraced the spotlight, stepping into the worlds of entertainment and politics.

Perhaps the most prominent is US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, a grandchild of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, who was elected to Congress in 2012, following in the footsteps of his father, former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II.

Another well-known grandchild is Jack Schlossberg, a grandson of JFK who is getting dual degrees in business and law from Harvard. He has appeared on national television to discuss the family legacy and helped announce the annual “Profile in Courage” and “New Frontier” awards. Along with other Kennedy grandchildren, he has been profiled in glossy magazines and had his love life dissected in the gossip pages.

Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, a granddaughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, has made her name as an actress whose credits include “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Gossip Girl.”

Robert Kennedy III, also an RFK grandchild, is an actor and producer who made news last summer when he married a former CIA officer, Amaryllis Fox, at the family compound in Hyannis Port. In January, the couple announced the birth of their daughter, Bobby.

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Other grandchildren have found their troubles and romances turned into tabloid fodder.

Such was the case for Conor Kennedy, who dated Taylor Swift when he was a teenager and pleaded guilty in 2017 to disorderly conduct following a fight outside a bar in Aspen.

Another Kennedy grandchild, Caroline Kennedy, landed in the news in 2017, when she was 22 and was arrested along with her father, Max Kennedy, following a noisy party in Hyannis Port. She was sent to a pretrial diversion program, and he paid a $150 fine for a noise violation.

The intense interest in the family — both positive and unflattering — is no surprise to the grandchildren, Ferson said.

“They’re brought up to know they’re going to have an extra level of attention and scrutiny on their actions,” he said.

When a tragedy strikes, Ferson said, it instantly recalls the many others that have befallen the family, from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 to the death 20 years ago of his son, John F. Kennedy Jr., in a plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard.

Robert F. Kennedy, the grandfather of Kennedy Hill, was assassinated five years after his brother, in 1968. In 1997, Michael Kennedy, David Kennedy’s brother, died when he crashed into a tree while skiing in Aspen. In 2011, Kara Kennedy, Edward Kennedy’s daughter, died of a heart attack while exercising at a health club. She was 51.

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That Kennedy Hill died in the family compound – the backdrop for many iconic photos of JFK and his family at play — only heightened the attention, Ferson said.

“It’s such a touchstone for people,” he said.

For Americans distressed about the state of the country under President Trump, Dallek said, the Kennedy family has taken on even greater symbolic meaning, evoking a bygone era of glamour and greatness in Democratic politics.

“They’re reverting back to the Kennedys,” he said, “to hold on to something that they admire.”


Michael Levenson can be reached at michael.levenson@globe.com