“May a plague curse both your families.”
Mercutio says these famous words at the end of Act 1 in Shakespeare’s Rome and Juliet. And we all know what eventually happens to Romeo, Juliet, and the feuding houses of Capulet and Montague… “for never was there a story of more woe.” Of course, cursed families and blighted bloodlines existed long before Shakespeare. The Ancient Greeks had more curses than the Kennedy clan, from the House of Atreus to the mythical House of Thebes. In the latter, poor Oedipus kills his father, marries his mother, and blinds himself. Is a curse an explanation for bad luck or is something supernatural going on… a divine deus ex machina that strikes down families with wealth, power, and gene pools fouled with hubris and impropriety?
Misfortune and adversity plague all types of families, from royal dynasties to scions of industry. The more famous and powerful a family is, the more scrutiny it receives; the skeletons in the closet don’t remain in the closet for long. Yet some families are magnets for misfortune. Generation after generation is plagued with tragedy, as if their bloodlines are cursed… their lineages tainted. This is seen in families like the Hapsburgs, Romanovs, and Guinnesses. As Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
10. The Von Erich Family
The Von Erichs were a prominent wrestling family in Texas in the 1980s. Family patriarch Jack Adkisson, aka Fritz Von Erich, master of The Iron Claw, lived to be 68. However, misfortune was in the bloodline. Five of Fritz’s six sons died before him, and the family was called the Kennedys of the wrestling world. Sons Michael, Chris, and Kerry all committed suicide. The firstborn son, Jack Jr., died in a freak accident; he was electrocuted in the family home in 1959. And David died from a drug overdose in 1984. Wrestling the Curse, Amanda Spain’s documentary about the Von Erich family, debuted on ESPN in 2015.
9. The Agnelli Family
The Agnelli family is Italy’s uncrowned royal family. Patriarch Giovanni Agnelli became the president of Fiat in 1968, an industrial dynasty worth well over $2 billion. Giovanni’s eldest son, Edoardo, had no interest in the auto business and went searching for spiritual enlightenment in India. He was arrested at a beach resort in Kenya in 1990 for trafficking heroin. In 2000, Edoardo’s body was found at the base of a viaduct from an apparent suicide. In 1997 Giovanni’s nephew, Giovanni Agnelli Jr., died from a rare form of cancer; at the time, the 33 year-old former playboy had abandoned the jet set lifestyle and was being groomed to take over the company. Family members have been squabbling over the Fiat fortune since the death of Giovanni Sr. in 2003.
8. The Hemingway Family
American Literature wouldn’t be the same without Ernest Hemingway. Between the mid 1920s and mid 1950s, Hemingway penned his best work, his economical style in classics like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls winning him the Nobel prize in 1954. Nevertheless, Hemingway suffered from severe depression. He killed himself with a shotgun at age 62. But Papa wasn’t he only Hemingway to suffer from clinical depression. His sister, Ursula, struggled with depression and overdosed five years after the celebrated author killed himself. Sixteen years later Leicester, Ernest’s brother, ended his life killed with a shotgun blast when he learned he’d lose both his legs due to diabetes.
7. The Lee Family
Bruce Lee died six days before the release of his kung fu masterpiece Enter the Dragon. He was 33. His death triggered a maelstrom of rumors and conspiracy theories –the Chinese triads and Italian mafia were both blamed for Lee’s untimely death. The official report, however, was less sinister. Lee had a headache and was given a painkiller by the actress Betty Ting Pei; he went to take a nap on her sofa, but never woke up. The coroner concluded that Bruce Lee had cannabis in his system, and that the painkiller and cannabis caused an allergic reaction that poisoned the actor’s system.
Twenty years later Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, died in a freak accident on the set of The Crow. He was 28. A live round was accidentally placed in the prop gun, and Brandon was shot in the abdomen. Once again conspiracy theorists pointed fingers at the Chinese triads and Italian mafia
6. The House of Hapsburg
The House of Hapsburg was a six hundred year European aristocracy and one of the most important royal houses in Europe. But six hundred years is plenty of time for tragedy, misfortune, and a host of inbreeding descendants. Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I married his cousin Elisabeth of Bavaria. Her side of the family was plagued by mental illness, which probably contributed to the untimely death of Rudolph, her only son and heir to the throne. In 1889, Rudolph and his 17-year old mistress Mary Vetsera died in a murder-suicide at the prince’s hunting lodge. Because of Rudolph’s untimely death, Franz Ferdinand, the emperor’s nephew, became the heir apparent. And the rest, as they say, is history: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 led to the chain of events that triggered World War I.
5. The Osmond Family
It would take Freud a lifetime to sort out all of the trauma that has befallen the Osmond family, a clan that’s made millions with their saccharine pop songs and holier than thou image. Beneath the veneer, however, is a family riddled with mental illness, depression, and stories of sexual abuse. Marie Osmond suffered from postpartum depression and allegedly attempted suicide. In the book “Behind the Smile,” she claimed she was sexually abused when she was a worldwide teen idol in the ’70s. In 2010, Marie Osmond’s 18-year old adopted son Donny Osmond committed suicide. His suicide note said he wanted to end his battle with depression and addiction.
4. The House of Monaco
There’s a legend that says a 13th century “marriage” curse was laid upon the royal family of Monaco –the Grimaldis. Prince Rainer I allegedly raped a young girl. In order to exact revenge, the girl became a witch and cursed the family. But while the house of Grimaldi has suffered one nuptial crisis after another, the curse runs deeper than bad marriages. In 1982, Princess Grace (Grace Kelly) died in a mysterious car crash. From that moment on Monaco’s royal family was rocked by scandal; paternity suits, out-of-wedlock children, and Princess Grace’s “pre-Rainer” abortion were just the beginning of the tabloid fodder that shocked the Cote d’Azur. Princess Grace’s eldest daughter, Caroline, carried on the cursed bloodline. Her second husband, Stephano Casiraghi, died in a speedboat accident in 1990 at age 30, leaving her alone with the three children.
3. The Brando Family
“The horror… the horror.” The line uttered by Colonel Kurtz at the end of Apocalypse Now sums up the Brando family’s cursed bloodline. Brando’s family suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction. In the autobiography “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” Marlon Brando wrote: “The anguish that her drinking produced was that she preferred getting drunk to caring for us.” Brando’s first wife, Anna Kashfi, developed a drug and alcohol problem after giving birth to their son Christian. But the Brando family’s bad luck didn’t end there.
In 1990, Christian shot and killed the boyfriend of his half-sister Cheyenne in the living room of Marlon’s Beverly Hills home. Christian Brando was convicted of voluntary manslaughter; he served six years of a ten-year sentence. Cheyenne committed suicide one year before Christian was released from jail. Christian died of pneomia in 2008 at the age of 49.
2. The Getty Family
Kidnappings, affairs, premature deaths, grand wealth and equally grand misfortune –the story of the Getty family is the story of the American Dream turned sour. John Paul Getty, founder of the Getty Oil Company, was America’s first oil billionaire and named the richest man in America by Forbes in 1957. A notorious philanderer, John Paul Getty was married five times. Timmy, Getty’s first son, died of a brain tumor at age 12, and his eldest, George, died under mysterious circumstances.
In 1973 John Paul Getty III, the elder Getty grandson, was kidnapped by the Italian mafia. His release was secured for $2.4 million, but not before the gangsters sent a chunk of his ear to his mother. Traumatized, J. Paul Getty III never recovered from the kidnapping. He he died in 20111 after years of drug abuse left him paralyzed and partially blind.
1. The Kennedy Family
(Photograph: years before he would die in a plane crash, John F Kennedy Jr. salutes the coffin of his assassinated father).
Yet another Kennedy died too young. That’s the backbone of the Camelot curse. The story of the Kennedys is a story about wealth, power, privilege and prestige. But it’s also the story of a family’s tragic fall from grace. Did vengeful gods curse the Kennedys because they were jealous of their power and prestige, or is the number of tragedies that befell America’s royal clan the natural fallout of a family riddled with hubris and entitlement? Perhaps it depends on which side of the political fence you’re on.
The end of “Camelot” began with the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy in 1963, and was cemented with the assassination of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968. Senator Edward Kennedy is the only one of four brothers to die from natural causes, but the scandal surrounding his drunken car crash on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, and the death of campaign aid Mary Jo Kopechne, stalked him for the rest of his life. Murder, rape, suicide, alcoholism, depression, a skiing accident, plane crashes, overdoses, relentless womanizing, and a host other crimes and misdemeanors have haunted the Kennedys.