A Look Back at Robert F. Kennedy's Tragic Presidential Campaign as His Son Declares Candidacy 55 Years Later

RFK was attempting to carry his older brother's political torch — though his own fight for change would also be cut short when he was assassinated leaving a campaign event

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty RFK Portrait Session
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty RFK Portrait Session

News this week that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is planning a 2024 presidential run felt, for many Americans, all too familiar. Fifty-five years prior to RFK Jr. filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to challenge Joe Biden as a Democratic candidate, his father and namesake launched his own fateful run for the office.

Robert F. Kennedy, the younger brother of late President John F. Kennedy, was a New York senator and former U.S. Attorney General when he announced his decision to run for the nation's highest office in March 1968 — five years after JFK was assassinated as commander-in-chief.

Known simply as "RFK" or "Bobby," the younger Kennedy was at the time attempting to carry his brother's political torch, unaware that his own fight for change would soon be cut short, too.

He ran on a platform of social change, racial and economic justice — a message that resonated with some, but alienated others.

Related:Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Files to Challenge President Joe Biden in 2024 Democratic Primary

While Kennedy fell behind Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy in some early Democratic primaries, he scored major victories in both California and South Dakota on June 4, 1968. The next night, he spoke to supporters from a ballroom at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to celebrate the achievement.

In what would be his final speech, Kennedy spoke about the "the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society," adding his hope that "we can start to work together."

Following the speech, he left the ballroom, traveling through the hotel kitchen to reach the press room. It was there, in a crowded passageway while he shook hands with a hotel busboy, that Kennedy was shot by a 24-year-old Palestinian man named Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy was hit three times, and five others near him were wounded. He died as a result of his injuries.

In his eulogy, brother Ted Kennedy said Bobby "saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

Evan Vucci/AP Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Evan Vucci/AP Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

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This week, RFK's son made his own moves to run for office by filing the necessary paperwork — just weeks after alluding he would run for the office in a tweet last month, in which he asked people to "help me decide whether to run for president."

"If it looks like I can raise the money and mobilize enough people to win, I'll jump in the race," he tweeted. "If I run, my top priority will be to end the corrupt merger between state and corporate power that has ruined our economy, shattered the middle class, polluted our landscapes and waters, poisoned our children, and robbed us of our values and freedoms."

Bobby Jr., who is married to Curb Your Enthusiasm actress Cheryl Hines, is much more controversial than his father. Despite his career as an environmental lawyer, his current legacy is that of an anti-vaccine conspiracist, having invited criticism for spreading disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic and founding anti-vaccine nonprofit Children's Health Defense.

Robert F Kennedy Jr/Instagram Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cheryl Hines
Robert F Kennedy Jr/Instagram Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cheryl Hines

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of RFK and sister of Bobby Jr., released a statement on Thursday expressing her complicated feelings about her brother stepping further into the spotlight after bringing embarrassment to the Kennedy family in recent years.

"I love my brother Bobby, but I do not share or endorse his opinions on many issues, including the COVID pandemic, vaccinations, and the role of social media platforms in policing false information," she wrote. "It is also important to note that Bobby's views are not reflected in or influence the mission or work of our organization."

Related:Kerry Kennedy Speaks Out on Bobby Jr.'s Presidential Bid: 'Love My Brother, but Do Not Share or Endorse His Views'

Bobby Jr.'s youngest brother, Doug Kennedy, a correspondent for Fox News Channel, had similar sentiments. When reached by PEOPLE, he noted that his brother clearly "has immense political talent."

"Everyone [in the family] loves him and recognizes his talent," Doug, 56, said. "Not everyone agrees with his positions."

Bobby Jr. is expected to challenge incumbent President Biden, who has previously voiced his plans to "run for reelection," and self-help author Marianne Williamson, who filed to run for president on Saturday, per AP.

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