Tragic Details About Maria Shriver

The following article contains references to drug use and suicide.

Maria Shriver is best known for the numerous roles she has played in her life. Not only is she a member of the famous Kennedy family through her late mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and her father, Sargent Shriver, but she also served as the first lady of California alongside then-husband, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. On top of that, Shriver had an admirable journalism career, raised four children, and became a successful Alzheimer's disease researcher and activist.

Despite her many successes, though, Shriver has also experienced a series of tragedies. As she is a part of the Kennedy family — she is the late John F. Kennedy's niece — she faced tragic early on in her life. Whether or not you believe in the so-called Kennedy family "curse," very real tragedies have befallen Shriver over the years, and they've since shaped her into the woman she is today.

Maria Shriver was a child when her uncle, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated

Maria Shriver was a young girl when a personal — and national — tragedy occurred. On November 22, 1963, Shriver's mother's older brother, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. A widely popular U.S. president, Kennedy was in the midst of a re-election campaign, which included a stop in Texas. Tragically, President Kennedy was shot in the head and the neck while he rode in a motorcade in Texas. The shots occurred shortly after noon, and President Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1 o'clock that afternoon at Parkland Memorial Hospital, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

While the nation was in mourning over the loss of a president, the Kennedy family was mourning one of their own. At the time of her uncle's assassination, Shriver was just 8 years old. On the 59th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, Shriver tweeted, "On this day in 1963, my uncle was killed by an assassin's bullet. I was in 3rd grade at the time. I was taken out of class and sent home. This day is forever seared into my heart and mind." She included a photograph of herself with her late uncle along with his daughter Caroline Kennedy.

Another one of her uncles was assassinated a few years later

Not even five years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, another member of the Kennedy family was assassinated — and it also occurred in the middle of a presidential campaign. Tragically, another uncle on Maria Shriver's mother's side of the family, Robert F. Kennedy, or Bobby, was killed.

Bobby had previously served as attorney general under his older brother John F. Kennedy's administration and also wished to move up the political ladder. In June 1968, Bobby campaigned in California and won the state's Democratic primary races. Sadly, he was shot during a celebration at a Los Angeles hotel, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. He was just 42 years old.

Shriver herself was only 12 years old at the time of Bobby's assassination. Not only was it understandably difficult for the Kennedys as a whole to suffer two assassinations in the same family, but it must have been even harder for a young person like Shriver to grasp. In 2022, Shriver reflected on her loss on Twitter, writing, "We can honor Uncle Bobby on this day by using our voices to imagine a better country for us all. Uncle Bobby asked at the end of this speech he gave the night MLK was killed, 'what do you want to dedicate your life to?' He was killed 8 weeks later."

Maria Shriver found herself suddenly fired from CBS

After graduating from Georgetown University in 1977, Maria Shriver began a fast-moving career. She became a broadcast journalist and producer for a news station in Philadelphia before joining CBS News as a correspondent in 1983. This sort of jump from a local television news station to a national one in such a short amount of time is remarkable.

Despite her quick climb to the top of her career, though, everything came shattering down just a few short years later. In 1986, Shriver was co-anchoring the CBS News Morning Show with fellow journalist Forrest Sawyer when they learned from management that the show had suddenly been canceled. Both anchors were fired from CBS after co-anchoring the show for only a year. The problem wasn't their lack of talent; instead, low ratings led to the cancellation.

"I wanted to say a personal word, not goodby, because friends don't say that to one another," Shriver said on air during the show's last broadcast, as Los Angeles Times reported. "Your letters reassured me that this past year, with all its ups and downs, has been worth it." The following year, Shriver went on to work for NBC, where she remained in some capacity until 2004. 

Maria Shriver's cousin, John F. Kennedy, Jr., died in a plane crash

Three decades after the tragic deaths of her uncles, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, Maria Shriver's family suffered another sudden loss. In 1999, her cousin, John F. Kennedy Jr., died in a plane crash. The accident also took the lives of his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and Carolyn's sister Lauren Bessette.

Piloted by John Jr., the plane went down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Massachusetts. The trio was headed to a wedding for John Jr.'s cousin, Rory Kennedy (Rory was Bobby's youngest child, but she wasn't born until after his assassination).

Sadly, years later, John F. Kennedy Jr.'s death sparked a conspiracy among some people who believe his death was staged — despite the fact that John Jr., Caroline, and Lauren all died on impact and their remains were located within a week of the crash. Other outlandish theories purport that John Jr. will suddenly reappear and run with Donald Trump as a vice presidential candidate in 2024. In 2021, Shriver responded to the chatter by tweeting a clip of MSNBC's Brian Williams calling the conspiracy theorists a "circus of lost souls," per Newsweek.

Maria Shriver's father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003

In 2003, Maria Shriver's father, Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this progressive and degenerative condition is the leading form of dementia, with symptoms of cognitive decline appearing most often after the age of 60. Memory loss is one of the most common characteristics of Alzheimer's disease, though it can also cause personality changes.

Before Sargent's diagnosis, he'd had a successful career that included being the former president of the Special Olympics (which was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver) and the first director of the Peace Corps. Sargent's disease eventually progressed to the point in which Maria routinely needed to explain to her father who she was.

While the diagnosis was undoubtedly difficult for Maria and her family, she used her journalistic background to find out more about Alzheimer's disease. From her research, she found that women are surprisingly disproportionately affected by Alzheimer's compared to men. Maria went on to form the Women's Alzheimer's Movement. She also wrote a children's book about the disease titled "What's Happening to Grandpa?" In 2016, she told Brain & Life, "I'm trying to galvanize women all over the world to help me change the marketing of this disease. It's not just an older person's disease. And it doesn't affect only the individual diagnosed; it deeply impacts the entire family." 

Maria Shriver's life was 'turned upside down' when Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor

Journalism is arguably a part of who Maria Shriver is. Regarding her career, Shriver wrote on her official website, "I've found something interesting and inspirational in everyone and everything I've covered." She went on to explain that "journalism can not only inform, but also inspire us."

In 2003, Shriver's then-husband Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for California governor. To help Schwarzenegger's campaign, Shriver decided to take some time off from her job at NBC. "She was like the secret weapon of the press office," campaign spokesperson Todd Harris told NBC News in November after Schwarzenegger's win.

However, Shriver was reluctant to take on the role of California's first lady, despite growing up in a political family. "I was a child of politics, of course, but at that moment, I was completely out of my comfort zone," she later wrote in an essay for Lean In. "I knew that the life I had been living, the life that I had planned, the life I had made for myself, was about to be turned upside down." 

Upon her husband's election, Maria Shriver felt she lost her 'identity as a working woman'

Immediately following Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as California governor, NBC News reported that Shriver was planning to return to the network after a temporary leave of absence. As time went on, however, it became clear to Shriver that she couldn't pursue her journalism career at the same time as serving as first lady of California.

In February 2004, she announced that she was leaving NBC News. This came after Shriver spoke with NBC executives, but also when accusations of conflicts of interest came to light. "I am proud of the work I have done at NBC News, and I look forward to going back there sometime in the future," CBS News quoted Shriver as saying at the time.

Shriver initially had difficulty accepting her new role. "At the time, I thought it was an absolute disaster," she wrote in an essay for Lean In. "I was losing my paycheck and my identity as a working woman." However, she went on to reveal that she started to embrace her title of first lady. "I let the unknown challenge me as I worked through the uncertainty and the discomfort." Maria remained the first lady of California for seven years. During this time, she founded The Women's Conference and tackled on a series of other social causes, including poverty. 

Maria Shriver's mother died in 2009

In 2009, while Sargent Shriver was living with Alzheimer's disease, Maria's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died. Although the exact cause of death wasn't announced, her family said that Eunice had suffered multiple strokes in the proceeding years, according to The Guardian. She was 88 years old at the time of her death.

"She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others," the Shriver family said in a statement to Politico

In a Mother's Day essay Maria wrote in 2013 for Today, she reflected on her late mom's life and the influence she'd had on her.  "My mom, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was my best friend, my champion," she wrote. "She pushed me, prodded me, challenged me. I miss her very much." Maria continued, writing, "She wanted me to believe that anything was possible. That belief was at the core of who she was and it was at the center of how she lived."

She lost another uncle just days after losing her mom

While Maria Shriver was mourning her mother's death, she lost another family member — her mother's younger brother — not even a week later. Edward "Ted" Kennedy had been fighting brain cancer at the time of Eunice Kennedy Shriver's death.

Ted, who was the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, was diagnosed in May 2008 and died on August 25, 2009. At the time, he was serving his seventh full term in the U.S. Senate, a position he was elected in 1962 to represent the state of Massachusetts, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

On August 30, 2009, Maria Shriver appeared with David Gregory on "Meet the Press" to discuss her late uncle's legacy. "He was the most compassionate, empathetic man. And I think he was that way because he himself was wounded and he himself knew pain, he himself knew struggle, he knew abandonment. He knew all of the things that pain a human being. And so when he saw other human beings in pain, or where their character was questioned or where they had loss, he was always the first person to reach out."

Her father died in 2011 after living almost a decade with Alzheimer's disease

In January 2011, after living with Alzheimer's disease for about a decade, Sargent Shriver died at the age of 95. All five of his children, including Maria, were by his side, as well as other extended family members. In their statement to CNN, the Shriver family said of Sargent, "He lived to make the world a more joyful, faithful, and compassionate place. He worked on stages both large and small but in the end, he will be best known for his love of others. No one ever came into his presence without feeling his passion and his enthusiasm for them."

Maria has continued to push for Alzheimer's disease advocacy, as well as research for early detection and future treatments. Underlying this important work, she told Brain & Life, "Unlike when dealing with cancer, even at its most aggressive stages, there's no hope in Alzheimer's. There are no stories of remission or miraculous recoveries. ... It's the ultimate foe, and you have to be a formidable warrior."

Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with the family's housekeeper while married to Maria

After being married for 25 years, Maria Shriver filed for divorce from her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The filing followed Schwarzenegger's public admission of an affair he had in 1996. To make the situation even more heartbreaking for Maria, the affair was not only with the family's long-term housekeeper, but Schwarzenegger fathered her child.

"After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago," Schwarzenegger said in a May 2011 statement reported by People. "I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused."

Shriver and Schwarzenegger finalized their divorce more than a decade later. While the former couple have remained friendly and even continue to celebrate special events together with their now-adult children, Shriver has understandably been publicly quiet over the events that ended her marriage. "[Maria] would like to keep what happened in the past behind her and not relive some of the challenges she faced in her marriage," a source told Us Weekly following the release of Schwarzenegger's Netflix documentary, "Arnold."

She mourned the loss of Saoirse Kennedy Hill in 2019

On August 1, 2019, the Kennedy family suffered another tragic loss. Saoirse Kennedy Hill died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 22. She was the only child of Maria Shriver's cousin Courtney Kennedy Hill, Robert F. Kennedy's daughter. 

According to Today, Saoirse was found unresponsive while on vacation at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Saoirse had been open about her previous struggles with depression and a past suicide attempt.

About a month after Saoirse's death, Shriver penned a powerful essay about her experiences with grief for her newsletter, the Sunday Paper. The hard-working, optimistic Shriver gave the world a glimpse into some truly relatable emotions, writing, "We're all running around doing things that bring us no joy or meaning. We stay in jobs, relationships, or situations well past when we should, incorrectly believing that life doesn't have more in store for us. ... Death and rebirth are everywhere. They are all the more reason to be less hurried and to pay more attention to what is. After all, all we have is this moment."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).