Inside Maria Shriver's Relationship With Her Kennedy Cousins

Maria Shriver has been a household name for decades, for multiple reasons. Not only did she carve out a successful career for herself in broadcast journalism, but she also tied the knot with one of the biggest stars in showbusiness: Arnold Schwarzenegger. She eventually went on to become the first lady of California when her husband became governor. Shriver's marriage has often eclipsed her achievements, with headlines tending to focus on the ins and outs of Schwarzenegger's affairs rather than Shriver's hard work and success. While this alone makes her a fascinating public figure, there's another element to Shriver's life that cements her place in American history — her connection to the infamous political dynasty, the Kennedys.

The Kennedy family is as large as it is complicated, so how exactly is Shriver related to them? Shriver's mother is the late Eunice Kennedy, sister of the former president, John F. Kennedy, making her more closely tied to them than some may realize. Her mother was one of nine children, with siblings Rosemary, Patricia, Robert, Jean, Edward, Kathleen, and Joseph besides John, making this one decidedly large family thanks to their Irish Catholic roots.

It makes sense then that Shriver has a ton of Kennedy cousins she has grown up with over the years. Of course, she is closer to some of them than others, so what does their bond look like? Let's find out as we go inside Maria Shriver's relationship with her Kennedy cousins.

Several of Maria Shriver's Kennedy cousins were in her wedding party

By 1986, Maria Shriver was head over heels in love with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a bodybuilder turned movie action hero. Schwarzenegger's star was on the rise thanks to roles in "Conan the Barbarian" and "The Terminator," and Shriver, though not a superstar actor, was a well-known journalist for CBS. It was a match made in heaven, so when they tied the knot, it was no small affair. The loved-up young couple said their vows in front of ample guests at St. Francis Zavier Roman Catholic Church in Hyannis, Massachusetts. According to an announcement made in The New York Times, the bride and groom opted to make it a real family occasion, with Shriver's cousin (the daughter of Jacqueline Bouvier and John F. Kennedy), Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, serving as Maid of Honor. 

The Washington Post also reported on the 450-guest soiree, stating that Shriver had a whopping nine bridesmaids. Included in this number were another two of the journalist's cousins, Courtney Kennedy (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy) and Sydney McKelvy (daughter of Patricia Kennedy.) 

While many newlyweds like to include family in the ceremony, Shriver went all out, making sure her cousins were right there with her to enjoy the most memorable day of her life. As you can see from the above image, the bridal party looked to be in good spirits — and dressed in appropriately fancy '80s formal attire! 

Caroline Kennedy warned her not to reunite with Arnold Schwarzenegger

Anyone who's ever experienced marital issues knows that being able to talk to a friend is one of the few saving graces in a tricky situation. This is a true testament to the closeness of Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver, since the journalist felt able to confide in her cousin when her marriage hit the fan in 2011. At the time, Shriver had been married to Arnold Schwarzenegger for the better part of three decades, having welcomed four children together. After his role as governor of California came to an end, the actor revealed to his wife that he had secretly had an affair with their housekeeper, with whom he welcomed a lovechild.

Shriver packed her bags and filed for divorce, but a short time later, reports surfaced that the anchorwoman was reconsidering the split. According to the National Enquirer (via the Daily Mail), Kennedy was one of the most vocal opponents to any sort of reconciliation, imploring Shriver to stand her ground. "Caroline has been Maria's harshest critic, saying, 'Don't do it, Maria. Don't be a fool. Once a cheater, always a cheater,'" reported a source.

Though we don't know exactly what was said behind closed doors, Shriver did eventually finalize her divorce from the actor, albeit a decade later, in 2021. Had Kennedy been a supporter of the action star, perhaps things would have worked out differently. 

Maria Shriver has supported her cousins during tough times

It's no secret that the Kennedy family hasn't had an easy ride. John F. Kennedy was famously assassinated in 1963, leaving his children, Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., to grow up without a father. As if that one tragedy wasn't enough, more untimely deaths have occurred over the years. Throughout it all, Maria Shriver has been there for her cousins on the darkest of days. When JFK's son, John Jr., died in a plane crash alongside his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, in 1999, Shriver, along with her husband, was present at the memorial service at the Church of St. Thomas More in New York.

In 2019, the daughter of Courtney Kennedy Hill, Saoirse, died of an overdose at the young age of 22. As you might expect, Shriver was pictured at the burial holding on to her cousin's arm alongside Sydney McKelvy. The journalist also wrote a touching piece about the devastating loss in her digital newsletter, The Sunday Paper (via People), detailing how Saoirse's death "was sudden and heartbreaking, and it stopped everyone and everything in its tracks." She continued, "As I sat with my thoughts, I found myself furious at God for taking my cousin Courtney's only child away." 

Not only was Shriver's empathy for her family evident but also her dedication to be there for them, just as she had been before and will likely continue to be in the future. 

The journalist thinks of Caroline Kennedy and Sydney McKelvy as sisters

Some people have cousins they don't see or speak to, perhaps only meeting once in a blue moon at family reunions. However, the Kennedy family has always been close, and Maria Shriver has had a special bond with a couple of her cousins in particular since they were kids. In 2021, Shriver detailed the importance of their friendship in a post she shared to Instagram. The sweet photo shows the TV personality sitting at a table alongside her cousins, Caroline Kennedy and Sydney McKelvy. All three are smiling from ear to ear, clearly delighted to be together. 

Shriver explained in the caption, "These two! They are everything to me. Last night, here in the Big Apple, I got to break bread and break into laughter with my two cousins, @sydneylmck and @amb_kennedy. I never had a sister, but these two have made up for that." She went on to explain that, because of the pandemic, they had been kept apart but were finally able to see one another in person again. 

It's not the first time that Shriver has gushed about her relatives. In an interview with her longtime friend, Oprah Winfrey, the news anchor said, "My cousins are like siblings and best friends. Not only do I talk to my brothers almost daily but I talk to several of my cousins weekly." As if there was ever any doubt as to the closeness of this dynasty. 

They are thankful for their relationship

Families can be complicated, and the Kennedys certainly have a rich history. But the one thing they've always had throughout the years, no matter what the world has thrown at them or what tragedy befalls them, is each other. Growing up in a prominent family can be tough, and oftentimes the only people who truly understand are the ones experiencing it with you. In spring 2021, Maria Shriver posted the above throwback picture of herself and her cousins as little girls to her Facebook page. 

The retro image of the girls presumably enjoying a party is reminiscent of the era, with hues of green and pink. Shriver explained in the caption that her cousin, Sydney McKelvy, sent her the photo the morning she posted it. She went on to detail that the cute photo made her "feel joy. Joy that I'm still so close to her and Caroline." Her tribute didn't end there, as Shriver shared that both Caroline and Sydney are her "rocks" who make her feel safe.

Considering how much Shriver has experienced in the public eye and how much her cousins have had to endure, it makes perfect sense they have stuck together over the years and have been able to count on each other. Some relationships fade over time, but, if anything, it seems as though this one has only grown stronger. 

The cousins have a lot of shared trauma

As we've touched upon, the Kennedy family is all too familiar with tragedy. Not only was John F. Kennedy's life cut short, but so was that of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, and his son, John F. Kennedy, Jr. Even before Courtney Kennedy lost her daughter far too young, JFK lost his sister, Kathleen Kennedy, in a plane crash, and his brother, Joseph Kennedy, at war. It seems like this dynasty was built for heartache, so how has it impacted them? 

In a piece she wrote for Parents magazine in 1999, Shriver revealed what it was like growing up with so much grief, as recounted in the New York Post: "Another uncle, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, died, then my grandfather, followed by several cousins. And even though our family seemed to be experiencing loss again and again, no one ever discussed it." 

Needless to say, this shared trauma may have had an impact on Shriver's relationship with her cousins. After all, they all grieved the same losses and had experienced the same good memories together. Perhaps their close bond has been strengthened by their ability to endure these losses together, while also coming to realize that life is precious. In a 2022 tweet lamenting on her uncle's assassination, Shriver put it best: "Go gently today, as millions of people are working through their trauma. Millions of people are grieving things that happened years ago or decades ago, or just moments ago."

Maria Shriver wasn't only close to her female cousins

Though it's clear that Maria Shriver has a special connection to some of her female cousins, she has just as much love for her male cousins. In yet another devastating loss in 2018, Shriver's cousin, Christopher Lawford Kennedy, son of Patricia Kennedy and brother of Sydney McKelvy, died suddenly of a heart attack at the untimely age of 63. According to an obituary from The New York Times, Christopher was an accomplished man who turned years of addiction into advocacy, writing books on recovery including "Symptoms of Withdrawal" and "Moments of Clarity."

Maria posted a touching photo of Christopher to her Instagram page with a lengthy tribute to him, calling him a "handsome, loving, fun man" who adored his family. The pair had shared a dinner just the week prior, in which Shriver told him how blessed she was to have him in her life. She also praised his advocacy work, writing that he was "so much more" than an actor and a Kennedy.

The journalist implored her followers to be loving, kind, and forgiving, and, most of all — to tell those you love how proud you are of them. It was a truly heartfelt description of someone who clearly meant a great deal to her.

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).