A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties


He Died Too Young

By Bill Eppridge
(Copyright © 2008 Bill Eppridge)

Forty years ago, in 1968, I photographed a great tragedy, and the vision of it has stayed with me for all this time. Our country was going off course with a war overseas, racial inequality, and far too much poverty for the amount of wealth that existed. A man emerged to lead us out of this: Robert F. Kennedy. For the short amount of time that he existed on this earth, he inspired a generation who to this day still remember the excitement and hope that he brought. He died too young, too tragically, and this book is a photographic essay of that brief, euphoric time in our history.

I had seen Robert Kennedy in 1965 during an assignment on board Air Force One with President Lyndon Johnson. This was the first time that a Life photographer was allowed to document an entire trip with the president of the United States. At one point I noticed Bobby Kennedy sitting across the aisle from me. He was smoking a cigar. Now, I knew that politicians do not like themselves photographed smoking cigars. I picked up my camera very slowly, leaned forward to more properly frame the picture, put it up to my eye and took two frames. That was it; I put it down. Life published the picture, small, in the magazine, and I forgot all about it.

Meeting Senator Kennedy a few months later, I told him that Life wanted me to follow him for the rest of the 1966 Democratic campaign trips. He looked me right in the eye, got a funny little smile on his face, and said, "Okay, but no cigars!"