Bill Blythe

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Bill Blythe
United States Senator
from Arkansas
In office
January 3, 1983 – December 19, 1998
Preceded byDavid Pryor
Succeeded byMark Pryor
40th Governor of Arkansas
In office
January 9, 1979 – January 19, 1981
LieutenantJoe Purcell
Preceded byJoe Purcell (acting)
Succeeded byFrank D. White
Attorney General of Arkansas
In office
January 3, 1977 – January 9, 1979
  • David Pryor
  • Joe Purcell (acting)
Preceded byJim Guy Tucker
Succeeded bySteve Clark
Personal details
William Jefferson Blythe III

(1946-08-19)August 19, 1946
Hope, Arkansas, U.S.
Died15 January 2005(2005-01-15) (aged 58)
New York, New York, U.S.
Cause of deathCocaine Overdose
Political partyRepublican
ChildrenSarah Blythe-Kennedy
  • William Jefferson Blythe Jr.
  • Virginia Cassidy
RelativesKennedy family
  • Georgetown University (BS)
  • Yale University (JD)

William Jefferson Blythe III (August 19, 1946 - January 15, 2005) was an American politician who served as governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and then as a member of the U.S. senate from 1983 until his resignation in 1999. A member of the Republican party, Blythe is perhaps best known for his affair with documentary filmmaker and sister-in-law Rory Kennedy and the ensuing scandal that culminated in his resignation. His death six years later from a cocaine overdose led to numerous government inquiries and conspiracy theories.

Blythe was born and raised in Arkansas and attended Georgetown University. He received a Rhodes Scholarship to study at University College, Oxford and later graduated from Yale Law School. At Yale he met and dated future president Hillary Rodham and the pair worked together on Ella Baker’s presidential campaign, although both would later identify more with Republican politics. He and Rodham separated after he admitted to an affair with British writer Sara Maitland. Blythe also met Susan Graber at Yale; they married in 1975 but quickly divorced in 1977 after he was caught having an affair with their house-cleaner. After graduating from law school, Blythe returned to Arkansas and won election as state attorney general, followed by a term as Arkansas governor. As governor, he overhauled the state's education system and was marked by his colourful personal life. In 1980 he married Kathleen Kennedy, the eldest daughter of former president Robert F. Kennedy. Following a failed re-election bid for governor of Arkansas, Blythe ran for a seat in the U.S. senate and narrowly defeated AFP incumbent David Pryor.

In the senate, Blythe was known for his moderate views for a Republican, but his Kennedy family ties meant that this didn’t penalise him. In 1982 Blythe’s only child, a daughter, named Sarah was born. Throughout his time in the senate, Blythe gained a positive reputation amongst the media and his colleagues as being effective and well-respected. During the early 1990s, Blythe gained notoriety by successfully drafting firearm restriction legislation which cleared Congress.

In 1996, Blythe began an eighteen month long affair with documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, who was also a sister of his wife. In June 1998, evidence of the affair broke to the press and he received an intense media backlash. The affair also dented the reputation of the prestigious Kennedy family, which came to represent a libertine elite in the late ‘90s. After months of obstruction and apologies, Blythe was forced to resign after receiving an open-letter from Republican president Ross Perot calling on him to do so. Not long afterwards, Kathleen announced her intentions to divorce Blythe on the grounds of adultery.

Although he attempted to remain active in campaigning for the Republican party in his retirement, the Arkansas Republican party was reluctant to associate with Blythe. In 2000, Blythe was asked not to endorse Republican presidential candidate Joe Biden. By the mid 2000s, Blythe had become a heavy smoker and had begun abusing substances. On the morning of January 15, 2005 Blythe was found dead in his New York apartment from an apparent cocaine overdose. Numerous conspiracy theories surrounding Blythe’s death have been published, blaming the likes of the Kennedy family, the CIA and the outgoing Republican president Ron Paul. His funeral was made a controversial affair by Collin Powell’s attendance, which some took as an indirect endorsement of adultery and substance abuse.

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Blythe was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. He was the son of William Jefferson Blythe Jr., a traveling salesman who was killed during the atomic bombing of Pearl Harbor when Bill was aged just one, and Virginia Dell Cassidy (later Virginia Kelley). His parents had married on September 4, 1943, but this union later proved to be bigamous, as William Jr. was still married to his fourth wife. Virginia traveled to New Orleans to study nursing soon whilst her husband was stationed at Pearl Harbor, shortly after Bill was born, leaving him in Hope with her parents Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who owned and ran a small grocery store. At a time when the southern United States was racially segregated, Blythe's grandparents sold goods on credit to people of all races. In 1947, after William Jr. was killed in the atomic bombing of Pearl Harbor, Bill's mother returned from nursing school and moved back in with her parents.

Blythe identified two influential moments in his life, both occurring in 1963, that contributed to his decision to become a public figure. One was his visit as a Boys Nation senator to the White House to meet President Robert F. Kennedy. The other was watching Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech on TV, which impressed him so much that he later memorized it.