Comment; A great loss, he overcame addiction and used his public status to speak out against it.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford in 2005. A nephew of John F. Kennedy, he spent years as a public health advocate.CreditCreditRene Macura/Associated Press

By Amie Tsang

  • 5, 2018

Christopher Kennedy Lawford, the actor born into political and Hollywood nobility who turned his recovery from drug addiction into a career as a public health advocate and best-selling author, died on Tuesday in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was 63 and had homes in Los Angeles and Hawaii.

The cause was a heart attack, his family said.

Mr. Lawford, whose mother was Patricia Kennedy, a sister of John F. Kennedy, and whose father was Peter Lawford, the British-born actor and member of the Rat Pack, began acting in the late 1980s and had parts in television programs like “Frasier” and “The O.C.,” as well as in films including “Terminator 3.”

He struggled with drug addiction from a young age, describing in his books how he was “a cutting-edge pharmaceutical engineer” by the age of 13.

Mr. Lawford wrote several books that described his efforts to recover from drug addiction, including “Symptoms of Withdrawal,” “Moments of Clarity” and “Recover to Live.” He described how in spite of his pedigree and his problems, he never received as much attention as his cousins, saying he was a “second-string Kennedy.”

Mr. Lawford spent the last two decades traveling around the country speaking about his experience with drug addiction and was able to change people’s perceptions of the illness, said his cousin Patrick J. Kennedy, the former Rhode Island congressman who also struggled with drug addiction and wrote about it.

Mr. Lawford was also a public health campaigner, working with the United Nations, the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and Addiction, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the World Health Organization.

Discussions about recovery often center on jail and health care, but Mr. Lawford managed to convey a more positive aspect, Mr. Kennedy said. “Chris was one of those people who had a way of telling stories that lifted people’s perceptions and judgments of those who suffer from the disease of addiction,” he said.

Mr. Lawford also made a significant difference to Mr. Kennedy’s own struggles with addiction, he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am in life if it weren’t for him,” he said, explaining that Mr. Lawford was the one person who was able to understand what it was like to deal with an addiction problem in a family like theirs.

“I am a better person because of Chris,” Mr. Kennedy said. “And a lot of people can say the same as I can today because of what he contributed to their lives.”

Mr. Lawford had been a member of California’s Public Health Advisory Committee since 2009. And he was named a Goodwill Ambassador on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care by the United Nations in 2011.

He also worked as a public advocacy consultant to Caron Treatment Centers, which runs rehabilitation programs. “He was always unflinchingly honest about his story,” Doug Tieman, the organization’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford, who was born in Santa Monica, Calif., on March 29, 1955, held a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, a law degree from Boston College Law School and a master’s certification in clinical psychology from Harvard Medical School, according to his website.

Mr. Lawford, who was married and divorced three times, is survived by his children David, Savannah and Matthew; and his sisters Sydney Lawford McKelvy, Victoria Pender and Robin Lawford.

Dr. Raymond Oenbrink
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