Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

A Final Blow to Camelot

June 5, 1968

He was a latecomer to the race, and Democratic elders, already reeling from L.B.J.'s waning popularity and from Eugene McCarthy's antiwar campaign, had urged him not to run. But Robert F. Kennedy proved a formidable sprinter. For 80 days he campaigned relentlessly, and by the day of the California primary, a must-win for Kennedy to seriously challenge Hubert Humphrey, his body was cracking. The night before, he had been too weary to finish a speech in San Diego, and by the time he reached Los Angeles, he appeared to be running on fumes.

On primary night, however, the old Kennedy vigor returned. His suite at the Ambassador Hotel filled with well-wishers, and as the results turned his way, campaign workers began "laughing and dancing and hugging one another," recalled his aide, former pro-football player Roosevelt Grier. Around midnight Kennedy went downstairs and delivered a rousing speech to 1,800 supporters in the ballroom. He then exited through the hotel's pantry, where at 12:16 a.m., a slight, dark-haired Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan pulled out a .22 cal. revolver, fired eight shots and fatally wounded the candidate. For a stricken America, it revived memories of the killings of Kennedy's brother John and of Martin Luther King Jr. and shattered the dreams of those yearning for a return to Camelot.