Joe Biden’s tragic real-life story
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Many can agree that Vice President Joe Biden has endured his fair share of tragedies. No matter where you might fall on the political spectrum, you can’t deny that Biden suffered an especially devastating loss when, in May 2015, his eldest son, Beau Biden, passed away at age 46 from brain cancer. “The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words,” Joe said in a statement at the time.
Sadly, Beau’s death isn’t the only loss Joe has suffered — he tragically lost two people very near and dear to his heart before ascending to the national stage. Joe said the loss made him understand how someone could “consciously decide to commit suicide,” according to CNN. Heavy stuff.
In between these losses, and even before them, Joe has suffered many heartaches. From a personal issue he suffered as a child to some drama surrounding his surviving children, the politician and 2020 presidential hopeful knows all too well that life isn’t always roses. So, grab a box of tissues as we take a look back at Joe Biden’s tragic real-life story.
He learned some life lessons the hard way
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Before Vice President Joe Biden ascended into the national political arena, he was a young boy living in Scranton, Pa. with his parents and three siblings. Life wasn’t always easy for the Bidens, as Joe’s dad, Joe Sr., had to move the family into his wife’s parents’ home to make ends meet after suffering “a number of business reversals,” according to The New York Times. The situation was especially tough for Joe’s dad because he “had it all in his 20s, sailing yachts off the New England coast, riding to the hounds, driving fast cars, flying airplanes.”
We imagine things must have been difficult for Joe and his family, but the hardships taught him a valuable lesson about life. “My dad always said, ‘Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up,'” he said about their financial predicament.
Another valuable lesson Joe learned the hard way? The politician doesn’t drink alcohol due to his family history. “There are enough alcoholics in my family,” he explained to the NYT. A childhood friend seemingly confirmed this account, saying in regards to Joe’s maternal side of the family tree, “Every family had it. But [Biden’s mother’s side] the Finnegans had more than their share.”
He struggled with this tough issue as a child
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Not many people might know that Vice President Joe Biden struggled with stuttering as a young child. “Joey was a popular kid, if a bit quick with a punch, especially if someone teased him about his stutter, which he struggled mightily to conquer,” journalist John M. Broder revealed in a profile for The New York Times. The issue was reportedly embarrassing for Biden, so he would recite poetry in his spare time in hopes of perfecting his speech. But despite the future politician’s attempts, he was still bullied at school.
“I never had professional therapy, but a couple of nuns taught me to put a cadence to my speaking, and that’s why I spent so much time reading poetry — Emerson and Yeats,” he wrote in a March 2011 essay for People. “But even in my small, boys’ prep school, I got nailed in Latin class with the nickname Joe Impedimenta. You get so desperate, you’re so embarrassed.”
Biden eventually overcame his stuttering, going on to help others with the same issue. One person in particular, prosecutor Branden Brooks, recalled a time when his eighth grade class visited Washington, D.C. to attend a Q&A session with Biden. The future vice president must have noticed that Brooks struggled with stuttering because a week after the visit he sent the young student a personal note in the mail. “You can beat it just like I did,” Biden wrote, in part.
The untimely deaths of his wife and young daughter
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At the beginning of Joe Biden’s career in December 1972, he tragically lost his wife, 30-year-old Neilia Biden, and their year-old daughter, Naomi, in a car accident. The couple’s two young sons, 4-year-old Beau and 3-year-old Hunter, survived the crash with serious injuries. The accident occurred in Delaware after the “family’s station wagon was hit broadside by a flatbed tractor-trailer,” according to The New York Times. Neilia and the kids were en route to pick out a Christmas tree when the heartbreaking incident happened, as reported by The New Yorker.
Although Joe had to put on a tough face for his surviving children, the deaths of his wife and young daughter were devastating. “Well, I didn’t want to hear anything about a merciful God. No words, no prayer, no sermon gave me ease. I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, and I was angry,” Joe said about his state of mind in his 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep.
Instead of diving further into his grief, Joe decided to put all of his energy into raising his sons. “Many people have gone through things like that,” he said in a speech at the 2015 commencement address at Yale University. “But because I had the incredible good fortune of an extended family, grounded in love and loyalty, imbued with a sense of obligation imparted to each of us, I not only got help, but, by focusing on my sons, I found my redemption.”
The loss of his eldest son
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Another devastating tragedy befell Vice President Joe Biden’s life when, in May 2015, his eldest son, Beau Biden, died of cancer at age 46. Joe and his second wife, Jill Biden, weren’t completely prepared for the loss, despite the grim diagnosis Beau received in August 2013. “Throughout Beau’s illness, even though the diagnosis was truly devastating, we always had hope,” Jill said on the Meghan Kelly TODAY show. “We never gave up hope. We tried treatment after treatment, month after month. But we always felt — until the moment he closed his eyes — we always felt he was going to live.”
As for Beau, however, it’s possible he knew his life would be cut short. Joe revealed during an interview with comedian Stephen Colbert that, in the months before Beau’s passing, his son sat him down and told him, “I know how much you love me. You got to promise me something. Promise me you’re going to be alright.” Full disclosure: We’re sobbing over here.
Although Joe’s grief has been tough for him, he knows he’s not alone. “So many people … who have losses as severe or maybe worse than mine and don’t have the support I have,” he told Colbert. “I feel self-conscious … The loss is serious and it’s consequential, but there are so many other people going through this.”
He lost dear friends in the public eye
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Just because a person might be well-versed in loss, it doesn’t necessarily make the grieving process any easier. Just ask Vice President Joe Biden, who lost two close friends in the public eye only a few years after losing his eldest son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer in May 2015.
The first political peer Joe lost was the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died in August 2018 from the same brain cancer Beau had. Joe touched on this morbid commonality in his public eulogy to McCain, stating, according to CNN, “The disease that took John’s life took our mutual friend’s, Teddy [Kennedy]’s life, the exact same disease nine years ago, a couple days ago, and three years ago, took my beautiful son Beau’s life.”
Joe went on to describe the loss in frank terms, adding, “It’s brutal. It’s relentless. It’s unforgiving. And it takes so much from those we love and from the families who love them that in order to survive, we have to remember how they lived, not how they died.”
Only months after losing McCain, Biden lost another dear friend, Michigan Rep. John Dingell, in February 2019. “He was a friend and I will miss him terribly,” Joe tweeted about the passing.
It’s not uncommon to lose close friends as you age, but grieving in the public eye isn’t often the norm. Poor Joe.
He suffered a major health scare
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In addition to suffering devastating losses in his family, Vice President Joe Biden endured major medical emergencies in the 1980s. During this scary time, Biden had been experiencing “regular headaches” and “pain in his neck” (via Delaware News Journal), culminating in a terrifying episode in February 1988. After giving a speech at the University of Rochester, Biden was in his hotel room when he felt a “lightning flashing inside” his head like “a powerful electrical surge,” he wrote in his 2007 book, Promises to Keep. The politician said it was like “a rip of pain” like he’d “never felt before.”
After returning home to Wilmington, Del., Biden was rushed to local hospital Saint Francis to address his concerning symptoms. During a CT scan, the attending doctor found an aneurysm “lying just below” the base of his brain and a “smaller one” on the right side. Since the smaller aneurysm was “unlikely to burst” in the near future, doctors decided to operate on the one near the base of his brain.
As Biden was being wheeled to surgery, he asked the surgeon what his “chances” were, a terrifying moment he recalled during a speech at the 2013 National Conference on Mental Health. The doctor replied, “Senator, for mortality or morbidity?” Yikes.
Although both surgeries were a success, Biden had to overcome difficult post-op symptoms, such as an immobile forehead. The good news? He ultimately made a full recovery.
Politics, alleged extortion, and a videotape
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A possible scandal involving the Vice President’s family emerged when, in March 2009, an anonymous male acquaintance represented by a lawyer named Thomas Dunlap was supposedly caught trying to shop around an unsavory videotape that allegedly featured the politician’s daughter, Ashley Biden, snorting lines of cocaine. Dunlap was allegedly trying to sell the supposed tape on behalf of his client for “$2 million before scaling back his price to $400,000,” as the New York Post reported.
The NYP — which declined to purchase the video — claims it was shown 90 seconds of the tape, in which a woman supposedly resembling Ashley is seen “taking a red straw from her mouth, bending over a desk, inserting the straw into her nostril and snorting lines of white powder.”
Additionally, lawyers who viewed the supposed tape “15 times” said that the woman complained about the line of drugs not being “big enough” and that she talked about her father. Hmm.
Joe has never spoken out about the incident, but we can’t imagine it’s easy to witness your child being dragged through the mud. And it must be tough to know that your fame was a contributing factor in the situation. Hard stuff all around.
So much family drama, so little time
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Every family goes through some drama at one point or another, a reality Vice President Joe Biden is no exception to. Case in point: The Biden family endured a public scandal when, in October 2014, it came to light that Joe’s youngest son, Hunter Biden, had been discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine, according to The Wall Street Journal. Uh-oh.
Joe didn’t offer any comment on his son’s predicament, but Hunter did allude to having his support in his own statement about the matter. “It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge,” he said, according to CNN. “I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward.”
About one year later, Hunter and his then-wife, Kathleen Biden, separated. The two formally divorced in April 2017, with Kathleen accusing her estranged husband of indulging in “drugs, alcohol, prostitutes,” and “strip clubs” during their union. She also claimed that he emptied their bank accounts to fulfill these salacious habits, according to People.
Hunter’s issues might not have personally affected Joe, but going through a family drama in the public eye can be tough. We wish Joe’s fam the best going forward.
About that debt…
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Vice President Joe Biden began his tenure at the White House with a hefty amount of debt. The truth came to light in a May 2009 disclosure statement he submitted, which showed he owed between “$165,000 and $465,000 in debt,” in addition to a line of credit “worth as much as $50,000” that had a “7.5 percent interest rate” (via Politico). Yikes.
Included in the lump sum was a personal loan with monthly payments that Biden took out from the Senate Federal Credit Union in 2007, which came with a 9.99 percent interest rate. In 2005, the vice president also took out a 10-year home equity loan “worth between $100,000 and $250,000,” and he co-signed a prime-plus-one loan for one of his sons in 1989 worth “between $50,000 and $100,000.” Unfortunately, Biden couldn’t pay off these debts with his audio book advance for 2007’s Promises to Keep — he received a lump sum of $9,563 at the time.
But before you tell us to get out the world’s tiniest violin, we argue that financial issues — no matter your political standing or earning potential — can be tough, especially when you have kids to support.