Joe Biden’s tragic real-life story

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

Joe Biden

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

Joe Biden
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

Joe Biden

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

Joe Biden
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

Joe Biden and John McCain
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

Joe Biden

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

Ashley Biden
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

Hunter Biden
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...

Joe Biden

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.

Joe Biden. Uncle Joe. The former Delaware senator has been in politics since 1973, but he became a household name when Barack Obama selected him to be his running mate for the White House in 2008. During his two terms in the White House as Vice President, Biden's bromance with the 44th President launched countless hilarious memes, and the friendship was real. "He's genuinely my friend. I'd do anything for him, and I think he would for me," Biden told NBC News in 2016. Biden is also a self-described "gaffe machine," whose long list of slip-ups during his almost four decades in office are sometimes endearing and sometimes cringe-worthy, but behind the Ray-Bans is a man who's lived a complicated, often tragic life. In April 2019, Biden announced that was making yet another run for the Oval Office, so let's take a closer look at some things you may not know about Joe Biden.

He has an uncommon middle name

Joe Biden
Here's a fun fact that will likely win you points at your next trivia night: Biden's middle name is Robinette. It's a little offbeat, but there happens to be a lot of history behind it. "It's my grandmother Biden's maiden name," he told C-SPAN (via New York magazine). "It's French. And it goes back a long, long way. Allegedly, the Robinettes came over with Lafayette and never went home. I don't know that. We can't guarantee that."

He's a car guy

Joe Biden
The Onion famously parodied Biden in 2009 when it depicted him washing a Trans Am shirtless in the White House driveway. Although the article didn't quite nail Biden's persona — "You think I'd drive a Trans Am?" he quipped to Car and Driver magazine — it turns out he is, indeed, a car fanatic.

"I bought a '51 Studebaker. My dad thought it was nice and calm, but it had that overdrive, and it was fast," he told Car and Driver. "Then I bought a 1952 Plymouth convertible, candy-apple red with a split windshield. I think that was my favorite. I had a '56 Chevy, then in college I bought a 100,000-mile Mercedes 190SL with those Solex carburetors that never functioned. And I still have my 1967 Goodwood-green Corvette, 327, 350-horse, with a rear-axle ratio that really gets up and goes."

Unfortunately for Biden, he wasn't allowed to drive as vice president. "The Secret Service won't let me drive it," he said of his beloved convertible. "I'm not allowed to drive anything. It's the one thing I hate about this job." The only time he reportedly got permission to drive was at the end of his second term, for an episode of Jay Leno's Garage.

He used to stutter

You might find it hard to believe that a man who talks as much as Joe Biden grew up with a stutter, but such was the case. To overcome it, Biden said he "would look in the mirror [of his bedroom] and … repeat over and over again [the words of W.B.] Yeats and [Ralph Waldo] Emerson." "When you stutter, it's the most debilitating thing," Biden said on an episode of The View, adding that he didn't gain confidence in his speaking abilities until he began taking public speaking classes in college.

The experience of having a stutter would go on to play a pivotal role in Biden's life in public office. Though reluctant at first, he eventually worked with the American Institute for Stuttering, and he also helped a young boy overcome his stutter by writing an inspirational letter to him in 1994. According to TIME, the boy took his message to heart and grew up to be a prosecutor in Biden's home state of Delaware.

He doesn't drink

Although they are polar opposites politically, Joe Biden and President Donald Trump do have one thing in common: neither one drinks alcohol. "I'm not a drinker. I can honestly say I never had a beer in my life. It's one of my only good traits," Trump joked during a 2018 press conference (via CNN). "I never had a glass of alcohol. I never had alcohol, for whatever reason," he said. "Can you imagine if I had? What a mess I would be. I would be the world's worst." Biden's reasons for abstaining are more clear-cut. "There are enough alcoholics in my family," he told The New York Times. A friend of Biden's also noted that the former vice president's family members had "more than their fare share" of alcohol-related issues while Biden was growing up.

He had two brain aneurysms

According to The New York Times, Joe Biden suffered from two brain aneurysms in 1988. "I had two cranial aneurysms, and they literally had to take the top of my head off," Biden said at the White House National Conference on Mental Health (via CNS News). He added, "I remember going down [to the operating room], and asking the doc … 'Doc, what are my chances [of living]?' … He said, 'Well, they're in the 35 to 50 percent range.'" Doctors informed him that, if everything went well, Biden might have trouble speaking, to which he thought: "'Why in the hell didn't they tell me this before [my 1998 campaign for president]?' It could have saved us all a lot of trouble; you know what I mean?" Hey, at least he can laugh about it now.

He's faced horrific tragedy

Joe Biden has endured more family tragedies than most people will experience in their lives. According to People, his first wife, Neilia, and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a horrific car accident in 1972, shortly after Biden's first election to the Senate. "I remember looking up and saying, 'God,' as if I was talking to God myself, 'You can't be good, how can you be good?'" he remembered (via People). "For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again."

Biden's two sons, Beau and Hunter, were also in the car and "badly injured" in the accident, according to People. He was sworn into the Senate in 1973 at Beau's bedside because he was still recovering from the crash.

His dying son wanted him to run against Hillary Clinton

In yet another tragic turn of events, Joe Biden lost his son, Beau Biden, to a years-long battle with brain cancer in 2015. His son was 46 at the time of his death. According to The New York Times, "When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk … Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run [in 2016], arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values."

Joe chose not to run. "Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination," he reportedly said. "But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent."

According to CNN, Biden said his decision not to run left him with daily regret, but that "it was the right decision for my family and for me."

He was the first Roman Catholic vice president

In 2009, Biden became the first Roman Catholic to serve as vice president of the United States, according to NPR. Faith has reportedly played a key role in Biden's life and has helped him battle the many tragedies his family has faced, including the 2015 death of son, Beau Biden. "He has a rosary with him all the time and he uses it," friend and former Sen. Ted Kaufmana told People magazine at the time. "He'll never do it in front of people, though. Faith, family, and character are what has enabled him to survive these incredible tragedies."

He was lifelong friends with John McCain

Despite being members of opposing political parties, Joe Biden and John McCain were close friends for about 40 years, dating back to when McCain was a Navy Senate liaison. Their friendship has endured even the toughest of political climates. When McCain was sworn into the Senate by Biden in January 2017, Biden declared, "I'm so glad you ran again, I really am."

"May you well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which you are about to enter, so help you God. I have no doubt. Thank God you're here," he added, according to USA Today.

After John McCain died of brain cancer in 2018, Biden delivered a eulogy at his funeral at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona. He opened with: "My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I loved John McCain." Visibly shaken, Biden continued, "I always thought of John as a brother. We had a hell of a lot of family fights."

He finally addressed Anita Hill

Joe Biden was the Senate Judiciary chair in 1991, when Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her in the workplace. As the chair, Biden was in charge of overseeing Hill's testimony and allowing witnesses to corroborate her claims. According to NPR, he failed to do so. Instead, Biden reportedly allowed members of the committee to spend some eight hours attacking Hill's character. Former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), demanded Thomas' hearing be delayed due to Hill's allegations, but Biden refused. "To have railroaded that through and not listened to the other three women and let his colleagues absolutely tear her apart was absolutely horrible," Schroeder told Politico.

Biden told Teen Vogue in 2017 that he "owed" Hill an apology, but according to Hill, that never happened. "He said he apologized, but he hasn't apologized to me," she said (via The Wrap). "But sometimes when the doorbell rings, and I am not expecting anyone, I think, could that be Joe Biden?"

Speaking at an event in March 2019, Biden spoke publicly about those hearings. "She faced a committee that didn't fully understand what the hell this was all about. To this day, I regret I couldn't give her the kind of hearing she deserved," he said (via The New York Times). "I wish I could have done something." We're not sure if that counts as an apology, but at the time of this writing, Hill has yet to respond.

Reports of inappropriate touching continue to mount

Joe Biden earned the nickname "Creepy Uncle Joe" for his habit of touching women. Although this issue has dogged him for years — Jon Stewart covered it in 2015 during a segment called "The Audacity of Grope" — the #MeToo movement has brought this issue to light once again through a new lens.

According to an April 2019 report in the Intelligencer, multiple women have accused him of "inappropriate contact." The first allegation, made by former Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores, was detailed in her March 2019 op-ed in The Cut"He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head," she wrote, describing an incident that allegedly occurred during her 2014 campaign. "My brain couldn't process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused."

Amy Lappos discussed an alleged interaction with Biden at a political fundraiser in 2009. "He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me," she told the Hartford Courant. "When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth."

The New York Times published an account from Caitlyn Caruso, who claimed Biden inappropriately touched her when she was 19 at an event about sexual harassment at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He allegedly placed his hand on her thigh "even as she squirmed in her seat to show her discomfort."

He addressed his behavior

After Lucy Flores' allegations, Joe Biden released a statement on Twitter that said, in part: "In many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully."

Flores responded to Biden's comments with a Twitter statement of her own, writing that she's "glad" he "acknowledges that he made women feel uncomfortable with his unsolicited gestures of encouragement." However, she argued that wasn't enough. "Given the work he has done on behalf of women, Vice President Biden should be aware of how important it is to take personal responsibility for inappropriate behavior," she said, "and yet he hasn't apologized to the women he made uncomfortable."

Days later, Biden addressed the allegations once again. "Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I've heard what these women are saying," he said in a video posted on his official Twitter in April 2019. "Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That's my responsibility and I will meet it."

At the time of this writing, seven women have accused Biden of touching them inappropriately.

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