7 Actors Who Have Played Robert F. Kennedy in Film and on TV

8:30 AM 6/5/2018

by Deirdre Durkan

From Steven Culp to Peter Sarsgaard, a look back at the stars who've portrayed the late politician, who was assassinated 50 years ago this month.

Robert F. Kennedy in 1962
Robert F. Kennedy in 1962
Photofest

June 6 marks the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy's death.

RFK was killed after an assassin’s bullet felled him in a hotel kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Before his death, Kennedy had just won the California presidential primary in the 1968 election and was running on a platform that included tackling racism and poverty. Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, shot Kennedy three times shortly after midnight June 5 as the politician was making his way to a press room. Sirhan had targeted Kennedy due to the latter's support of Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War. Kennedy was taken to a hospital, where he died the next day — five years after his brother John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Over the years, several actors have portrayed the late U.S. senator in a variety of films that have taken a multitude of approaches; 2006's Bobby, for example, never gives a full view of his character as filmmakers tactfully used camera angles or people to keep him out of focus or partially blocked. Other films aim to show Kennedy's life after the assassination of his brother as he lived through the loss and began to identify himself as a political figure, not just the former president's sibling. 

Below, read more about seven actors and their portrayals of the late politician and lawyer.  

  • John Shea in 'Kennedy'

    1983

    The American-British five-hour television miniseries stars Martin Sheen as President John F. Kennedy, John Shea as brother Robert and  Blair Brown as Jackie Kennedy. The mini — which aired on NBC in the U.S. — earned three Golden Globes nominations and four BAFTA nominations, winning a BAFTA for best drama series and best makeup.

  • Cotter Smith in 'Blood Feud'

    1983

    The television miniseries centered on the conflict between RFK and Jimmy Hoffa (Robert Blake) from 1957 until Kennedy's assassination in 1968. Hoffa initially made an attempt to ingratiate himself with RFK when they first met, but Kennedy was already suspicious of Hoffa's possible ties to organized crime from investigating corruption in labor. The mini also starred Danny Aiello and Brian Dennehy.

  • Brad Davis in 'Robert Kennedy & His Times'

    1985

    Brad Davis stars in the television miniseries directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and based on the 1978 RFK biography of the same name by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The cast also included Cliff De Young as JFK, Ned Beatty as J. Edgar Hoover, Joe Pantoliano as Roy Cohn and Jeffrey Tambor as Pierre Salinger.

  • Nicholas Campbell in 'Hoover vs. The Kennedys: The Second Civil War'

    1987

    Hoover vs. The Kennedys: The Second Civil War is a four-hour 1987 made-for-television miniseries that mostly focused on the conflict between the Kennedys and then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. It was set during the time between the Democratic National Convention in 1960 and RFK's assassination in 1968.

  • Steven Culp in 'Thirteen Days'

    2000

    Steven Culp starred Robert F. Kennedy in a political thriller film directed by Roger Donaldson, dramatizing the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, from the perspective of the U.S. political leadership at the time. Kevin Costner also starred as top White House assistant Kenneth P. O'Donnell while Bruce Greenwood played JFK. Thirteen Days was the second docudrama made about the pressurized tug-of-war that ensued between the U.S. and the USSR during the 13 days of the missile crisis, the first being 1974's The Missiles of October.

  • Barry Pepper in 'The Kennedys' and 'The Kennedys: After Camelot'

    2011 and 2017

    The ReelzChannel miniseries chronicled the lives of the Kennedys, with Greg Kinnear as JFK, Pepper as RFK, Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy and Tom Wilkinson as Joseph Kennedy Sr. A follow-up that aired six years later focused on life after JKF's assassination; Holmes, Pepper and Wilkinson reprised their roles, with Matthew Perry joining the cast as Ted Kennedy.

  • Peter Sarsgaard in 'Jackie'

    2016

    Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Greta Gerwig, the film follows Jackie Kennedy after her husband's assassination. Sarsgaard, playing her brother-in-law, helps her in planning the funeral and looking after the family. Portman was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.