What Really Happened To Robert Kennedy Jr.'s Voice?

2024 presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has spoken to Oprah Winfrey in the past about people mistaking his voice for being emotional, but that's not it. So, just what has affected his voice over the past 20-something years?

As passionate as RJF Jr. is about the causes he champions, back in 2007, he joked to Oprah Winfrey that anyone who believed he was tearing up mid-speech was mistaken. "After people would hear me speak, I'd get all these letters, almost always from women: 'I saw you on TV and you were crying — it was so good seeing a man share his feelings!'" he recounted. The compliment was a double-edged sword for the political scion, though. "I knew for every woman who wrote, there were 10 men saying, 'Look at this friggin' crybaby,'" he joked. He's spoken about his voice and peoples' perceptions of it more recently, too. In an interview with News 12 Long Island, he got candid when explaining how he felt about the situation. "I feel sorry for people who have to listen to me ... I cannot watch myself on TV or listen to my voice," he admitted. 

In the same interview, he pointed out that, once upon a time, he couldn't have sounded more different. In fact, he explained, "I had a really strong voice." So, what happened? 

He developed spasmodic dysphonia in his 40s

During his conversation with News 12 Long Island, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. revealed he had spasmodic dysphonia. While the politician refrained from providing specific information about the origins of his condition, there's a good chance he doesn't know all the details himself. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there's no real consensus on what causes it. Genetics and brain disorders can play a role, but so can more minor things, like speaking a lot. What's more, symptoms — which can include a strained-sounding voice — might not seem all that concerning at first. 

Speaking to Oprah Winfrey, Kennedy explained that his symptoms began when he was in his early 40s. "It began as a mild tremble for a couple of years," he said. Unfortunately, he added that things had since progressed. Asked if his voice had become any more strained since the first symptoms had appeared, he replied, "I've been told that it's not supposed to, but I think it has." Speaking to Long Island News 12, he also shared that at one point, he went through patches where he'd lose his ability to speak altogether. "When I started talking in the morning, I wouldn't know if anything was going to come out of my mouth," he recounted. 

Making matters worse, as noted by Johns Hopkins Medicine, there is no cure for spasmodic dysphonia.

... and he's tried a bunch of treatments

Although there's no cure for spasmodic dysphonia, there are treatments that can help — and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has tried several of them. 

Speaking to Oprah Winfrey in 2007, he shared that he'd tried the Botox method. "They put a needle into your voice box every four months," he explained. Sadly, he added, "They still haven't gotten my dose right." More recently, he told Long Island News 12 of another treatment he'd tried. "Cheryl [Hines] and I went to Kyoto, and I got a surgery on my vocal cords where they put a titanium bridge in, and it helped a lot," he shared. He couldn't resist poking fun at himself, adding, "I mean, you may not think it helped a lot, listening to me now, but my voice was actually worse." It wasn't the first time he'd spoken about the surgery or its results. In December 2022, a few months after having the surgery, he created a YouTube video endorsing it. "From the moment I wake up in the morning, I can talk, which is a huge relief," he said before suggesting those living with the condition reach out to the surgery center. 

Spasmodic dysphonia might not be curable, and its exact causes may be unclear, but it's safe to say Kennedy is willing to do whatever it takes to deal with the condition as best he can. 

TV viewers helped Kennedy understand his condition

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has opened up about his journey with spasmodic dysphonia. In July 2023, the politician stated in a NewsNation interview that, prior to learning he has spasmodic dysphonia, TV viewers informed him that his voice may be trembling due to the neurological disorder. "I didn't know what was wrong with [my voice], but when I would go on TV people would write me letters and say, 'You have spasmodic dysphonia, and you should see Dr. Blitzer,' who was the physician who was most famous for treating it." Kennedy Jr. was then diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia after he decided to visit Dr. Blitzer. Kennedy Jr. also noted that "about six months ago" he underwent an operation in Japan which "made [his voice] much better."

In regards to Kennedy Jr.'s place in the presidential primary race, The Hill reported in June 2023 that President Joe Biden was shown to have a large lead in the Democratic primaries. This was revealed through a poll by Quinnipiac University in which "70 percent of Democratic-leaning voters" were in favor of Biden, while Kennedy Jr. had the support of 17 percent of people who participated in the survey.