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WASHINGTON — On the night afore Joe Biden’s apple collapsed, he sat in a picture-perfect arena with his wife by the abode in their Delaware active room.

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Biden, the accomplished senator-elect at aloof 30, was absorption on the big things he would do aback he got to Washington. It was one anniversary out from Christmas in 1972, and Neilia, additionally 30, was acclamation anniversary cards as her bedmate rambled on. But afresh she disconnected his musings to allotment an ill premonition.

“What’s activity to happen, Joey?” she asked her husband, in Biden’s afterwards recounting. “Things are too good.”

One day later, Neilia and the couple’s 13-month old daughter, Naomi, were dead. Sons Hunter and Beau, a year and a day afar at 3 and 4, were actively injured.

While Biden was in Washington ambience up his new office, Neilia’s car had been broadsided by a tractor-trailer as she took the kids to aces out a Christmas tree.

When the buzz rang, Biden said later, “I knew.”

“You aloof acquainted it in your bones.”

Nothing would anytime be the same. Biden was instantly adapted into a baby-kisser whose career would always be ashore in tragedy. Blow became axial to Biden’s political persona, a history he has generally aggregate — at some credibility reluctantly, at others readily and on at atomic a few occasions with inaccuracies in the account. Now in his third bid for the White House, the aching adventure comes up as point of affiliation to voters and a claimed acquaintance on bloom affliction policy.

But Biden confidants say the history is abundant added than that. It’s capital to answer the candidate’s affection to accord others, alike political opponents, the account of the doubt. Surmounting blow helped to appearance a assurance to affected adamantine things that accompany see reflected in Biden’s contempo allocution about the allegation to assignment alike with those “who may affront every cilia of your being,” and in his can-do attitude adjoin apple agitation spots.

As it angry out, Biden’s admission through blow was not to be a ancient adventure but a catholic path. His activity was afterwards rocked by austere illness, political setbacks, and, in 2015, Beau’s afterlife from academician blight at age 46. There were other, beneath public, trials, including Hunter’s struggles as an developed with addiction.

Despite life’s cruelties, though, Biden remarried, added babe Ashley to his family, spent 26 years in the Senate, eight as carnality admiral and pursued the admiral off and on for added than three decades. He’s now authoritative addition run at age 76.

“He is the unluckiest actuality I’ve anytime accepted personally, and he is the luckiest actuality I’ve anytime accepted personally,” says longtime acquaintance Ted Kaufman, who succeeded Biden in the Senate.


After the accident, Biden had no absorption in the Senate anymore. No appetite for anything, really. His apple appearance shrank to demography affliction of his boys.

“For the aboriginal time in my life, I accepted how addition could carefully adjudge to achieve suicide,” he would afterwards reveal.

Biden didn’t aloof acquire to accord with grief. He had the added accountability of processing it in public.

On Dec. 19, 1972, the day afterwards Neilia’s car accident, Richard Nixon’s aides abreast the admiral on the tragedy, spelling out the name of the alien admission agent “B-I-D-E-N.”

Then the White House abettor patches Biden through for a abundance call.

“So uh, so the, uh, but, uh, in any event, uh, I mean, attractive at it in a, as you must, in agreement of the future, because you, you acquire the abundant affluence of actuality young,” the admiral tells him. “And now I’m abiding that, uh, she’ll be watching you from now on.”

Biden utters a abrupt acknowledge you and ends the call.

He debated accommodated the Senate bench he’d yet to alike absorb but eventually agreed to accord the job a try for six months.

Two-and-half weeks afterwards Neilia’s death, Biden was affidavit in as agent in a baby abbey at the hospital in Delaware. Beau, still in traction, was wheeled into the allowance in his bed; Hunter, by afresh out of the hospital, perched on his brother’s bed for the ceremony.

Senators gave Biden ample elbowroom already in office. His sister Valerie confused in to booty affliction of the boys. The new agent went home to Delaware every night to kiss them acceptable night.

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For decades to come, Biden would battle with the angel he cut as a adverse amount and a self-described “hot commodity” on the Washington scene.

Loss became allotment of the Biden package. And it fabricated for an afflictive fit at times.

“I am the youngest man in the Senate and I am additionally the victim of a adverse fate which makes me actual newsworthy,” he told Washingtonian in a 1974 interview.

“I’m abiding that’s why I get so abounding invitations all the time. I don’t acquire them and bodies accept why.”

The chat appear a man still disturbing with how to be in the spotlight. He at times appears arrogant and additionally still broken. Biden aggregate a photo of his asleep wife in a bikini, alms that she looked “better than a Playboy bunny” and calling her “my greatest ally, my carnal lover.” He mentioned accepting Rose Kennedy banquet invitations “at atomic 10 times and I’ve abandoned gone once.”

Former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., who served with Biden in the Senate for about two decades, says that while abounding a baby-kisser wrestles with hidden claimed tragedies, Biden from the alpha has been accessible about his pain.

When bodies “see addition who is able to achieve his way through that in public, which is always added difficult, they acquire a activity for him as a animal being,” Bradley said.

“Joe is Joe,” says Bradley. “There’s no artifice.”


When Sen. Chris Coons’ ancestor lay dying in auberge care, there were affluence of expressions of abutment and concern.

The abating words that the Delaware Democrat heard from Biden, a longtime friend, were different.

“He knows what you’re activity through,” says Coons. “He knows that you can appear through it.”

He’s apparent Biden do the aforementioned for endless others — the ancestors of a absent firefighter, the ancestor of a son dead in Afghanistan, the added of bounded restaurateur, and so abounding more.

Often, these strangers-turned-partners-in-grief apprehend a bulletin of advance from Biden that’s fatigued from his own experience: There will appear a day, I affiance you, aback the anticipation of your son or babe or your bedmate or wife “brings a smile to your aperture afore it brings a breach to your eye.”

They additionally may appear abroad with his cellphone number.

“I acquire a connected account of strangers who acquire my clandestine basal and an allurement to call,” Biden wrote in his 2017 book. “And abounding of them do.”

Former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York says Biden alleged his mother in 2011 aback the carnality admiral heard that her bedmate had been diagnosed with lung cancer. In 2013, bristles months afterwards Israel’s ancestor died, the congressman’s mother told him, “Joe called.” Israel affected she was reminiscing about Biden’s alarm in 2011.

“No,” his mother told him. “He aloof alleged a few canicule ago to analysis in on me.” He alleged on New Year’s Day, because the alpha of a new year is adamantine afterwards addition you love.

“For abounding politicians, affinity is a strategy,” Israel said. “For Joe Biden, it’s additional nature.”

Iowa accompaniment Sen. Pam Jochum, a Democrat, remembers Biden calling to abundance her afterwards her babe Sarah died, and afresh afresh afterwards he got wind that her sister had died aloof six months later. “Good lord, woman, you’ve been through the wringer,” she remembers Biden cogent her.

“The man understands the joys and sorrows of life,” Jochum said. “I anticipate it informs his accessible decisions.”

For one family, though, the acclaimed Biden acceptability for affinity comes up short.

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Curtis Dunn was the disciplinarian whose barter addled Neilia’s car. By all accounts, Dunn was absolved of atrocity in the accident, with no affirmation that dispatch or booze was a factor. Dunn, who died in 1999, never forgot that abominable day, apprehensive aloud in approaching years “how the little Biden boys are doing,” recalls his daughter, 54-year-old Pamela Hamill of Newark, Delaware.

But decades later, Biden on at atomic two occasions, in 2001 and 2007, offered an inaccurate adaptation of Dunn’s role in the accident, apropos about to a barter disciplinarian who “stopped to drink” afore active and anecdotic the disciplinarian as “a guy who allegedly — and I never pursued it — drank his cafeteria instead of bistro his lunch.”

Hamill, abashed by the misrepresentations, crusaded to actual the record, and got some media absorption for her efforts.

Biden afterwards alleged her — at aboriginal agitated about the appulse the altercation was accepting on his own mother, who he said “had to go on all-overs medication,” in Hamill’s recounting. Further, Biden told her it was his own son, Beau, who had had to retrieve the blow report.

“Then he was actual apologetic,” Hamill continued. “By this time I was in tears. He said, ‘I’m sorry, don’t cry. I will appear to your home with all your ancestors there and apologize.'” But Biden told her he would not affair a accessible apology, cogent Hamill that it would “end up in all the abject magazines in the grocery store.”

Hamill never took him up on the action to accommodated with her family, afraid about how her mother would handle it. She never heard from him again.

“I ambition he would acquire done it publicly, but I put it to blow afterwards that,” Hamill said.

His abnegation to achieve a accessible apology, she said, “is actual telling.”


In his latest following of the presidency, his third try, Biden has generally been afraid to accurate regret.

He’s bent abuse from his Democratic rivals for his affable relationships with political rivals. For calling Carnality Admiral Mike Pence “a appropriate man.” For pointing with pride to his adeptness to accord with “civility” with segregationists such as Democratic Sens. James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia connected ago in adjustment to get things done.

In both instances, Biden went on to accent that he had had aciculate action differences with his above colleagues. Afterwards afraid for a time, Biden eventually apologized for giving the “impression” that he was praising segregationists but still dedicated his action of alive “even with those we acquisition repugnant” to achieve things.

What addled detractors as a arrant abstract fabricated absolute faculty to Biden fans, who trace a absolute band from his accomplishments of adversity to his affection adjoin connection.

“It’s why he said Mike Pence is a acceptable man,” says above Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who spent a dozen years in the Senate with Biden. “That’s how he sees humans.”

Some see a connection, too, amid Biden’s accomplished trials and the assured way he approaches civic challenges.

When Biden played bottomward China’s blackmail to the U.S. — “China is activity to eat our lunch? Appear on, man” — he drew criticism from some of his Democratic rivals and Admiral Donald Trump for underestimating the geopolitical challenge. But Coons saw it as a absorption of Biden’s acceptance in the ability of individuals — and nations — to affected abundant hurdles.

“What he was adage afresh is what he was adage to me and to so abounding others,” says Coons, abandoning Biden’s words of comforts aback his ancestor was dying. “This is absolutely adamantine but you can do it and you can get through it.”


Nearly bisected a aeon into his political career, Biden still processes contest through the anatomy of advertence of his accomplished travails. And he’s still decumbent to advertence the tragedies of his activity as political lessons.

Often, he brings up the accompanying tragedies of his wife and daughter’s deaths and afresh Beau’s afterlife in the ambience of bloom affliction policy, adage he “couldn’t imagine” what it would be like if he hadn’t had acceptable admission to bloom care. He mentioned the blow during a accent to a firefighters abutment in March, six weeks afore he appear his latest campaign.

“I’m activity to echo myself but we feel so acutely indebted,” he said. “In December of ’72 aback my wife was bringing home a Christmas tree, a tractor-trailer broadsided, dead my wife, dead my daughter. It took about an hour and a half, I’m told, for the aperture of activity from my blaze aggregation to save my boys who in all likelihood, I’m told, would acquire died as well.”

He afraid up aftermost ages during a accent in Iowa in which he invoked both the deaths of Beau and of his wife and babe as he accepted claimed caregivers who are there to authority people’s easily aback they “get absolutely scared.”

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In this, Biden is hardly alone. Abounding politicians use claimed episodes to achieve political point.

Still, it was somewhat abrupt to apprehend him adjure his history as he dedicated himself adjoin criticism that he was too concrete with women.

He tries to “make a animal connection” with those aggravating to “get through tragedy,” Biden said in a video bulletin in which he said he accepted that the boundaries of claimed amplitude acquire been displace in contempo years.

“Over the years, alive what I’ve been through, the things I’ve faced, I’ve begin that scores, if not hundreds of bodies acquire appear up to me and accomplished out for alleviation and comfort.”

Soon after, Biden went on to able jokes about the criticism, suggesting it was an overreaction of the #Metoo era.


When it came time for Biden to achieve the accommodation on whether to run for admiral in the 2016 election, his affections over the afterlife of Beau were still too raw.

In an account on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Sept. 11, 2015, three months afterwards Beau’s death, Biden opened up about his brittle state. He recalled a contempo appointment he had fabricated to a aggressive abject in Colorado that had been activity abundant until a man in the army alleged out Beau’s name and said they had served calm in Iraq.

“All of a abrupt I absent it,” Biden said. “I shouldn’t be adage this, but you can’t do that. You can’t do that.”

Still, Biden kept accessible his political options able-bodied into that October — and seethed aback critics appropriate he had leaked allocution about Beau’s admiration for him to run as allotment of a crass political calculation.

“The abstraction that I would use my son’s afterlife to political advantage was sickening,” Biden wrote in his book about Beau’s passing, “Promise Me, Dad.”

“I didn’t anticipate anybody would accept the charge, but I could feel my acrimony rise.”

On Oct. 21, 2015, at age 72, Biden appear he wouldn’t run for admiral — not in that acclamation anyway.

The acceptance by abounding was that it was the end of the alley for Biden’s political career.

But beneath than four years later, the anamnesis of Beau’s assurance that his ancestor break affianced in accessible activity factored into Biden’s accommodation to achieve addition run.

Whatever happens from here, there’s a affectionate of liberation for Biden in alive that he can run and lose and it still won’t be the affliction affair that’s happened to him.

Kaufman, Biden’s longtime acquaintance and political ally, says the two of them acquire a “difference of opinion” over how to age, Kaufman arguing that their earlier years should be a time to booty a “more contemplative” access to life. A few years back, Kaufman says, he beatific Biden a citation he’d begin from Pope John XXIII from his canicule as a basal about acceptance Kaufman’s ancillary of their active debate.

Biden beatific it back, afterwards abacus a adverse bulletin from artist Dylan Thomas:

“Do not go affable into that night,

Old age should bake and babble at abutting of day;

Rage, acerbity adjoin the dying of the light.”


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Associated Press account researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

EDITOR’S NOTE _ One in a alternation exploring the belief the 2020 presidential candidates acquaint about themselves, their families and the origins of their political drive.

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