US elite attends Kennedy funeral

BOSTON: President Barack Obama, three former presidents and the nation's elite gathered Saturday at a grand Catholic funeral for Edward Kennedy, America's legendary political patriarch.

A who's who of the country's movers and shakers, including much of the US Congress, crammed into the pews of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a historic church in Boston.

Obama was to deliver the eulogy at the Mass, after which Kennedy's flag-draped coffin was to be flown to Washington for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his assassinated elder brothers John and Robert.

Earlier, Kennedy's widow, Vicki, fought tears as she and other family, all dressed in black dresses or dark suits, joined the cortege taking the late senator's remains through steady rain to the church.

Kennedy died Tuesday, aged 77, after suffering for more than a year from brain cancer.

Although many Americans disliked his leftist politics, the senator's passing was a national event, signaling the end of a half-century era in which his family was a highly influential force in the Democratic Party.

Tens of thousands of people queued to view his coffin on Thursday and Friday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, built on Boston's Atlantic shore by Edward Kennedy to commemorate his assassinated brother.

Heavy security was in place for the funeral. Police shut down streets near the church and a no-fly zone was imposed over the city.

Guests included almost 50 senators and 100 members of Congress, as well as former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Also present was a range of celebrities including movie actor Jack Nicholson, and figures from the sporting and media worlds.

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and opera great Placido Domingo were to provide music during the Mass, which was presided over by Boston's archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

The breadth of national respect for Kennedy was also reflected in the eclectic mix of guests at a pre-funeral wake held Friday in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Speakers at the wake praised Kennedy as a patriot, legislator, and a man who knew huge privilege but also terrible tragedy.

"Some people born with a famous name live off it. Others enrich names. Teddy enriched his," Democratic Senator Chris Dodd said.

Several senior Republicans who had overcome ideological differences to form a bond with the Senate's leading liberal also attended.

Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator, spoke of his "love" for Kennedy, even if "there are few men with whom I've had less in common."

Once in Washington later Saturday, a cortege taking Kennedy's body to Arlington National Cemetery was to halt briefly near the Senate for a prayer.

Obama, who met briefly with Vicki Kennedy ahead of the funeral, was not planning to attend the burial itself.

The Kennedys' astonishing success in politics, photogenic glamor couples and frequent family tragedies, have led media at times to liken them to a US royal family.

But their origins are humble, their fortunes scrappily Made in the USA, and their family business -- at least in Ted Kennedy's generation -- has been public service, really self-made political noblesse oblige.

John Kennedy was murdered in 1963 while president and Robert Kennedy was gunned down five years later while running for the White House. Many expected the younger brother, popularly known as Teddy, to seize the mantle.

But his White House hopes were dashed after his name was tainted by scandal, drinking problems and a messy divorce.

He lost the Democratic Party nomination to incumbent Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election.

But he came back as a senator of renowned political skills and determination, earning the admiration of even his critics by the end.

His support of Obama during the presidential election last year was also credited with giving the country's first African American president a significant boost in his meteoric rise to power.