What happened to Robert Kennedy Jr's voice and when did it change?

Yasmine Leung November 8, 2021
What happened to Robert Kennedy Jr's voice and when did it change?
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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Robert Kennedy Jr is heading the anti-vaccine Worldwide Walkout and a recent speech drew attention to his voice, leaving viewers wondering what condition he suffers from.

Robert Kennedy Jr is making headlines for leading the Worldwide Walkout against covid vaccine mandates.

The movement began on 3 November 2021 with 200 cities participating in the rally, according to Kennedy. The next rallies will take place from 8-11 November.

As the Children’s Health Defense Board chairman and lead counsel, Kennedy is protesting against the pharmaceutical industry and its “trampling of citizens’ rights”.

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What happened to Robert Kennedy Jr’s voice?

Kennedy suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that affects the muscles in the voice box.

When a person speaks, air from the lungs is pushed between the two vocal folds, causing vibrations and, therefore, sound.

With spasmodic dysphonia, the muscles inside the folds move involuntarily and spasm, interfering with the vibrations. As a result, the voice sounds strained and shaky. It can vary from a sufferer’s voice breaking every few sentences to every word in severe cases.

The start of Kennedy’s condition

In an interview with Oprah in 2007, Kennedy revealed his dysphonia began in 2001 when he was 47. He has lived with the disorder for 20 years.

It started off as a mild tremble for a few years but Kennedy continued to make public appearances. He received many letters praising him for speaking about his condition.

He revealed spasmodic dysphonia doesn’t hurt but means he needs to make more effort when speaking. Kennedy was told the condition wouldn’t worsen – but it definitely has.

His appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal in 2004 shows his voice in the early days of the disease. It was mild and not at all obvious.

Botox shots are a temporary treatment. The muscles in the voice box are injected but symptoms can return within four months.

The inspiration behind Us character, Red

Lupita Nyong’o revealed to Variety the voice of her character in Jordan Peele’s thriller, Us, was inspired by spasmodic dysphonia. She studied the condition alongside doctors and dialect coaches to perfect the role.

She cites Kennedy as an influence after hearing him speak at an event: “His voice, and the condition he has, became the catalyst in my creative process.”

However, she issued an apology after backlash with some viewers labelling it “hurtful” for using the disorder to voice an evil character:

“I crafted Red with love and care. So as much as it is in a genre-specific world, I really wanted to ground her in something that felt real. And so for all that, I say sorry to anyone I may have offended.”

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If you need help or want to learn more about Spasmodic Dysphonia, you can visit this site for more information.

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Yasmine is a third-year Anthropology and Media student at Goldsmiths University with a new obsession with League of Legends, despite being really bad. She's always on social media keeping on top of the latest news and trends and is HITC’s expert in Korean pop culture. She also loves music, TV and fashion - her favourite things to write about.