RFK Jr. Speaks Candidly About His Voice

LA Times reports:

There was a time before the turn of the millennium when Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. gave a full-throated accounting of himself and the things he cared about. He recalls his voice then as “unusually strong,” so much so that he could fill large auditoriums with his words. No amplification needed.

The independent presidential candidate recounts those times somewhat wistfully, telling interviewers that he “can’t stand” the sound of his voice today — sometimes choked, halting and slightly tremulous.

The cause of RFK Jr.’s vocal distress? Spasmodic dysphonia, a rare neurological condition, in which an abnormality in the brain’s neural network results in involuntary spasms of the muscles that open or close the vocal cords.

Since declaring his bid for the presidency a year ago, the 70-year-old environmental lawyer has discussed his frayed voice only on occasion, usually when asked by a reporter. He told The Times: “If I could sound better, I would.”

SD, as it’s known, affects about 50,000 people in North America, although that estimate may be off because of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed cases, according to Dysphonia International, a nonprofit that organizes support groups and funds research.

Kennedy said he was teaching at Pace University School of Law in White Plains, N.Y., in 1996 when he noticed a problem with his voice. He was 42.

His campaigns for clean water and other causes in those days meant that he traveled the country, sometimes appearing in court or giving speeches. He lectured, of course, in his law school classes and co-hosted a radio show. Asked whether it was hard to hear his voice gradually devolve, Kennedy said: “I would say it was ironic, because I made my living on my voice.”

Long and grueling presidential campaigns have stolen the voice of many candidates. But Kennedy said he is not concerned, since his condition is based on a neural disturbance, not one in his voice box.

“Actually, the more I use the voice, the stronger it tends to get,” he said. “It warms up when I speak.”

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