Juan Romero was just a teenager when he became part of one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Now, the former busboy who cradled the dying presidential candidate has died at age 68.
Romero was a busboy working at the Ambassador Hotel in California when Kennedy was fatally shot by an assassin. Romero, who at the time was 17, held Kennedy, cradling his head in his dying moments. As People reported, Romero died this week after suffering a heart attack at his home in Modesto, California. His death comes just under five months since the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.
Romero’s death was announced by Rigo Chacon, a family friend and television anchor.
“He had a heart attack several days ago and his brain went too long without oxygen,” Chacon told the Los Angeles Times.
Juan Romero ended up being one of the lasting memories of Kennedy’s assassination, with photographs showing the teenager holding Kennedy and placing rosary beads in Kennedy’s hands.
Romero had opened up earlier this year about his experience that night, which was actually the second time he had crossed paths with Kennedy. The day before the shooting, Romero and another boy went to the senator’s hotel room to deliver his room service. Romero recalled that Kennedy was on the phone and motioned for the pair and said, “Come on in, boys,” according to Fox News. Romero said Kennedy looked right at them, not ignoring the hotel workers as many other famous guests had. Romero said he left the room feeling “10 feet tall.”
On the night Kennedy was shot, Romero was reaching to shake Kennedy’s hand when the shot rang out. As NPR noted, Romero knelt down to Kennedy after he fell to the floor and could make out some faint words from the mortally wounded man.
“Is everyone OK?” Kennedy asked, trying to find out if anyone else had been shot.
“Yes, everybody’s OK.” Romero answered.
It was then that the busboy tried to offer some comfort to Kennedy, placing his hand under Kennedy’s head so it was not resting on the cold concrete below.
“I remember I had a rosary in my shirt pocket and I took it out, thinking that he would need it a lot more than me. I wrapped it around his right hand and then they wheeled him away,” Romero said.
Juan Romero said Robert F. Kennedy’s death had a lasting effect on him, and in 2010 he bought a suit for a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where he paid respects to the late senator.