Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy

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This article is about the late wife of President Kennedy's son. For the daughter of U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, see Caroline Kennedy.
Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy
Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy.jpg
Born Carolyn Jeanne Bessette
(1966-01-07)January 7, 1966
White Plains, New York, U.S.
Died July 16, 1999(1999-07-16) (aged 33)
Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard
Residence Greenwich, Connecticut
Alma mater Boston University
Occupation Calvin Klein saleswoman
Spouse(s) John F. Kennedy, Jr. (m. 1996–99)[1] (their deaths)
Parents William J. Bessette
Ann Messina Freeman
Relatives Lauren Bessette, sister (1964-1999), Lisa Bessette (b. 1964)

Carolyn Jeanne Bessette-Kennedy (January 7, 1966 – July 16, 1999) was the wife of John F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Early life[edit]

Carolyn Jeanne Bessette was born in White Plains, Westchester County, New York, the youngest child of William J. Bessette, an architect, and Ann Messina Freeman, an administrator in the New York City public school system. She grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. Bessette attended Juniper Hill Elementary School, where art teacher Linda Bemis recalled her as a shy but ordinary child. At Juniper Hill, her mother was a substitute teacher.[2] She attended St. Mary's High School, where she was voted an "All-Around Beautiful Person". She graduated from Boston University in 1988. While at Boston University she met and dated John Cullen, an NHL player.[3] She considered a career in education but chose not to due to believing she was "a little underdeveloped" herself to be "completely responsible for twenty-five other people's children."[4] She had two older sisters, twins Lauren Bessette and Lisa Bessette.[5]


After college, she worked as a saleswoman at the Calvin Klein store in Boston before being transferred to the corporate headquarters in New York, where she worked as a publicist and met John F. Kennedy, Jr.. The couple became a popular paparazzi target, with gossip columns detailing where they ate and shopped and even covering the arguments they had. Photographers waited outside the couple's Tribeca apartment to snap photographs. She was reportedly uncomfortable with the media frenzy and the repeated comparisons to her mother-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.[6] She was introduced to Senator Ted Kennedy in the late summer of 1994. Following the marriage, the senator would tell the press: "You could tell right away that there was something special between the two of them."[7]

Bessette and Kennedy were married on September 21, 1996 on Cumberland Island, Georgia in a historic Baptist church.[1] Their wedding was private and secret in an effort to elude the media. Carolyn's wedding dress was designed by Narciso Rodriguez.[8] Prior to the marriage, Bessette had been living with Kennedy. She took some time before choosing to accept Kennedy's proposal. College friend Dana Gallo Stayton said that while she was excited, Bessette "wanted to be sure it was the right decision."[9] She and her sister-in-law Caroline Kennedy accompanied her husband as he underwent hand surgery on October 8, 1997.[10] In March 1998, Bessette took a tour to the White House, hosted by President Bill Clinton.[11]

Marriage counseling[edit]

Carolyn and John began seeing a marriage counselor in March 1999. Carolyn stormed out of their third meeting when the subject of drugs came about.[12] Over the summer of 1999, Carolyn and John began seeing Cardinal John O'Connor for help with their marriage. The meetings with O'Connor began taking place after John revealed to his uncle Ted that he and Carolyn were having marital problems.[13]


Childbearing was a sensitive subject for Carolyn, who during one period refused to sleep with her husband when the subject arose. On July 10, 1999, six days before her death, Carolyn and her husband dined with Christiane Amanpour and James Rubin. Amanpour previously shared a house with Carolyn's husband when he was attending Brown University and she was attending the University of Rhode Island. The four later went to the Lamppost. a hangout, and while John asked Christiane if she and her husband were trying to have children. After she confirmed they were, Carolyn came into the conversation. "Oh, please don't say that," she joked. "If you get pregnant, John will want us to get pregnant, too."[14] Her husband was quoted as saying: "I want to have kids, but whenever I raise the subject with Carolyn, she turns away and refuses to have sex with me."[15]


Carolyn died on July 16, 1999, along with her husband and older sister Lauren, when the Piper Saratoga II HP that Kennedy was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha's Vineyard. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the probable cause of the crash was: "The pilot's failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation. Factors in the accident were haze and the dark night"[16] After a lengthy search, the wreck was discovered in the late afternoon of July 21. The bodies were recovered from the ocean floor by Navy divers and taken by motorcade to the county medical examiner's office, where autopsies revealed that the crash victims had died upon impact. At the same time, the Kennedy and Bessette families announced their plans for memorial services.[17] In the late hours of July 21, the three bodies were taken from Hyannis to Duxbury where they were cremated in the Mayflower Cemetery crematorium.[18] In the morning of July 22, their ashes were scattered from the Navy ship USS Briscoe off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.[19]


Before marrying Kennedy, Bessette was in a relationship with Calvin Klein model Michael Bergin, who wrote a memoir about the couple's relationship called The Other Man: John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette, and Me, which was published in 2004.[20]

In 2005, Bessette-Kennedy's close friend Carole Radziwill, wife of John's cousin Anthony Stanislas Radziwill, published a memoir entitled What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love that includes her memories of the plane crash that took place just weeks before her own husband's death from cancer.[21] In 2012, John Kennedy, Jr.'s assistant and publicist, RoseMarie Terenzio, published her experiences and behind-the-scenes observations based on her five years working with Kennedy and, eventually, her friendship with him and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy in Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Carolyn Bessette and John F. Kennedy Jr. Wedding". Celebrity Bride Guide. Aug 16, 2008. Retrieved July 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ Heymann, p. 405.
  3. ^ Gliatto, Tom (1996). "Bridal Sweet". People Magazine. Retrieved 2011-08-26. 
  4. ^ Elaine Landau (2000). John F. Kennedy, Jr. Millbrook Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0761318576. 
  5. ^ The Bessettes' Double Disadter
  6. ^ How the marriage of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette unraveled
  7. ^ Heymann, p. 416.
  8. ^ date=October 2012
  9. ^ Landau, p. 104.
  10. ^ "Jfk Jr. Undergoes Surgery On Hand". Chicago Tribune. October 10, 1997. 
  11. ^ Leigh, p. 106.
  12. ^ Heymann, C. David (2008). American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy. p. 487. 
  13. ^ Klein, p. 219.
  14. ^ Heymann, p. 19.
  15. ^ Klein, Edward (2004). The Kennedy Curse: International Edition. p. 1. 
  16. ^ "NTSB Press Release". July 6, 2000. 
  17. ^ John F. Kennedy, Jr. Plane Crash and Search Time Line on
  18. ^,+July+1999.pdf Article in the Duxbury Clipper, July 28, 1999
  19. ^ Gellman, Barton; Ferdinand, Pamela (1999-07-23). "Kennedy, Bessettes Given Shipboard Rites". Washington Post. pp. A1. Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  20. ^ Bergin, Michael (March 30, 2004). The Other Man: John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette, and Me. William Morrow. ISBN 0-06-072389-0. 
  21. ^ Nathan, Jean (Sep 1, 2005). Once Upon A Time. Vogue Magazine. 
  22. ^ RoseMarie Terenzio (January 24, 2012). Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss. Gallery Books. ISBN 1439187673. 

External links[edit]