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
Education Juniper Hill Elementary School
Greenwich High School
St. Mary's High School
Alma mater Boston University
Occupation Calvin Klein saleswoman, publicist
Spouse(s) John F. Kennedy, Jr. (m. 1996–99) (their deaths)

Carolyn Jeanne Bessette-Kennedy (January 7, 1966 – July 16, 1999) was a former publicist for Calvin Klein and the wife of John F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Upon her marriage, Bessette-Kennedy's relationship with her husband and her fashion sense became the subject of intense media scrutiny and she drew comparisons to her mother-in-law Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The couple, along with Bessette-Kennedy's older sister Lauren, died in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard in July 1999.

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 had two older sisters, twins Lauren and Lisa.[1] Bessette's parents divorced when she was eight-years old and her mother married Richard Freeman, an orthopedic surgeon.[2][3] 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.[4] She then attended Greenwich High School for two years before transferring to St. Mary's High School, where she was voted "The Ultimate Beautiful Person". She graduated in 1983.[2]

Bessette went on to study elementary education at Boston University. While there, she dabbled in modeling and dated John Cullen, an NHL player.[5] Upon her graduation in 1988, Bessette considered a career as a teacher but chose not to due to believing she was "a little underdeveloped" herself to be "completely responsible for twenty-five other people's children."[6]

Career and marriage[edit]

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. She met John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1992 while Kennedy was dating actress Daryl Hannah.[7] They began dating in 1994 and 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.[8][9] 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."[10] Bessette moved into Kennedy's Tribeca loft in the summer of 1995 and the couple became engaged later that year.[11] She quit her job at Calvin Klein Ltd in the spring of 1996.[12]

Bessette and Kennedy were married in front of forty guests on September 21, 1996 on Cumberland Island, Georgia in a Catholic ceremony at the historic First African Baptist.[7] Their wedding was private and secret in an effort to elude the media.[13] Bessette's wedding dress was designed by Narciso Rodriguez.[12] 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."[14] After the marriage, the media attention surrounding the couple intensified which Bessette often found difficult to deal with.[15] Her minimalist, "throwaway chic" fashion sense was chronicled by various fashion publications and drew repeated comparisons to her mother-in-law, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.[3][12] While the interest surrounding the couple continued, Bessette refused to give interviews and turned down offers to appear in fashion magazines. Towards the end of her life, Bessette became more involved with charity work and often accompanied her husband to dinners at the White House (the couple were given a tour by then President Bill Clinton in March 1998)[16] and acted as the hostess for parties for her husband's political magazine George.[17]

According to reports published after their deaths, Bessette and Kennedy were experiencing marital problems and contemplating divorce in the months preceding their deaths.[15] They began seeing marriage counselor in March 1999 and sought counseling from Cardinal John O'Connor in the summer of 1999.[18][19] In his book, The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years, author Edward Klein claimed that the couple's problems reportedly stemmed from Bessette's difficulty in dealing with the increased media attention surrounding her and the marriage, accusations of infidelity, disagreements about having children and Bessette's alleged cocaine use.[9] Friends of the couple, including John Perry Barlow and Christiane Amanpour, admitted that while the couple fought on occasion and Bessette did have trouble adjusting to the intense media coverage, denied that Bessette used drugs and the couple were planning to divorce.[20][15]


Bessette 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"[21] After a lengthy search, the wreckage 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.[22]

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.[23] On the morning of July 22, their ashes were scattered from the Navy ship USS Briscoe off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.[24]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ Florio, Gwen (July 18, 1999). "Before Kennedy, She Made A Mark Carolyn Bessette's Beauty And Brains Took Her Places. Some Saw The Couple As A Natural Match.". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Abraham, Yvonne; Cassidy, Tina (July 19, 1999). "For Bessette Kennedy, joining Kennedy clan meant life in a fishbowl". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Crazy For Carolyn". October 10, 1996. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ Heymann, C. David (2008). American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy. Simon and Schuster. p. 405. ISBN 0-743-49739-2. 
  5. ^ Gliatto, Tom (1996). "Bridal Sweet". People Magazine. Retrieved 2011-08-26. 
  6. ^ Landau, Elaine (2000). John F. Kennedy, Jr. Millbrook Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0761318576. 
  7. ^ a b Gliatto, Tom (October 7, 1996). "Bridal Sweet". People 46 (15). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  8. ^ Waldman, Amy (July 19, 1999). "Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Private Woman Who Was New to Fame". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Klein, Edward (August 2003). "Secrets and Lies". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  10. ^ Heymann 2008, p. 416.
  11. ^ Gerhart, Ann (October 18, 1996). "Who's That Girl? Quite Possibly the Perfect Match". p. 2. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Bumiller, Elisabeth (September 29, 1996). "Enter Smiling, the Stylish Carolyn Bessette". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  13. ^ Sack, Kevin (September 26, 1999). "The Island That Kept A Wedding A Secret". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  14. ^ Landau, p. 104.
  15. ^ a b c Smolowe, Jill (July 24, 2000). "To Have and To Hold". People 54 (4). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  16. ^ Kranish, Michael (July 22, 1999). "Extra search effort was 'the right thing'". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Sitting Target". July 21, 1999. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  18. ^ Heymann 2008, p. 487.
  19. ^ Klein, Edward (2004). The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years. Macmillan. p. 114. ISBN 0-312-31293-8. 
  20. ^ Rogers, Patrick (July 21, 2003). "Imperfect Union". People 60 (3). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  21. ^ "NTSB Press Release". July 6, 2000. 
  22. ^ "Crash and Search Time Line". July 22, 1996. 
  23. ^ Maxwell, Paula (July 28, 1999). "Kennedy Cremated In Duxbury". Duxbury Clipper. 
  24. ^ Ferdinand, Pamela (July 23, 1999). "Kennedy, Bessettes Given Shipboard Rites". Washington Post. pp. A1. Retrieved May 22, 2008. 
  25. ^ Peterson, Todd (May 29, 2004). "'Baywatch' Cad Talks Up Bessette Affair". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  26. ^ "JFK Jr., Carolyn Bessette's Lives and Last Moments Remembered". September 20, 2005. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  27. ^ Issac, Cheryl (February 9, 2012). "From Executive Assistant To Entrepreneur: JFK Jr.'s Former Assistant Says It Was 'The Perfect Storm'". Retrieved October 6, 2014.