John F. Kennedy Jr.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. (November 25, 1960 – July 16, 1999), often referred to as JFK Jr. or John-John in the press, was an American lawyer, journalist, and magazine publisher. He was the surviving son of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and younger brother of Caroline Kennedy. He was a nephew of Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, who both served as father figures to him after his father's assassination just before his third birthday.
From his early childhood and throughout his life, Kennedy was the subject of great media attention and scrutiny. Trained as a lawyer, he worked as a New York City Assistant District Attorney for four years. In 1995 he launched George magazine, using his considerable political and celebrity clout to attract attention.
Kennedy died in the crash of a small plane he was piloting, along with his wife Carolyn Bessette, and her elder sister Lauren, on their way to a family wedding in Martha's Vineyard.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Education and early adulthood
- 3 Politics
- 4 George magazine
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Death
- 7 Legacy
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
White House and early childhood
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. was born at Georgetown University Hospital seventeen days after his father was elected president. His birth was announced by White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, who said to reporters, "We have just been advised that Mrs. Kennedy has given birth to a baby boy. Both mother and son are doing well." He had an older sister, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, and a younger brother, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who died two days after his birth in August 1963. His parents also had a stillborn daughter, Arabella, before Caroline's birth.
Kennedy lived in the White House for most of the first three years of his life, and remained in the public spotlight throughout his life. His putative nickname "John-John", not used by the family, came from a reporter who misheard JFK calling him ("John" spoken twice in quick succession).
After President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent Caroline and John a letter, explaining that it would be "many years before you understand fully what a great man your father was." The next day, his mother had the children write a letter to their father to express how much they loved him. Caroline wrote the letter and John marked an "X" on it.
President Kennedy's state funeral was held three days later on John's third birthday. In a moment that became an emotional and iconic image of the 1960s, John stepped forward and rendered a final salute as the flag-draped casket was carried out from St. Matthew's Cathedral. The image was captured by photographer Stan Stearns. After his father's burial, the Kennedy family returned to the White House to celebrate John's birthday. The party was also to demonstrate to the children that the family would go on despite the death of their father.
New York City and Skorpios
Following the assassination, the family moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City, where John grew up. Summers and occasional weekends were spent at the Kennedy's horse farm in Peapack-Gladstone in the countryside of New Jersey's Somerset County. On July 1, 1966, Kennedy was treated for first and second degree burns after he fell into the coals of a dying cookout. In the summer of 1967, their mother took John and Caroline on a six-week "sentimental journey" to Ireland, where they met President Eamon de Valera and visited the Kennedy ancestral home at Dunganstown.
In 1968, after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, Jacqueline took the children out of the United States saying: "If they're killing Kennedys, then my children are targets ..... I want to get out of this country." They went to Skorpios, an island owned by Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Jacqueline had met Onassis in the early 1950s and married him in October 1968. Their marriage lasted until Onassis' death in March 1975. John and Onassis would often go on trips together. Despite this, Kennedy is said to have considered his mother's new husband "a joke."
Kennedy was at St. Francis Xavier on November 22, 1969, the sixth anniversary of his father's death, and assisted the priest at the memorial services. In February 1971, when Richard Nixon was president, Kennedy returned to the White House with his sister and mother for the first time. Nixon's daughters Julie and Tricia gave him a tour that included his old bedroom, and Nixon showed him the desk under which his father had let him play. In August 1971, Kennedy and his cousin Anthony Radziwill spent two weeks in Plymouth Sound, at the Drake's Island Adventure Center.
On June 30, 1976, Kennedy and Timothy Shriver traveled to Rabinal, a Guatemalan town that had been struck by an earthquake four months prior to their visit. During the days, Kennedy helped with construction of outhouses, along with hauling sand and digging trenches, and at night he distributed food. The Reverend Antonio Gomez y Gomez, a Catholic priest, reflected that Kennedy and Shriver "ate what the people of Rabinal ate and dressed in Guatemalan clothes and slept in tents like most of the earthquake victims", adding that the two "did more for their country's image" in Guatemala "than a roomful of ambassadors."
On November 25, 1976, his sixteenth birthday, Kennedy's Secret Service protection ended. His mother arranged for him to spend the summer of 1978 in Wyoming working for six weeks as a wrangler at the Bar Cross Ranch. Owner John Perry Barlow assured her that her son would be treated fairly, but later reflected: "His mother sent him out West. She rather unceremoniously kicked him out of the nest and dumped him into the lap of a Republican rancher from Wyoming." Kennedy surprised the ranch hands with his rigorous work and the ranch employees enjoyed his warmth and sense of humor.
Prior to registering at Brown University, Kennedy's mother took him to Africa. With limited landmarks and only partial visibility, Kennedy was appointed leader when his group lost their way and they went through the undergrowth with no food or water. Kennedy's main concern was the impact on his family "if his experience ever made newspaper headlines". The group was found two days after having encountered a rhinoceros, and Kennedy won points from his course director for his leadership. On October 20, 1979, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated. Kennedy made his first major speech and recited Stephen Spender's poem "I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great".
Education and early adulthood
Kennedy attended private schools in New York City, starting at Saint David's School and moving to Collegiate, which he attended from third through tenth grade. He completed high school at Phillips Andover Academy, a prestigious prep school in Andover, Massachusetts. Kennedy registered for Phillips Andover after returning to America from Guatemala. His friend Wilson McCray had already started at the school and Kennedy avoided Secret Service agents to search for him, knowing that McCray would be able to help him "sidestep the pitfalls of being away at school and enjoy considerable freedom."
After graduating from Andover, Kennedy went to Brown University where he majored in American history. At Brown he co-founded a student discussion group that focused on contemporary subjects such as apartheid in South Africa, gun control, and civil rights. A friend recalled that Kennedy "had definite opinions on things", while acknowledging that "he also argued on both sides of the issue." Kennedy was appalled when he saw the "horrors of apartheid" while visiting South Africa during a Brown summer break, and, determined to "alert his fellow students," he arranged for U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young to speak about the topic at Brown. During his college years, he remained close with Jacqueline and Caroline despite their living miles away. By his junior year at Brown, he had moved off campus to live with several other students in a shared house.
Kennedy was initiated into Phi Psi, a local social fraternity which had been the Rhode Island Alpha Chapter of national Phi Kappa Psi fraternity until 1978. Kennedy graduated from Brown University in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in history. After Brown, Kennedy took a working break, traveling to India and spending some time at the University of Delhi, where he met Mother Teresa. He also worked with some of the Kennedy special interest projects, including the East Harlem School at Exodus House and Reaching Up.
After the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, Kennedy returned to New York and earned $20,000 a year in a position at the Office of Business Development. Kennedy worked to attract and keep business in New York. His boss was Larry Kieves who praised Kennedy's work and reflected that he worked "in the same crummy cubbyhole as everybody else. I heaped on the work and was always pleased.” From 1984 to 1986, he worked for the New York City Office of Business Development and served as deputy director of the 42nd Street Development Corporation in 1986. Working as a deputy director, he conducted negotiations with developers and city agencies. His mother was on the nonprofit company's board. The corporation's president Fred Papert remembered John as being an "intellectual bargain" who was not greatly concerned with his salary and was well-acquainted with the city. In 1987, Kennedy earned $358 a week as one of the seven interns while working for William Bradford Reynolds. Over the summer of 1988, his salary increased to $1,100 per week when he became a summer associate at Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phillips. The Los Angeles law firm had strong connections to the Democratic Party. Kennedy worked for Charlie Manatt, his uncle Ted Kennedy's law school roommate.
During that time he served as a deputy director of the 42nd Street Development Corporation, he did a bit of acting, an activity which was one of his passions; he had appeared in many plays while at Brown. He expressed interest in acting as a career, but his mother strongly disapproved of it as a suitable profession. On August 4, 1985, Kennedy made his New York acting debut in front of an invitation-only audience at the Irish Theater on Manhattan's West Side. Kennedy's acting was praised, despite the short length of his performances. Executive director of the Irish Arts Center Nye Heron said that Kennedy was "one of the best young actors I've seen in years". Christina Haag was his costar; the pair played lovers from Northern Ireland. Kennedy told a reporter one night while leaving the theater that his acting was "not a professional acting debut" and merely "just a hobby".
According to Nye Heron, Kennedy courted a person with an irish accent and picked it up from them. His performance was met with praise. Kennedy's director, Robin Saex stated, "He has an earnestness that just shines through." Kennedy's debut saw the absence of critics and the public, which were not invited. Nye Heron said the theater "didn't want a circus". Kennedy had previously acted during his undergraduate years at Brown University. Members of the Kennedy family, which included Kara Kennedy, Billy Smith and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his then-wife Emily, attended. However his sister and mother, Kennedy's immediate family, did not attend due to being out of town. The production closed on August 9, 1985 but received several offers to move to a commercial engagement not affiliated with Broadway.
In the summer of 1981, Kennedy worked at Terry Sanford's Center for Democratic Policy and was paid $100. He gave a short press conference at his uncle Ted's suggestion, and told the press that he was teaching himself to play guitar. In the summer of 1982, together with his cousin Timothy Shriver, he spent six weeks at the University of Connecticut teaching English to students from low-income families.
Kennedy served as an altar boy for the commemorative ceremony marking the twentieth anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. Over the summer of 1988, Kennedy worked as an intern for a Los Angeles law firm. he addressed the 1988 Democratic National Convention, introducing his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. He invoked his father's inaugural address, calling "a generation to public service", and received a two-minute standing ovation. On November 22, 1988, the 25th anniversary of his father's assassination, Kennedy, joined by his sister and mother, attended a private mass at St. Thomas More.
Kennedy participated in his cousin Patrick J. Kennedy's campaign for a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives by visiting the district. He sat outside the polling both and had his picture taken with "would-be" voters. Independent filmmaker Josh Seftel remembered a woman "hugging John, inhaling his air, sniffing his skin, and departing with a satisfied smile on her face." The polaroid ploy worked so well in the campaign that Patrick J. Kennedy used it again in 1994. Kennedy also had a chance meeting with Jack Skeffington, who was Patrick J. Kennedy's opponent on the ballot. Kennedy explained that he was only there to support his cousin and wished him good luck in the election. Skeffington was amazed by Kennedy's candor and said he was most impressed with Kennedy's "common touch."
Reaching Up; graduation from law school
Starting in 1989, Kennedy headed Reaching Up, a nonprofit group which provided educational and other opportunities for workers who helped people with disabilities. He would continue supporting the group for the remainder of his life. William Ebenstein, executive director of Reaching Up, said, "He was always concerned with the working poor, and his family always had an interest in helping them." Ebenstein also stated that Kennedy had helped to expand the organization.
In 1989, Kennedy earned a J.D. degree from the New York University School of Law. He failed the New York bar exam twice, which received considerable press coverage, before passing on his third try in July 1990. Upon his admission to the bar, Kennedy served as a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney's office for four years.
Several times, Kennedy was asked publicly if he was interested in following in his father's footsteps and choosing politics as a career. He replied that he was declining to do so for the time being, but would not rule it out for the future. Just prior to his death, Kennedy was seen as a frontrunner for the New York Senate seat vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the state's senior senator. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton would be elected to the seat in 2000.
Senator Ted Kennedy believed that politics were his nephew John's destiny, and urged him to run for several offices. By the summer of 1999, Ted believed that the best chance to return a Kennedy to the White House would be for John to run for Governor of New York in 2002. Kennedy told his uncle that his marriage to Carolyn had deteriorated to the point that he was contemplating divorce, which would have harmed his public image. At Ted's request, New York's Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor served the couple as a marital mediator, a role he continued to perform until the couple's deaths.
In 1995, Kennedy and New York public relations magnate Michael J. Berman founded George, a glossy, politics-as-lifestyle and fashion monthly which sometimes took editorial aim even at members of his own family. Kennedy controlled 50 percent of the company's shares. On September 8, 1995, Kennedy officially launched the magazine at a news conference in Manhattan, and joked that he had not seen so many reporters in one place since he failed his first bar exam.
Each issue of the magazine contained an editor's column and interviews written by Kennedy. The first issue was criticized for its image of Cindy Crawford posing as George Washington in a powdered wig and ruffled shirt. In defense of the cover, Kennedy stated that "political magazines should look like Mirabella." Kennedy said he and the editors of the magazine believed they could make politics "accessible by covering it in an entertaining and compelling way" which would allow "popular interest and involvement" to follow. Kennedy did interviews with people including Louis Farrakhan, Billy Graham, and Garth Brooks.
Ann Coulter, one of the magazine's contributors and a conservative commentator, wrote in a column that George was "truly a political magazine, not a Democratic magazine" and was hired by Kennedy a year and a half after they met at a luncheon. Coulter said Kennedy was fond of an article she wrote attacking a congressman representing the fourth district of Columbia and one of their last conversations had Kennedy mocking one of the magazine's liberal columnists for being a "predictable bore."
By early 1997, Kennedy and Berman found themselves "locked in a power struggle" which led to a physical altercation when Kennedy grabbed Berman and ripped his shirt. Several days later, Kennedy sent his publishing partner an expensive new shirt and a note of apology. Most arguments resulted in "loud screaming, slammed doors and angry threats." The situation was made worse by Kennedy and Berman's friendship. Eighteen months after helping Kennedy to "get George off the ground," Berman sold his share of the company and was asked by Hachette, the company responsible for the magazine, to remain as head of its film and television department. Kennedy never replaced Berman, and took on his responsibilities himself. Though the magazine had already begun to decline in popularity before Berman left, his departure was followed by a rapid decrease in sales. David Pecker claimed the magazine "went into decline" because Kennedy refused to "take risks as an editor, despite the fact that he was an extraordinary risk taker in other areas of his life." Pecker said, "He understood that the target audience for George was the eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old demographic, yet he would routinely turn down interviews that would appeal to this age group, like Princess Diana or John Gotti, Jr., to interview subjects like Dan Rostenkowski or Vo Nguyen Giap, an obscure North Vietnamese general."
In his July 1997 column, Kennedy wrote about meeting Mother Teresa mere months before she died. Kennedy wrote that she "commandeered me to drive her to the airport, where she was to receive a shipment of donated clothing from New Delhi." He wrote that the "three days I spent in her presence was the strongest evidence this struggling Catholic has ever had that God exists." That same month, Vanity Fair published a profile of Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani claiming that the mayor was sleeping with his press secretary. Both Giuliani and the press secretary denied it. In response, Kennedy held a "not-so-routine editorial meeting." He asked his staff if George should follow suit and publish the story. An individual said "Rudy's fair game," but Kennedy told the person he wasn't sure if that was reason enough to write that Giuliani was having an affair.
The September 1997 issue of George centered around temptation and featured Kennedy making note of his cousins Michael LeMoyne Kennedy and Joseph P. Kennedy II. Michael had been accused of having an affair with his children's underaged babysitter, while Joe had married his former scheduler and been accused by his ex-wife of having bullied her. John declared that both his cousins had become "poster boys for bad behavior. Perhaps they deserved it. Perhaps they should have known better. To whom much is given, much is expected, right?" Kennedy's remarks about his cousins have been referred to as the first time a member of the Kennedy family publicly attacked another Kennedy's behavior. Todd Domke, a Republican political consultant, expressed his belief that John "knew what kind of attention" his written statement about his cousins would draw. Joe paraphrased John's father by stating, "Ask not what you can do for your cousin, but what you can do for his magazine."
In October 1997, Kennedy traveled to Cuba on the 35th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. Nancy Haberman, a spokesman for George, insisted that Kennedy was there just "as a journalist", while Cuban journalists stated Kennedy had arrived on October 23 accompanied by an aide and checked into the Melia-Cohiba Hotel overlooking the Havana waterfront. After breakfast on October 24, he eluded reporters and photographers by going through a backdoor. There was speculation Kennedy had come to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro, who had often expressed his admiration for Kennedy's father.
In late 1999, Kennedy tried pitching a partnership between George and Microsoft. He wanted the corporation to partner with the magazine for a series of online chats with the 2000 presidential candidates. The chats were to be moderated by Harvard University's School of Government. Microsoft was to provide the technology and pay for it while receiving advertising in George. After Kennedy's death, the magazine was bought out by Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, his partners in George, and continued for over a year. The magazine folded in early 2001.
In 1989, Kennedy and his mother visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum to publicize the creation of the Profile in Courage Award. On Kennedy's thirtieth birthday in 1990, Kennedy's mother threw a birthday party for him, held at the Tower Gallery in Manhattan. Manhattan events publicist Norah Lawlor described the party as "really boring". She recalled Kennedy sticking to "people he knew".
In 1991, Kennedy's cousin William Kennedy Smith was tried and acquitted on a charge of rape. On November 17, 1991, John appeared with Smith outside the Palm Beach County courthouse, where jury selection for the case would enter its final phase the next day. He insisted that he had not come to influence the case, saying, "William is my cousin and we grew up together. I thought I could at least come down and be with him during some difficult times."
For the last eight years of his life, Kennedy served as a member of the Robin Hood Foundation. He was remembered at its annual breakfast on December 7, 1999, where the organization's award, for philanthropic work was renamed in his honor to the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Hero Award. His sister Caroline recalled that the organization meant "so much" to him.
On January 22, 1995, Rose Kennedy died from complications of pneumonia. Kennedy was present at her bedside at the time of her death. He attended her funeral accompanied by Carolyn Bessette. It was the first time Bessette had attended an important Kennedy family occasion. After meeting her for the first time, his aunt Jean pulled John aside and warned him not to mess up the relationship, stating that she "seems like a good girl."
Kennedy opposed President Clinton's impeachment and, following the February 1999 Senate vote against impeachment, voiced his opposition at the White House Correspondents Dinner. When asked about the 2000 Senate races, he said, "The big question is whether Hillary will run for the Senate and if it is unacceptable for someone born in Illinois, who lived in Arkansas, to run in New York," referring to himself by stating "sort of as acceptable as someone who was born in Washington, D.C., coming to San Francisco to get you to buy an ad in a New York magazine."
On May 17, 1996, Kennedy acted as "Principal of the Day" at the Hungerford School, an institution for children with special needs. The school's full-time principal, Mary McInerney, remembered Kennedy staying far longer than the one hour originally intended. Kennedy's sole demand was that the media not be informed of his presence.
On October 8, 1997, Kennedy entered Lenox Hill Hospital to undergo hand surgery, accompanied by his wife and sister.
Kennedy saw himself as blessed, choosing not to believe in the "Kennedy curse" and often joking about it. However, after Anthony Stanislaw Radziwill's diagnosis and approaching death, Kennedy began to think more about death. In mid-May 1999, Kennedy addressed the class of 1999 at Washington College. He told the students that by becoming college graduates, they had "accomplished something the great man George Washington never did". His sister Caroline's friends referred to him as the "Master of Disaster" for putting himself in risky situations and managing to get himself out of them at the last minute. He and Caroline became closer after their mother's death, Kennedy even saying "She's an older sister, you know? We're obviously very close. And as a younger brother, you look up to your sister." Their final phone conversation was right before his death, with Kennedy telling his worrying sister that he planned to live to "a ripe old age."
Shortly before his death, Kennedy traveled to Mount Rushmore. He was denied official permission to rappel down the monument, but was permitted to climb onto the 60-foot faces of the U.S. presidents. He died weeks before the death of Anthony Stanislas Radziwill from testicular cancer. Kennedy and Radziwill were described by Radziwill's wife Carole as being "like brothers". Kennedy served as the best man at Radziwill's wedding in 1994. In the time prior to his death, he had begun writing a eulogy for Radziwll. He left the eulogy behind on his desk before boarding his fatal flight. The eulogy had not been completed, but the draft began: "A true gentleman, he was humble, decent, charming, and down to earth. He had humor, intelligence, and a heart as big as an ocean. You couldn't help but love him." The draft ended: "Good night, sweet prince."
Kennedy dated actress Daryl Hannah for five and a half years, with the relationship ending shortly after his mother's death. Kennedy and Hannah had known each other since the early 1980s, when they met while the families of both were vacationing in St. Maarten. Kennedy and Hannah saw each other again in 1988 at the wedding of Lee Radziwill and director Herbert Ross. One reason for strains in their relationship was Hannah's feelings for singer Jackson Browne, whom she had lived with for a time. Hannah would get close to Kennedy, but kept getting drawn back to Browne and tried to work things out with the singer. The two became close following a confrontation between Hannah and Browne, after which she and Kennedy began living together in her New York City apartment.
On September 30, 1990, Kennedy escorted Madonna to a PR party. The party was held for her younger brother Christopher Ciccone during promotion of his artwork, and witnesses recalled Madonna coiling herself "all over" Kennedy. Kennedy was "polite but distant" and left as quickly as possible. Kennedy also dated models Cindy Crawford and Julie Baker, as well as actress Sarah Jessica Parker. Kennedy met Parker in 1991 at a theater and he asked her out. Parker said she enjoyed dating Kennedy but realized he "was a public domain kind of a guy." Parker claimed to have no idea what "real fame" was until dating Kennedy and felt that she should "apologize for dating him" since it became the "defining factor in the person" she was.
Kennedy's mother Jacqueline died in Manhattan on May 19, 1994. The next day, Kennedy made an announcement to the press and media who gathered in front of her Manhattan apartment. Kennedy said his mother "did it in her own way and on her own terms and we all feel lucky for that." Kennedy supported his sister Caroline against his uncle Ted, who argued for a large public observance while Caroline preferred a private family funeral. Caroline's brother-in-law Edwin Schlossberg and Maurice Tempelsman also supported her.
At the funeral in Arlington National Cemetery, Kennedy and his sister did brief readings. He also paid tribute to his father and visited his uncle Bobby's grave, before departing with his sister. Kennedy stated that the family had struggled to set the right tone for the funeral and had finally decided that three things defined his mother's "essence: her love of words, the bonds of home and family and her spirit of adventure." After their mother's death, Kennedy spent much of his time with his sister sorting through their mother's possessions, to determine what they wanted to keep and want they wanted to donate to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
In the weeks following Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's death, her children reacted to the death differently. While Caroline rarely mentioned her, John spoke of her "all the time," according to Billy Way. Way said the two went out drinking one night and Kennedy "began telling me how different his mother was from everyone he'd ever known. She didn't look like anyone else, didn't talk like anyone, wasn't at all like anyone in the family. He went on from there. He must have done a half-hour soliloquy on his mother. It was all positive and full of love." Kennedy rarely saw Caroline's husband, Edwin Schlossberg, after his mother's death and preferred to meet with Caroline alone.
Two weeks after his mother's death, Kennedy sent President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton a handwritten letter. In the letter Kennedy stated, "I want you both to understand how much your burgeoning friendship with my mother meant to her," and continued, "Since she left Washington, I believe she resisted ever connecting with it emotionally." Kennedy attributed the resistance to her unwillingness to "being cast in a lifelong role that didn't quite fit."
On August 17, 1994, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed a bill into law designating the Central Park Reservoir be renamed in honor of Kennedy's mother. Kennedy's initial suggestion was to have the Grand Central Terminal renamed after his mother, but changed his position and believed that the reservoir would be a more fitting tribute. On the name change, Kennedy said that, like his mother, "the Central Park Reservoir gives an impression of stillness, as it harbors its own secrets."
Kennedy's annual Memorial Day weekend party was held over the Fourth of July weekend, because of his mother's death. A houseguest recalled that his North Moore Street loft had a sofa and chairs moved into it. The loft's significance stemmed from it containing one of his mother's antique coffee tables. He covered the table with candles and a "choice selection" of his mother's art books.
After his relationship with Daryl Hannah ended, Kennedy began living with Carolyn Jeanne Bessette, the youngest daughter of William J. Bessette and Ann Messina Freeman. Carolyn, who worked in the fashion industry, accepted Kennedy's proposal the week prior to his unveiling of George on September 7, 1995. Carolyn had kept Kennedy waiting for three weeks. They married in a secret ceremony on September 21, 1996, on Cumberland Island, Georgia. His sister Caroline acted as the matron of honor and his cousin Anthony Radziwill was his best man.
The wedding was kept secret and no announcement was made by Kennedy of his plans to marry. It was not until after the wedding that reports started surfacing. Patrick Kennedy confirmed on September 22, during a fundraiser for fellow Democrat State Senator Robert Burch, that his cousin had married the previous day. In September 1995, Kennedy had denied reports that he was engaged to Bessette but the pair fueled speculation when they were seen together throughout the year leading up to their marriage. They were videotaped in February 1996 in a New York park having an apparent lovers' quarrel and the recording was shown on television and written about in newspapers and magazines. The week before the wedding, a magazine reported that Kennedy had made wedding plans without divulging the date or place even to many of his closest relatives and friends.
Sixteen days after their wedding, Kennedy and his wife returned to New York. As their cab pulled up on 20 North Moore Street, a horde of reporters approached the two. A reporter asked Kennedy if he had enjoyed his honeymoon, to which he responded, "Very much". After he and Carolyn went into the building, Kennedy came back outside and stated to reporters, "Getting married is a big adjustment for us, and for a private citizen like Carolyn even more so. I ask you to give her all the privacy and room you can."
The couple became a Manhattan staple in that they were social, attended events and were constantly photographed coming and leaving. However, Carolyn was unhappy. Despite loving Kennedy and being privately content with him, she did not enjoy the intrusion of paparazzi wherever she went, even if she was not with Kennedy, and it quickly became more than she could handle. Carolyn understood that Kennedy was notable, but was still frustrated by the constant attention she received. Publicist R. Couri Hay, a friend of the Kennedys, recalled Carolyn's public image as having changed once more images surfaced of her "looking really pissed off" and stories began to surface about her, leading some to question, "what right does she have to be so unhappy?"
In early March 1996, Kennedy and his wife traveled to Italy. In Milan, Kennedy met several of Carolyn's relatives. The couple dined with Italian fashion firm Krizia founder Mariuccia Mandelli. Carolyn had known her from New York and she found Kennedy to be "absolutely charming." They finished their stay in Milan by attending a soccer match. After this, the couple left Milan to go to the Lake Como estate of Gianni Versace. In February 1997, Kennedy and his wife visited Donald Trump at his estate in Palm Beach. In early spring 1997, John and Carolyn traveled to Boston to host a benefit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Journalist Jonathan Soroff, who was friends with Carolyn, had been assigned to cover the event for The Improper Bostonian. Carolyn and Soroff entered a lengthy but pleasant conversation, where she admitted that she had not acquired a job and that it was impossible for her to get one without others saying it was because of her husband.
John and Carolyn began consulting with a marriage counselor in March 1999; they attended intended therapy sessions as well. John's therapist advised him to make sure Carolyn took her medication. She had been prescribed antidepressants by the therapist she was seeing. During one of their combined sessions, most of which reportedly went well, Carolyn stormed out of the room when the subject of drugs came about. On May 25, 1999, Kennedy and his wife took a commercial airline to San Francisco and dined with Steve Jobs. The following day, Kennedy spoke at a luncheon meeting of the San Francisco Advertising Council, which consisted of seven hundred members.
In April 1998, Kennedy received his pilot's license, which he had dreamed about since he was a child. After getting his license, Kennedy admitted to the press that the only person willing to fly with him was his wife and that "even she has her doubts". At the time Kennedy got his license, he had a total of 53 hours in the air, 43 with an instructor and 10 by himself. The death of his cousin Michael brought about a change in Kennedy, making death "just seem closer and closer." Michael Kennedy's death distressed Kennedy so much that he opted to take a hiatus from his piloting lessons at Flight Safety International in Florida for three months. Kennedy's sister Caroline had hoped his decision to stop taking piloting lessons would be permanent, but when he resumed, she resigned herself to the "fact that she could do little to stop him."
On July 16, 1999, Kennedy piloted a Piper Saratoga II HP carrying his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren for the three to attend the wedding of Kennedy's cousin Rory Kennedy. Kennedy had purchased the plane on April 28, 1999, from Air Bound Aviation. Carolyn and Lauren were in the second row of seats. Kennedy had checked in with the FAA tower at the Martha's Vineyard Airport in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, but when the plane failed to arrive, the three were reported missing. Officials were not optimistic about finding survivors after debris from the aircraft were recovered in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as a black suitcase that belonged to Lauren Bessette. President Clinton gave his support to the Kennedy family during the search for the three.
On July 18, a Coast Guard admiral declared an end to hope that Kennedy, his wife and her sister could be found alive. On July 19, the fragments of Kennedy's plane were found by the NOAA vessel Rude using side-scan sonar. The next day, navy divers were allowed to descend into the fifty-two degree water. The divers found part of the shattered plane strewn over a broad area of seabed 120 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. The search ended in the late afternoon of July 21, when the three bodies were recovered from the ocean floor by Navy divers. The bodies were taken by motorcade to the county medical examiner's office. The discovery was made after the Rude painted a three-dimensional map of the ocean bottom, which resulted in high-resolution images. Divers found Carolyn and Lauren's bodies near the twisted and broken fuselage while Kennedy's body was still strapped into the pilot's seat. Admiral Richard M. Larrabee of the Coast Guard said that all three bodies were "near and under" the fuselage, still strapped in.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the plane had crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha's Vineyard, the probable cause being pilot error: "Kennedy's failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation." Kennedy was not qualified to fly a plane by "instruments only." The crash occurred in conditions not legally requiring such qualification. Other pilots flying similar routes reported no visual horizon due to haze.
In the evening of July 21, autopsies at the county medical examiner's office revealed that the crash victims had died upon impact. At the same time, the Kennedy and Bessette families announced their plans for memorial services. 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. Ted Kennedy favored a public service for John while Caroline Kennedy insisted on family privacy. On the morning of July 22, their ashes were scattered from the Navy destroyer USS Briscoe off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. A group of about 15 relatives carried the "cremated remains" of Kennedy, his wife, and her sister Lauren onto the USS Briscoe. The Briscoe spent about half an hour off the Vineyard's southwest coast. It was two or three miles away from the crash site. Kennedy's last will and testament stipulated that his personal belongings, property and holdings were to be "evenly distributed" between his sister Caroline Kennedy's three children, who were among fourteen beneficiaries in his will.
A memorial service was held for Kennedy on July 23, 1999 at the Church of St. Thomas More, a church Kennedy had often attended with his mother and sister. His uncle Ted and aunt Eunice thought of having John's service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, considerably larger than St. Thomas More and able to contain more people, however, Caroline Kennedy again chose a more private ceremony. The invitation-only service was attended by hundreds of mourners, including members of the Kennedy family. President Bill Clinton, who attended the ceremony with his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, presented the Kennedy family with photo albums of John and Carolyn on their visit to the White House from the previous year.
John F. Kennedy Jr. was the first child ever born to a President-elect of the United States. The salute a three year old Kennedy gave at his father's funeral has become a defining image of the 1960s and was described by New York Daily News as touching "the heart of a grieving nation". New York Daily News ran the photograph of Kennedy giving the salute the day after the funeral and the newspaper further described the image as becoming a part of the American consciousness. Photographer Dan Farrell, who took the photo, called it "the saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life".
In 2000, Reaching Up, the organization which Kennedy founded in 1989, joined with The City University of New York to establish the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Institute.
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