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|Born||Carolyn Jeanne Bessette
January 7, 1966
White Plains, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 16, 1999
Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard
|Cause of death||Plane crash|
|Education||Juniper Hill Elementary School
Greenwich High School
St. Mary's High School
|Alma mater||Boston University|
|Occupation||Calvin Klein saleswoman, publicist|
|Height||5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)|
|Spouse(s)||John F. Kennedy Jr.
Carolyn Jeanne Bessette-Kennedy (January 7, 1966 – July 16, 1999) was a publicist for Calvin Klein and the wife of John F. Kennedy Jr., the son of 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, drawing comparisons to 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.
Bessette was born in White Plains, Westchester County, New York, the youngest child of William J. Bessette, a cabinet maker, and Ann Messina Freeman, an academic administrator in the New York City public school system. She had two older sisters, twins Lauren and Lisa. Her parents divorced when she was very young. Her mother later remarried to Richard Freeman, an orthopedic surgeon, and moved to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, while Bessette's father stayed in White Plains. 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.
Raised in a Roman Catholic household, Bessette later attended St. Mary's High School. At St. Mary's, Bessette was voted by her classmates to be the "Ultimate Beautiful Person". During her high school experience, Bessette was described as being part of the "in crowd", and having attended "all the right parties". Bessette had initially started high school at Greenwich High School, but her parents withdrew her from the school for not taking her studies seriously.
After graduating from high school in 1983, Bessette then went on to study at Boston University School of Education. While there, she dated John Cullen, a fellow student who would later play professional hockey in the NHL. While in Boston, Bessette briefly attempted to have a modelling career, even going so far as to hire a professional photographer to take pictures for her portfolio. While her modelling career did not prove to be profitable, she managed to appear on the cover of Boston University's calendar "The Girls of B.U."
After college and up until her marriage to John F. Kennedy Jr., Bessette worked for Calvin Klein Ltd, a high-end American fashion house. During her time at Calvin Klein, she went from a saleswoman in Boston's Chestnut Hill Mall to becoming the director of publicity for the company's flagship store in Manhattan. While working for Klein in Boston, Bessette was noticed by Susan Sokol, a travelling sales coordinator for Calvin Klein. Sokol, who became enchanted with Bessette's grace and style, later recommended her for a position dealing with Klein's high-profile clients. Bessette became very successful in her new position in Manhattan, working with the likes of actress Annette Bening and newscaster Diane Sawyer.
She met John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1992 while Kennedy was dating actress Daryl Hannah. 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. The paparazzi waited outside the couple's Tribeca apartment to snap photographs. 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." Bessette moved into Kennedy's Tribeca loft in the summer of 1995 and the couple became engaged later that year. She quit her job at Calvin Klein in the spring of 1996.
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John and Carolyn succeeded in keeping their September 21, 1996 wedding a secret from the press and saved themselves from an onslaught of helicopters and media onlookers. 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." It was later discovered by the Boston Globe that the chapel on Cumberland had been reserved for three months, while planning for the wedding had only begun 2 months prior, when Bessette asked Narciso Rodriguez of Cerruti (a fashion house in Paris) to start designing her dress. The wedding took place on Cumberland, a remote Georgia island that is 18 miles long and is accessible only by boat. There was no telephone service and none of the roads were paved. The wedding took place in a tiny wooden chapel, the First African Baptist Church, where the ceremony was held by candlelight. The altar was a simple wooden stand, and its cross was made of two sticks held together by pieces of string.
Bessette worked endlessly for months to design her wedding dress. There were many designers that Carolyn could have chosen, but she ultimately decided upon little-known designer Rodriguez. Bessette had rigorous fittings with Rodriguez that lasted on average three hours. The final product was valued at approximately US$40,000.
Bessette walked down the aisle wearing a fluid, bias-cut dress of pearl-white crepe. A panel floated from the waist in the back. She wore a veil of silk tulle, and her crystal-beaded satin sandals were from Manolo Blahnik, designer of pricey, fashionable shoes. In her hands that were covered by long white gloves, she carried a small bouquet of lilies of the valley. The groom wore a dark blue single-breasted suit, designed by Gordon Henderson, with a white pique vest and pale blue silk tie. The groom's older sister, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, was the matron of honor and she walked ahead of Bessette. Anthony Radziwill, the son of Jackie's sister Lee, served as Kennedy's best man. Caroline's two daughters, Tatiana and Rose, were flower girls and her son Jack, 3, was the ring bearer. The wedding reception took place at the Greyfield, where guests dined on shrimp, artichokes, grilled swordfish and lemon-raspberry ice cream. More details were not released, as the staff had all signed confidentiality agreements. The couple honeymooned in Turkey.
After the marriage, the media attention surrounding the couple intensified, and Bessette-Kennedy often found it difficult to deal with this harassment. Her minimalist, "throwaway chic" fashion sense was chronicled by various fashion publications and drew repeated comparisons to former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. While the interest surrounding the couple continued, Bessette-Kennedy refused to give interviews and turned down offers to appear in fashion magazines. Towards the end of her life, Bessette-Kennedy became more involved with charity work and often accompanied her husband to dinners at the White House (the couple were given a tour by President Bill Clinton in March 1998) and acted as the hostess for parties for her husband's political magazine George.
According to reports published after their deaths, Bessette and Kennedy were experiencing marital problems and contemplating divorce in the months preceding their deaths. Bessette and Kennedy had various disagreements, including her refusal to start a family, and Kennedy's work on the George magazine where she felt forsaken and disliked Kennedy's publishing partner Michael Berman. According to Vanity Fair, Bessette's "insecurity fueled a need to control and manipulate; her frequent use of cocaine made her paranoid". Bessette was jealous about and barely on speaking terms with her sister-in-law Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, after Kennedy Schlossberg reportedly criticized the bride for being late to her own wedding and wearing heels on the beach. 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. Friends of the couple, including John Perry Barlow and Christiane Amanpour, said that the couple fought on occasion and that Bessette had trouble adjusting to the intense media coverage, but denied that Bessette used drugs and that the couple were planning to divorce.
Plane crash death
Bessette-Kennedy 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 of 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." 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.
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. On the morning of July 22, their ashes were scattered from the Navy ship USS Briscoe off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.
In popular culture
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.
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.
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.
Rosamund Pike was encouraged by Gone Girl director David Fincher to base her character, Amy Dunne, off of Bessette-Kennedy. Pike said of Bessette-Kennedy, "She crafted herself, she re-invented herself, and invented that persona. That's where I began." Pike searched unsuccessfully for audio of her, though she would concede her character should be created from the "outside in."
In 2015, Wes Gordon, known for disliking discussion about the influences of his collections, admitted Bessette-Kennedy's impact on the clothing for women in that year's collection. Gordon was long interested in Bessette-Kennedy's style prior to production.
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