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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
|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; d. 1999)
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 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 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.
Carolyn Jeanne 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 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, who was an orthopedic surgeon, and moved to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, while Bessette-Kennedy's father stayed in White Plains. Bessette-Kennedy 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-Kennedy later attended St. Mary's High School. At St. Mary's, Bessette-Kennedy was voted by her classmates to be the "Ultimate Beautiful Person". Of her high school experience, Bessette-Kennedy has been described as being part of the "in crowd", and having attended "all the right parties". Bessette-Kennedy had initially started high school at Greenwich High School, but was withdrawn by her parents for not taking her studies seriously.
After graduating from high school in 1983, Bessette-Kennedy then went on to study at Boston University School of Education. While there, she dated John Cullen, a fellow student who would later play hockey in the NHL. While in Boston, Bessette-Kennedy 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-Kennedy worked for Calvin Klein Ltd. 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 line in New York City. While working for Klein in Boston, Bessette-Kennedy was noticed by Susan Sokol, a travelling sales coordinator for Calvin Klein. Sokol, who became enchanted with Bessette-Kennedy's grace and style, later recommended her for a position dealing with Klein's high-profile clients. Bessette-Kennedy became very successful in her new position in New York City, 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. Photographers 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-Kennedy 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 Ltd in the spring of 1996.
Wedding and marriage
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The Kennedys succeeded in keeping their wedding, on September 21, 1996, a secret from the press, and saved themselves from an attack of helicopters and press. 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-Kennedy asked Narciso Rodriguez of Cerruti to start designing her dress. The wedding took place on a remote Georgia island, Cumberland. Cumberland is 18 miles long and is accessible only by boat. There is no telephone service and none of the roads are 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-Kennedy worked endlessly over months to design her wedding dress. Of all the designers she could have chosen, Bessette-Kennedy decided upon little-known designer Narciso Rodriguez of Cerruti, who was based in Paris. With Rodriguez, Bessette-Kennedy had rigorous fittings lasting on average three hours. The final product was valued at approximately USD40,000.
Bessette-Kennedy 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, 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. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the matron of honor, walked ahead of Bessette-Kennedy. 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.
After the marriage, the media attention surrounding the couple intensified which Bessette-Kennedy often found difficult to deal with. 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. 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 then 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. They began seeing marriage counselor in March 1999 and sought counseling from Cardinal John O'Connor in the summer of 1999. 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.
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 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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