Remembering John F. Kennedy, Jr.

This week, it will be nine years since the terrible plane crash that took the lives of JFK, Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette and her sister, Lauren Bessette. While the nation mourned the only son of a legendary President and First Lady, so many wondered why yet another tragedy hit the Kennedy family? It seemed to many that John Jr. would have eventually traipsed into political life, bearing all of the charisma and power of his father (and other forbears) with none of the controversy.

I was reading a book by Kennedy’s George magazine editor, Richard Blow, this week and was surprised to learn that JFK, Jr., for all of his public life and private passions, was puzzling to know. He wasn’t the dim bulb he was thought of and yet, he dared tread in some dangerous areas. He would have been a shoo-in for President one day, or would he have? A man of grace, humor, astounding good looks, he wore his celebrity easily, even if it was a burden.

In the interest of full disclosure, my feelings about his death were quite strong in the days that followed because a) Lauren Bessette worked with my husband and b) I knew one of his flight instructors; the one who could not accompany him that trip as his girlfriend at the time was my cousin and a good friend to Carolyn. Carolyn was from Greenwich as well. I had never met any of the three who died.

That said, Richard Blow’s book, for which he caught much heat, examines only the years of George, the brilliant and sometime overlooked magazine founded by the young Kennedy in the late 1990s. What struck me most about Blow’s book was his assertion that JFK, Jr. was, in every sense, a misogynist filled with the very same hubris that killed many in his family, i.e., “The Kennedy Curse.” For example:

1) he blamed Sheila Rauch for wanting an annulment on his cousin Joe’s failed bid for reelection. Why not blame the husband? I myself have gotten an annulment and it’s no easy feat and it’s not for the faint of heart. You must really want the annulment and be able to prove to the Tribunal that the marriage is not viable.

2) he blames the victim for testifying in the trial against his cousin William Kennedy Smith, who was tried and aquitted of rape in Palm Beach. JFK Jr. is physically present (by choice?) in the courtroom during trial. Does that sway the jury? What many folks don’t realize is that Kennedy Smith was accused again of rape in 1999. Also, Kennedy Smith had help in the person of his uncle Ted Kennedy that night and everyone knew it. Who could possibly charge these people with a crime and win?

3) he practically blames the teenaged babysitter for “seducing” Michael Kennedy, whose marriage is ruined and then goes on to die in a skiing accident while playing football on skis. What about the daredevil problem in the family which would apply to both the (statutory rape)”affair” and the skiing backwards? Why not blame the late Michael Kennedy or karma?

For all we know, he blames Marilyn Monroe, Mary Jo Kopechne and Martha Moxley for various “infractions” against his family as blood is way thicker than water. What I’m trying to say is not that he was a terrible person, but like many whose star shone with amazing brightness, he had lost perspective and in his grief, reached out for the easy targets to blame rather than look at his flawed family with fresh eyes. From what we know, his mother was extraordinarily adept at raising children in the most abnormal of circumstances and, upon her death, he seemed like a rudderless ship, removed from the calm anti-celebrity of his older sister Caroline.

That said, his death was untimely and tragic and who knows where his career and public life would have taken him? I like to think of him as a “good Kennedy”. As we approach the anniversary of his death this week, I wanted to take some time to see what you all thought of this family and whether or not they bring tragedy upon themselves or if they are simply unlucky? They are, quite simply, like no other dynasty here in America and have done our country proud via public service. What of their private lives? Or is it simply not any of our business?

NB: JFK, Jr. was a Phi Kappa Psi. Hmmmmm…


  1. Anonymous says

    Re: JFK,Jr & Richard Blow NarrativeDear Liz: This is my first visit to you blog, which came across to me in my news alert tag for JFK, Jr. (I’m waiting for more achives to open, more people to talk, we never know when that will happen — though his sister is very protective to say the least!). I think it’s very sad that so many people who knew JFK, Jr. well, had good relations w/him, can not or will not speak/write of him because of Caroline Kennedy. Perhaps Caroline will someday learn, as Ronald Reagan taught, that if people don’t hear from the horse’s mouth they will get it from the other end! In terms of Caroline being “anti-celeb” she seems to be enjoying her time on the Obama trail! I once saw her on Larry King, smiling & self confident she told Larry she enjoyed attention and she certainly seemed to mean it, as she was promoting her book. I think she wants to be celeb on her own terms.While I do not know anybody who knows a Kennedy personally; I have read oodles on the family and was a former Poli-Sci major. I think you raise some good questions that Blow brought up. I am not sure John Jr. was misogenous. I recall the Willie Smith rape trial well. I did feel at the time the girl was exploiting Dr. Smith.She had a past history of being quite the “worker” at looking for men. I thought, Liz, my gosh, what girl in her right mind would leave a bar with a stranger, not being aware of the great risk she is taking? She agreed to go home with him. What did she expect? That he was going to help change her baby’s diapers or sip hot chocolate with her? That was something this 60 yr. learned at age 18 or earlier. I know I am being hard nosed, perhaps somebody in your generation would be less “judgement” and say just because she took a stupid risk does not entitle Dr. Smith to rape her. In terms of the 2nd accusation, it occured to me that after he won acquittal, he would still be marked and vulnerable for life as being a nasty charactor. The 2nd woman who accused him may have been trying to exploit his history.I will have to read the Sheila Rauch book. It must have been a very painful experience for her to go through a public annulment married to a high profiled husband. I am not saying former Rep. Kennedy was an angel, but he had an excellent reputation running his oil company. He was very effective with that cause of providing heat & energy to poor families and doing it well. I did hear him say, in one interview, while he was in Congress, that he really missed working for Citizen’s Energy, and rather than run for higher office, would like to reconsider going back to that. That is what he did. I also recall JFK, jR. being very upset with his cousin’s wild antics and calling Joe & his cousin “poster boys for bad behavior”. That became a catch phrase. Joe Kennedy was very angry at John and retorted “ask not what you can do for your country but what you can do for your mag’s publicity or something to that effect. JFK, Jr. did not always side with his male relations.I do tend to agree with you that he was taking foolish risk flying that night with injured foot, not enough experience, and no co-pilot. I think he was very smooth and poised, but maybe not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He seemed to be very well thought of by everyone who worked with him in any capacity. Especially his work with Robin Hood foundation. A very charming, kind and likeable man is impression I have. His wife gets mixed reviews. It’s real sad what happend to those young people in re to the marriage. I do believe they had serious problems. Some of Carolyn’s friend have alluded that she was a pleasure-seeker, if not a gold digger. At the same time, she did not appear to be adequate in meeting the demands of being JFK, Jr’s wife. I feel sorry for her, I don’t think being married to JFK, Jr. was a good thing for her. He may have been kind and patient, but she impressed me as being too a-political; not able to deal with that level of society well. She also came across as being shallow and simple, intellectually. One newswoman raised the question, “Here was Carolyn Kennedy, who did not have to work. She had the opportunity to really put her talents to use in any capacity she wished, to make something of herself, and what did she do with her life?”. That is a good question, Carol did not have children or other obvious responsibilities. I did not hear of any volunteer or philantrophic work she did in those years. I understand she kept up with the Design/Fashion world. She mostly hung out with her old crowd from Calvin Kline (not the designer & his wife Kelly — they were very high profilers who also did lots of charity work). There were nasty rumors about Carolyn Bessett being quite decadent. Who really knows? Her husband may have enjoyed partying as youth but John seemed to be taking life more seriously.Well, those are my not so humble opinons Liz! I highly recommend Carol Radziwell’s narrative about her beautiful but tragic marriage to John’s close friend and cousin Antony Radziwell. “What Remains” That is one of best books I ever read on any Kennedy! She really wrote that book straight from her heart. What a beautiful story about a gal from a humble background who grew up to be, not only a producer for a major network, but the wife of such a handsome, young society man who really was a Prince of a person. That too had a sad ending, as the bride was widdowed just a short time after her marriage. Mrs. Radziwell calls a spade a spade. She spent quite a bit of time with John & Carolyn whom she was very fond of. As a matter of fact, she considered Carolyn her best friend.My own favorite Kennedy is Bobby, Jr. He impresses me as being quite a briliant sort of guy who has the ability to not just administrate a presidency, but to LEAD! At this terrible time we could sure use his knowledge of enviroment and conserving fuel to get us out of our terrible, destructive car habits!Thanks for your good insights and postulating a hopefully good discussion. I hope we get more honest, candid accounts of growing up and being a Kennedy.Regards,Frosty7530Philadelphia

  2. Frosty:Before I address your comments – and thank you so much for posting! – you must know, as a first time visitor to this blog that I am a rape survivor, which is what spawned this blog and is the position from which I write. My rapist attacked me at a fraternity house and finally confessed over 20 years later. He served only 5 months in prison after pleading guilty to sexual battery. Your screed against Patricia Bowman, William Kennedy Smith’s complaining witness does not work for the personal me as you are one of the very people who a) would ask me what I was doing at a fraternity party – (um, because that’s what college students do), and b) assume that any girl who visits a man’s home is “asking for rape”. What you learned at 18 no longer holds. Women and girls should feel free to go where they want to go, dress the way they want to dress. It is NOT THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to guard themselves against rapists. It is the would-be rapists’ responsibility NOT TO RAPE.Perhaps your thinking is generational, but it’s dead wrong. She did not leave Au Bar with “a stranger” but with well-known members of the Kennedy clan and she probably felt flattered and safe. Dr. Smith is not “marked and vulnerable”; he’s got a long string of accusations against him, none of which pan out because his family pays off the victims. After his acquittal in the well-known trial, anyone would be foolish to accuse him again, knowing the outcome would be the same. Accusing someone of sexual assault is very very difficult and cases don’t ever go to trial unless a DA and the Police think there is a solid case. It’s our society that believes these men do nothing wrong. A society that has folks blaming the victim for walking free in the world to do as she pleases is not a society that I wish to belong to. As a result, we have change coming. This is why I fight each day against the Parole Boards, with Congress, against the small-minded. Most people are unenlightened – until it happens to them and suddenly, tragically, they “get it”. And what of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg “enjoying” celebrity? She is, after all, the only surviving child of, arguable, the most well-known President and First Lady. She is intelligent, well-spoken and does a huge amount of good for the world. For you to fault her for being born into this life is disingenuous. She’s doing what she can with it and with aplomb. We’ve all heard she’s a bit prickly, yes.John’s remarks in George about Michael and Joe being “poster boys for bad behavior” were taken out of context and Richard Blow examines this at length in “American Son”. He does not, in fact, declare this belief as his own. He blames the media for portraying them as such. Many people (including Michael and Joe Kennedy) took JFK Jr’s editorial letter (accompanied by the infamous nude editor’s photo) to be a screed against his cousins. It was not. Carolyn Bessette was a civilian unprepared for this life. She grew up here in Greenwich, married the world’s most eligible bachelor and would have married well regardless. He loved her but the pressure was terrible. She, like he, had a recreational drug habit, as many young and wealthy do. Nothing warranting rehab or intervention – probably spurred by boredom and encouraged by the circle of celebrity and fashion people. She was a veritable prisoner at 20 North Moore Street. No more than George Bush or Obama for that matter. She tended to hang out with her good gay friends, especially the designer Narciso Rodriguez, and Carole Radziwill. She wanted desperately to have children (as did John), but wanted to wait until John decided whether he would run for office or not. She was a complicated woman, one who kept him on his toes and their relationship was indeed stormy, but one of great love. It would have lasted without the glare of the paparazzi, but that would never have been. I only know this from friends who knew her well and called her a friend.I have read Carole Radziwill’s memoir and it is lovely – I like her take on things and feel for her plight. Her husband seemed like a wonderful human as well. She is a woman who went through much in the span of months. Carole currently writes a column for Glamour magazine, her most recent piece investigating the epidemic of rape.So, we’ve come full circle.Bobby Kennedy Jr. is a bit of a dilettante, in my opinion – joining the ranks of the “green generation” who speak out of both sides of the mouth and sidle up to Oprah when it helps their cause. Please, I drive an Escalade, so I’m not one to talk, but the Hollywoodization of the Eco-movement is extraordinarily hypocritical. Let’s see what he can do with the new administration, perhaps taking up the mantle of Al Gore. Hopefully, this will spawn some more discussion and I thank you for your lively contributions to this blog!Best, Liz

  3. Anonymous says

    A DIFFERENT ANON.You would not believe some of the problems I have with the IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board.Therefore, it is much better not to give my identity away.Mrs. Seccuro, I can’t thank you enough for reminding me of the tragic event that took place in ’99.I remember very well where I was and what I was doing that day.So do some of the individuals linked to my taxes.Thank you, ma’am!

  4. Anonymous says

    A DIFFERENT ANON is a totally different individual than the first anon.Macky and his wife had a link to S&Ls.Some of the money skimmed from that went to buy arms for Iraq in the first Gulf war.The 1980s is full of ghosts–not just for Macky and his wife, Cindy.

  5. From the TAX anon:Mrs. Seccuro, I would advise you to never take flying lessons.Something happened in the news today that made me revisit some comments I made last summer.

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