John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. Obituary and Memorial
July 19, 1999

John F. Kennedy Jr., 38, Heir to a Formidable Dynasty


WASHINGTON -- John F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the nation's most celebrated political dynasty, was reported lost and presumed dead in an accident that resounded this weekend with echoes of the family's many misfortunes.

Jim Bourg / Reuters

John F. Kennedy Jr. during a ceremony at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston last year.

Kennedy, 38, has been missing since Friday night after the plane he was flying to a cousin's wedding on Cape Cod failed to arrive on Martha's Vineyard. His disappearance in the prime of his life, like the deaths of his father, two uncles, an aunt and two cousins before him, only added to the perception that his larger-than-life family has been besieged by a near-biblical blight.

Kennedy, son of the 35th president, was touched by both the Kennedy charisma and its curse. The public ached in 1963 as it watched him, in his blue dresscoat and short pants, salute his slain father. It cheered as he emerged with his dazzling bride from their secret wedding in 1996. And as he sought a measure of privacy even while forsaking a career in law or government for a role in publishing, the public never ceased dwelling on his future and the swings of his family's fortunes between triumph and disaster.

Guiding his life was a scriptural passage, Luke 12:48, that was voiced frequently by his grandmother Rose and paraphrased by his father: "Of those to whom much is given, much is required." Kennedy taught English to underprivileged children, aided people who were homeless and disabled, and was a patron of the arts.

But like many sons of famous fathers, Kennedy still seemed to be searching for his place in the public constellation, the expectations for him as great as his father's legend was gripping. And he was conscious of his burden as an American icon.

"It's hard for me to talk about a legacy or a mystique," Kennedy said in a 1993 interview. "It's my family. The fact that there have been difficulties and hardships, or obstacles, makes us closer."

He was most recently founder and editor of George, a glossy journal of politics, but some of his family's admirers still hoped his venture into publishing was merely a prologue to a career in politics.

While he helped the Democratic Party raise money, he never ran for office. He made his political debut at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, where he introduced his uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Invoking his father's inaugural speech, which called a generation to public service, he received a two-minute standing ovation.

Cameras swarmed after him wherever he went, whether it was as a toddler playing under his father's desk in the White House, or as a young lawyer and avid athlete who was often photographed shirtless. In 1988 People Magazine called him "the sexiest man alive."

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. was born on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1960, just three weeks after his father, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was elected president. He was the first infant to live in the White House since 1893.

President Kennedy's funeral was held on his son's third birthday. In one indelible moment of family heartache and American history, the boy stood outside St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington with his mother and sister, raising his hand in a salute as he squinted in the sun while his father's coffin rolled by. His mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, had leaned down and whispered to him in advance to salute, a gesture the boy had seen many times as military escorts greeted the commander in chief.

After his father's death, his mother moved the family to an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Security was always a major preoccupation. When her son was six, Mrs. Kennedy commented on his maturity, adding, "Sometimes it almost seems that he is trying to protect me instead of just the other way around."

He attended a Catholic elementary school and was so rambunctious that Secret Service agents gave him the code name "Lark." But his mother worried about her children's safety, especially after Robert F. Kennedy, their uncle, was assassinated in 1968.

"If they're killing Kennedys, then my children are targets," Jacqueline Kennedy said at the time. "I want to get out of this country."

On Oct. 20, 1968, she married Aristotle Socrates Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate who was 29 years her senior, in part because of his ability to provide the family security.

Mrs. Onassis, one of the world's most fabled women, sought desperately to give her children a normal life. Once when John was 13 and mugged in Central Park, his mother said it was a good experience for him.

According to family files recently made public, Mrs. Onassis told her bodyguards that her son "must be allowed to experience life," and that "unless he is allowed freedom, he'll be a vegetable."

As an adult, John made a point of taking public transportation in New York. "I have a pretty normal life, surprisingly," he told Larry King.

He attended Collegiate School for Boys in New York but enrolled in 11th grade at Philips Academy in Andover, Mass. Breaking with family tradition, he went to Brown University instead of Harvard, graduating in 1983. He majored in American history and was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

He once appeared to aspire to be an actor, and participated in numerous amateur theater productions, but his mother worried that the stage life would expose him too much to the media from which she had tried to shelter him. Eventually, he enrolled in law school at New York University, mostly, friends said, to please his mother.

He failed the New York bar exam twice before passing, which allowed him to keep his job as a prosecutor in the office of Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney. "I'm clearly not a major legal genius," he said after the New York tabloids labeled him the "Hunk Who Flunked."

After four years as an assistant district attorney, and a perfect 6-0 conviction record, he let it be known that the law bored him. As he left the district attorney's office, he told a friend, "I don't want to be just another passenger on a liner."

At 34, he started George magazine in a joint venture with Hachette Filipacchi, a media conglomerate. For the scion of America's most illustrious political dynasty, the magazine was a vehicle that both connected him to his family's past and enabled him to strike out on his own.

Kennedy, who did not use either his middle initial or Jr. on his business cards, observed in a 1998 interview with USA Today, "I think everyone needs to feel they've created something that was their own, on their own terms."

He appeared in George as both an interviewer and essayist. In a much-discussed George essay published in August 1997, he described his first cousins Joseph and Michael as "poster boys for bad behavior."

He seemed to enjoy being provocative, posing semi-nude in George and inviting Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt to be his magazine's guest at the annual White House correspondents' dinner in Washington last spring. Last March, he visited the imprisoned boxer Mike Tyson, whom Kennedy pronounced "a friend" who was "much different" from his public image.

On Sept. 21, 1996, he married a fashion publicist, Carolyn Bessette, on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. The couple lived in Manhattan. He served on the boards of several family foundations and a number of nonprofit organizations.

Since 1989 he had headed Reaching Up, a nonprofit group that provides educational and other opportunities for workers who help people with disabilities. 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 said Kennedy helped expand the organization.

He also pursued his family's enthusiasm for all types of athletic endeavors. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound fitness enthusiast liked to bicycle, rollerblade, dance and throw footballs.

Not long ago, he flew to South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore. Officials at the national shrine refused his request to rappel down the monument, although he was permitted to climb onto the 60-foot faces of Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Washington.

He was sidelined after he broke his ankle over Memorial Day weekend on Martha's Vineyard.

Although he repeatedly played down expectations that he would one day mount his own political climb, the dream persisted. A few months ago, Alfonse D'Amato, the former Republican senator from New York who signed on as a contributor to George, said Kennedy would make a strong candidate for mayor in New York City, a suggestion that Kennedy laughed off.

"A public career is -- it's a lot to bite off," he said in a televised interview four years ago. "And you better be ready for it, and you better have your life set up for it, and you better be prepared to do it for the long haul."

Kennedy is survived by his sister, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, of Manhattan.

First pose: the newborn John, Jr. with his parents, President-elect John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, Dec. 8, 1960. It is just after his baptism at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC.

Caroline Kennedy kissing her brother John Jr. in a family photo taken by New York photograher Richard Avedon on February 13, 1961.

President Kennedy, working late at his White House office, wears a slight smile on his face, indicating perhaps he is not completely unaware that his son, John Jr., is exploring under his desk in the Oval Office in the White House in 1963. John Jr. called the spot under the desk "my house" and was peeking from behind the "secret door."

Three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr., salutes his father's casket in Washington three days after the president was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Widow Jacqueline Kennedy, center, and daughter Caroline Kennedy are accompanied by the late president's brothers Sen. Edward Kennedy, left, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr. at the 6th annual Robert F. Kennedy Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament in Forest Hills, N.Y. on August 8, 1977.

Sex symbol: the family has always placed a high premium on physical fitness and what JFK, Sr. called "vigor." The teenaged John, Jr., here emerging from a swim at Hyannisport, was no exception.

Always, the father looming over the son: In 1989 with his mother at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

President Bill Clinton talking with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and John Kennedy Jr. on October 29,1993 during the opening ceremonies for the newly redesigned John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

The family business: John, with his cousins Michael (left) and Joseph (right), campaign in Boston for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Sept. 10, 1994. He never expressed a desire for elective office—but he never foreswore it, either.

John F. Kennedy, Jr. delivers thoughts about his grandmother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, during her funeral service at Old St. Stephen's church in Boston, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1995.

To have and to hold: John, Jr. and his new bride, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, leave their small, private wedding ceremony at a church on Cumberland Island, Ga., Sept. 21, 1996.

President Bill Clinton meeting with John F. Kennedy Jr. in the Oval Office during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Presidential Commission on Mental Retardation December 12, 1996.

Stepping out in Manhattan days after returning from his honeymoon with wife Carolyn Bessette.

The staff of George Magazine in January 1997, are from left, Michael Berman, Elizabeth Mitchell, Matt Berman, John F. Kennedy Jr., and Elinore Carmody-Gibbons.

John F. Kennedy Jr, handing out gifts at the 32nd Annual Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Holiday Party for over 200 children in the borough of Brooklyn New York on Saturday, December. 20, 1997.

John F. Kennedy Jr. with his aunts, Patricia K. Lawford, left, and Eunice K. Shriver at a celebration of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in October, 1998.


The best of times: Jacqueline Kennedy lifts baby John, Jr..



John F. Kennedy Jr. pulls a necklace worn by his mother, first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, at the White House in Washington in August 1962.

White House whimsy: John, aged 2, frolicks with his father, 1963. The president was said to think that his son's presence helped defuse tensions in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy and his son, John Jr., leave Arlington cemetery after a ceremony on November 18, 1963.

Privilege and poise: JFK Jr. riding with his mother, Jacqueline, ca. 1970. Not all the members of his generation of Kennedys have worn their wealth as well as he does.

Caroline Kennedy and John Kennedy Jr. walk down a street near their New York City apartment on March 26, 1977.

Kennedy walks with his mother Jacqueline Onassis outside St. Stephens Chapel at Brown University in Providence, R.I., June 6, 1983, after he received his Bachelor of Arts degree.

John F. Kennedy Jr. and his sister Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg watch as the casket of their mother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is placed on a hearse at her funeral in New York, on May 23, 1994.

Kennedy introduces his political magazine "George" at a press conference in New York on September 7, 1995.

John Kennedy Jr. and his bride Carolyn Bessette leave the church after their wedding September 21, 1996 at a small private ceremony on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Leaving a family gathering with Carolyn in 1996.

John F. Kennedy, Jr., and his wife Carolyn, stroll near their New York apartment Oct. 19, 1997.

John F. Kennedy Jr., center rear, watching as his cousins Max Kennedy, and U.S. Congressman Joseph Kennedy carry their brother Michael's casket into Our Lady of Victory Church January 3, 1998 in Centerville, Massachusetts.

In 1998, sharing a moment with sister Caroline.

An intimate moment with Carolyn.

Timeless style: John, Jr. and Carolyn Kennedy hold hands at a party celebrating the opening of a Ralph Lauren store in London, May 4, 1999.

John F. Kennedy Jr. during a ceremony at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston last year.

  John F. Kennedy Jr. eulogy
    Thank you, President and Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea, for being here today. You’ve shown extraordinary kindness through the course of this week.
    Once, when they asked John what he would do if he went into politics and was elected president, he said, “I guess the first thing is call up Uncle Teddy and gloat.” I loved that. It was so like his father.
    From the first day of his life, John seemed to belong not only to our family, but to the American family.
    The whole world knew his name before he did.
    A famous photograph showed John racing across the lawn as his father landed in the White House helicopter and swept up John in his arms. When my brother saw that photo, he exclaimed, “Every mother in the United States is saying, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to see that love between a son and his father, the way that John races to be with his father.’ Little do they know, that son would have raced right by his father to get to that helicopter.”
    But John was so much more than those long ago images emblazoned in our minds. He was a boy who grew into a man with a zest for life and a love of adventure. He was a pied piper who brought us all along. He was blessed with a father and mother who never thought anything mattered more than their children.
    When they left the White House, Jackie’s soft and gentle voice and unbreakable strength of spirit guided him surely and securely to the future. He had a legacy, and he learned to treasure it. He was part of a legend, and he learned to live with it. Above all, Jackie gave him a place to be himself, to grow up, to laugh and cry, to dream and strive on his own.
    John learned that lesson well. He had amazing grace. He accepted who he was, but he cared more about what he could and should become. He saw things that could be lost in the glare of the spotlight. And he could laugh at the absurdity of too much pomp and circumstance.
    He loved to travel across the city by subway, bicycle and roller blade. He lived as if he were unrecognizable, although he was known by everyone he encountered. He always introduced himself, rather than take anything for granted. He drove his own car and flew his own plane, which is how he wanted it. He was the king of his domain.
    He thought politics should be an integral part of our popular culture, and that popular culture should be an integral part of politics. He transformed that belief into the creation of
George. John shaped and honed a fresh, often irreverent journal. His new political magazine attracted a new generation, many of whom had never read about politics before.
    John also brought to
George a wit that was quick and sure. The premier issue of George caused a stir with a cover photograph of Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington with a bare belly button. The “Reliable Source” in The Washington Post printed a mock cover of George showing not Cindy Crawford, but me dressed as George Washington, with my belly button exposed. I suggested to John that perhaps I should have been the model for the first cover of his magazine. Without missing a beat, John told me that he stood by his original editorial decision.
    John brought this same playful wit to other aspects of his life. He campaigned for me during my 1994 election and always caused a stir when he arrived in Massachusetts. Before one of his trips to Boston, John told the campaign he was bringing along a companion, but would need only one hotel room.
    Interested, but discreet, a senior campaign worker picked John up at the airport and prepared to handle any media barrage that might accompany John’s arrival with his mystery companion. John landed with the companion all right – an enormous German shepherd dog named Sam he had just rescued from the pound.
He loved to talk about the expression on the campaign worker’s face and the reaction of the clerk at the Charles Hotel when John and Sam checked in.
    I think now not only of these wonderful adventures, but of the kind of person John was. He was the son who quietly gave extraordinary time and ideas to the Institute of Politics at Harvard that bears his father’s name. He brought to the institute his distinctive insight that politics could have a broader appeal, that it was not just about elections, but about the larger forces that shape our whole society.
    John was also the son who was once protected by his mother. He went on to become her pride – and then her protector in her final days. He was the Kennedy who loved us all, but who especially cherished his sister Caroline, celebrated her brilliance, and took strength and joy from their lifelong mutual admiration society.
    And for a thousand days, he was a husband who adored the wife who became his perfect soul mate. John’s father taught us all to reach for the moon and the stars. John did that in all he did – and he found his shining star when he married Carolyn Bessette.
    How often our family will think of the two of them, cuddling affectionately on a boat, surrounded by family – aunts, uncles, Caroline and Ed and their children, Rose, Tatania, and Jack, Kennedy cousins, Radziwell cousins, Shriver cousins, Smith cousins, Lawford cousins – as we sailed Nantucket Sound.
    Then we would come home, and before dinner, on the lawn where his father had played, John would lead a spirited game of touch football. And his beautiful young wife, the new pride of the Kennedys, would cheer for John’s team and delight her nieces and nephews with her somersaults.
    We loved Carolyn. She and her sister Lauren were young extraordinary women of high accomplishment – and their own limitless possibilities. We mourn their loss and honor their lives. The Bessette and Freeman families will always be part of ours.
    John was a serious man who brightened our lives with his smile and his grace. He was a son of privilege who founded a program called Reaching Up to train better caregivers for the mentally disabled.
    He joined Wall Street executives on the Robin Hood Foundation to help the city’s impoverished children. And he did it all so quietly, without ever calling attention to himself.
    John was one of Jackie’s two miracles. He was still becoming the person he would be, and doing it by the beat of his own drummer. He had only just begun. There was in him a great promise of things to come.
    The Irish Ambassador recited a poem to John’s father and mother soon after John was born. I can hear it again now, at this different and difficult moment:
    “We wish to the new child,
    A heart that can be beguiled,
    By a flower,
    That the wind lifts,
    As it passes.
    If the storms break for him,
    May the trees shake for him,
    Their blossoms down.
    In the night that he is troubled,
    May a friend wake for him,
    So that his time be doubled,
    And at the end of all loving and love
    May the Man above,
    Give him a crown.”
    We thank the millions who have rained blossoms down on John’s memory. He and his bride have gone to be with his mother and father, where there will never be an end to love. He was lost on that troubled night, but we will always wake for him, so that his time, which was not doubled, but cut in half, will love forever in our memory, and in our beguiled and broken hearts.
    We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years.
    We who have loved him from the day he was born, and watched the remarkable man he became, now bid him farewell.
    God bless you, John and Carolyn. We love you and we always will.
    –Sen. Edward Kennedy
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