July 19, 1999
John F. Kennedy Jr., 38, Heir to a Formidable
JFK Jr., a Lifetime in Pictures (18
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYEASHINGTON -- 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.
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
|| Jim Bourg / Reuters |
|John F. Kennedy Jr. during a
ceremony at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston last
Slide Show (18 photos)
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.
KENNEDY PLANE CRASH|
|Also in Monday's Times
Bessette Kennedy, Private Woman Who Was New to Fame
Bessette, Financial Executive
Guard Sees Little Hope for Kennedy
of Strangers Keep Vigils, Waiting, but Expecting the Worst
and Darkness Combined to Make Flight to Martha's Vineyard Risky,
and Emotions Carry Television Coverage
Magazines Scrap Their Covers
Big City: The Family Everyone Knew
Kennedy's Plane Vanishes on Way to Family Wedding (July 18)
Search Is Normal, Officials Say, but Level of Interest Is Far
From Common (July 18)
Moore St., Concern for 'Such a Nice Man' (July 18)
New, Cautious Pilot Who Often Flew With His Instructor (July
of Missing Kennedy Dominates Overseas (July 18)
Beach Yields Grim Clues to Missing Plane (July 18)
Postponed After John F. Kennedy Jr. Reported Missing (July
in the Kennedy Family (July 18)
From the Archives
Kennedys: A History of Tragedy, Scandal and Achievement
(Jan. 2, 1998)
Nation: Once More, With Feeling: Recycling the Kennedys
(Nov. 16, 1997)
Smiling, the Stylish Carolyn Bessette (Sep. 29, 1996)
F. Kennedy Jr. Is Married, Quietly, Reports Say (Sep. 23,
Didn't Look Like This in 1789 (Sept. 8, 1995)
Death at Home, Among Family and Friends, and Even Strangers
(May 20, 1994)
JFK Jr., a Lifetime in Pictures (18
of Search Area
Adm. Richard Larrabee Says Kennedy Party Is Presumed Dead
N.T.S.B. Investigator Robert L. Pearce
Bill Clinton's Statement on the Search for JFK Jr.
Adm. Richard M. Larrabee of the U.S. Coast Guard
Sam De Bow, N.O.A.A.
of the Crash of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s Plane
Text of President Clinton's Remarks on JFK Jr. (July 18)
Discussion on the Kennedy Family
Related Web Sites
United States Coast Guard,
Edward M. Kennedy
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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