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Caroline Bessette Kennedy: 1966-1999

Wife of John F. Kennedy Jr. presumed dead at 33

By Larry McShane, Associated Press, 07/19/99

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy
Carolyn Bessette Kennedy (AP Photo)

Globe archives:
-Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: from shy student to accomplished celebrity wife, 09/24/96
-'Most Eligible' no longer, 09/23/96

NEW YORK - Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, a fashion publicist who catapulted to fame when she married John F. Kennedy Jr., was presumed dead along with her husband and older sister after Kennedy's plane went down off Massachusetts.

She was 33.

The six-seat, single-engine plane disappeared Friday night on its way to a Kennedy family wedding. The bodies weren't immediately recovered but officials said there was virtually no chance the three survived.

Bessette Kennedy's style and penchant for privacy drew comparisons to Kennedy's mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis.

Born Jan. 7, 1966, the lithe, blond Bessette Kennedy enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the stepdaughter of a surgeon in Greenwich, Conn. But not even that could prepare her for life in the Kennedy clan, a jet-setting existence complete with White House invitations and family weekends in Hyannis Port, Mass.

She was notoriously press-shy, rarely speaking with reporters. Even the details of how she and John Kennedy first met are unclear: One tale says they met while jogging in Central Park; another says they were introduced when he was shopping for suits at Calvin Klein's, where she worked as a publicist.

She drew incredible scrutiny after marrying Kennedy on Sept. 21, 1996. "Camelot's New Queen'' trumpeted the Daily News after their secret nuptials on an island off Georgia - an event so exclusive that some family members were not invited.

After a honeymoon in Turkey, the newly minted power couple were greeted outside their Tribeca loft by a swarm of photographers.

People magazine, which had once dubbed her husband the "sexiest man alive,'' proclaimed Bessette Kennedy one of the year's 25 "most intriguing people.''

There were endless mentions in gossip columns, relentless pursuit by paparazzi, inevitable comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - many of them favorable, highlighting the young bride's elegance and poise.

There were even reports she was unhappy about her husband's taste for flying - stories Kennedy dismissed. "Carolyn was the first person to fly with me after I got my solo license,'' he said in an interview two weeks ago.

But Carolyn Bessette also brought along a bit of her own mystique when she joined the Kennedys' ranks. Even in high school, she made a big impression; her classmates at St. Mary's High School in Greenwich voted her "The Ultimate Beautiful Person.''

She graduated from Boston University with a degree in elementary education, but wound up working in a marketing job for a nightclub consortium.

She landed a job at a Calvin Klein store in Boston, reportedly hired by a boss who spotted her walking down the street. When she actually met Klein, the fashion designer was so impressed that she was transferred to the New York headquarters.

"She knows how to handle men like practically nobody I've ever met,'' a friend of Kennedy, John Perry Barlow, told New York magazine. "She is very good at making people feel they are special and important, and largely because she means it.

"It was the same thing with Jackie.''

The glamorous lifestyle, while heady, came with some baggage.

Paparazzi photographed Kennedy and his bride-to-be arguing in Central Park in February 1996 - he reportedly pulled a ring off her finger - and a television newsmagazine aired a videotape of the fight.

But there were pluses, too: a White House invitation in February 1998 to dine with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, along with celebrity guests like Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks and Elton John.

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy is survived by her father, William Bessette, an architectural engineer; her mother, Ann Freeman, a teacher and administrator; her stepfather, Dr. Richard Freeman, an orthopedic surgeon; and an older sister, Lisa, who is the identical twin of Lauren Bessette, who also died in the plane crash.



 


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