Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy was the wife of John F. Kennedy Jr., the son of President John F. Kennedy. The couple died in a plane crash in 1999, along with her sister Lauren. They were married for less than three years at the time of their deaths.
Kennedy is the subject of the new documentary I Am JFK Jr., which covers his short life. Kennedy was 38 and Bessette-Kennedy was only 33 years old.
Here’s a look at the life of Bessette-Kennedy.
1. Before Marrying Kennedy, She Worked as a Model & Calvin Klein Publicist
Although Bessette-Kennedy did not like media attention, she drew cameras before she even met Kennedy. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer profile published shortly after her death, Bessette-Kennedy’s beauty was recognized by her classmates at St. Mary’s High School and Boston University.
She majored in elementary education at BU, but also modeled. She later worked at Calvin Klein as a publicist. Former Calvin Klein president Susan Sokol told The New York Times in 1996 that Bessette-Kennedy “fit the bill perfectly” when she was looking for someone to deal with celebrity clients. She was someone “who wouldn’t feel intimidated working with these kinds of people,” Sokol said.
Bessette-Kennedy left Calvin Klein in spring 1996.
2. The Couple Met When Kennedy Was Still Dating Darryl Hannah
Kennedy and actress Darryl Hannah dated for over five years. In 1992, he was still seeing Hannah, notes People Magazine. Kennedy met Besette-Kennedy while she was working at Calvin Klein.
Bessette-Kennedy soon earned the love of the Kennedy family. Kerry Kennedy, who was married to future New York Governor Andrew Cuomo from 1990 to 2003, told the Washington Post in 1996 that Bessette-Kennedy was “a very bright, sweet, wonderful, creative woman whom John has fallen madly in love with.” She added that Bessette-Kennedy “has been to the Cape on several occasions, and we all love her. We especially love her because he does.”
3. Her Wedding Dress Was Designed by Narcisco Rodriguez, Who Said ‘I’ll Never See Anything More Beautiful Than That’
Bessette-Kennedy’s style made it impossible for the press not to compare her to Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline Kennedy, who was a trendsetter during her time in the White House. Her wedding dress was designed by Narcisco Rodriguez and was valued at $40,000. Even Rodriguez was stunned by her beauty in the dress.
“Oh, my God, I thought I was going to pass out… I’ll never see anything more beautiful than that,” he told the Washington Post. Rodriguez said that he wanted her to wear pearls, but she refused.
“She’s my muse, so whatever I see her in, I just get this rush,” Rodriguez explained. “She’s such a beautiful girl, and I don’t mean just physically beautiful, she’s–I sound like a gushing fan, don’t I?–she’s just amazing. I’ll never see anything more beautiful than that.”
Rodriguez’s work with Bessette-Kennedy helped launch his career. “There’s a huge buzz around Narciso,” then-Allure editor Linda Wells told Newsweek in 1996.
4. She Tried to Be a Private Person, Despite The Media Attention
Bessette-Kennedy really didn’t care for all the public attention she received, although she did understand what would happen by marrying Kennedy.
“Carolyn was a very sophisticated woman who knew exactly what she was getting into, but it was still difficult to handle at first,” friend and former New York Daily News writer Mitchell Fink told The Guardian in 1999. “It offended her that her privacy was being intruded on that level.”
“The press made her absolutely miserable,” John Perry Barlow, a Kennedy friend, told People Magazine a year after her death. “She was under such continuous assault that sometimes getting through the day was all she could do.”
The paparazzi hounded her, another friend told People. “She’d have to leave for appointments hours earlier, sometimes at 7 in the morning, or they’d swarm the house. They were much more behaved if John was around,” the friend said.
5. The Marriage Might Have Been on the Rocks at the Time of Their Deaths
It’s been rumored that the couple was not getting along at the time of their deaths. Edward Klein wrote in The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America’s First Family in 2003 that they had been to marriage counseling just days before the plane crash.
Klein wrote that Kennedy told a friend, “I want to have kids, but whenever I raise the subject with Carolyn, she turns away and refuses to have sex with me.” The friend told Klein that Kennedy was considering a divorce. Klein wrote that Kennedy didn’t know why the marriage was in trouble. The author also said that Kennedy once saw his wife using cocaine.
Friends told People Magazine that rumors of cocaine use were not true.
“They both wanted kids very much,” Barlow told People Magazine. “But Carolyn was spooked about having kids until they’d figured out how to handle the press. She had been through such a media nightmare, and she didn’t want to expose a child to that.”