Who was Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy?
Carolyn Jeanne Bessette-Kennedy was a ‘Calvin Klein’ publicist and the wife of American lawyer, magazine publisher, and journalist John F Kennedy Jr. John was the son of former US President John F Kennedy. Ever since Carolyn became romantically associated with John F. Kennedy Jr., her life became a favorite for the paparazzi and media. Considered a trendsetter by many, Carolyn had a great fashion sense. Her involvement in charitable causes and her efforts in protecting her and her husband’s privacy made people compare her to her mother-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy. According to sources, Carolyn had trouble dealing with the continued media attention surrounding her life and marriage. It was speculated that such harassment, along with other issues, such as her denial to start a family and her husband’s work on the magazine ‘George,’ eventually gave rise to marital strain between the couple. Reportedly, they were contemplating divorce. However many of their close friends and associates rebuffed the divorce claims. Carolyn, her husband, and her sister died in a plane crash. The plane was being piloted by John F Kennedy Jr.
Childhood & Early Life
Carolyn Jeanne Bessette was born on January 7, 1966, in White Plains, New York, US, to William J Bessette and Ann Messina. She was the youngest child of her parents. Her father was a cabinet maker. Her mother worked as an academic administrator in the New York City public school system. She had twin older sisters, Lauren and Lisa.
Following her parent’s divorce, her mother married prominent orthopedic surgeon Richard Freeman and relocated to Old Greenwich, Connecticut. Carolyn studied at the ‘Juniper Hill Elementary School,’ where her mother worked as a substitute teacher. Carolyn initially attended ‘Greenwich High School’ but was later transferred by her parents to ‘St. Mary's High School.’ There, she was voted the "Ultimate Beautiful Person" by her classmates.
Carolyn later joined ‘Boston University's ‘School of Education’ in 1983 and graduated with a degree in elementary education in 1988. During her stint there, she dated the school's ice-hockey team star John Cullen, who later became a professional ice-hockey center and played in the ‘National Hockey League.’ Although Carolyn forayed into modeling early in life, she could not succeed much in the field. She, however, appeared as the cover girl of ‘Boston University's calendar, ‘The Girls of B.U.’
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Carolyn started her professional journey working in public relations for a nightclub company in New England. She then joined the high-end American fashion house ‘Calvin Klein Ltd.’ She had a successful stint at the luxury fashion house. She served as their saleswoman at the ‘Chestnut Hill Mall’ on Boylston Street (Route 9) in Newton, Massachusetts, and gradually moved up the career rung to become the director of publicity for the flagship store of the fashion house located in Manhattan.
The traveling sales coordinator of ‘Calvin Klein Ltd.,’ Susan Sokol, was quite impressed by the grace and style of Carolyn while the latter served the company in Boston. Sokol thus put forward her suggestion of inducting Carolyn in a position where she could deal with high-profile clients of the company, such as American TV journalist Diane Sawyer and American actor Annette Bening. Carolyn left the fashion house in the spring of 1996, before she got married to John F Kennedy Jr. At that time, she was serving as the company’s director of show productions.
Association & Life with John F. Kennedy Jr.
Carolyn was introduced to John F Kennedy Jr. in 1992. At that time, he was romantically associated with American actor and environmental activist Daryl Hannah. Carolyn started dating him in 1994, and as the news of their affair spread, the diva became a subject of media attention.
In the summer of 1995, she started living with John F Kennedy Jr. in the latter’s Tribeca apartment. The two got engaged sometime later that year. The paparazzi would be seen outside the couple’s apartment most of the time, waiting to grab every opportunity to capture their shots.
Carolyn and John F Kennedy Jr. got married on September 21, 1996, at the ‘First African Baptist Church,’ a small wooden chapel located on Cumberland Island in Georgia. The candlelit wedding ceremony was kept a secret from the media. Carolyn’s pearl-white crepe wedding dress was designed by her former colleague from ‘Calvin Klein,’ Cuban–American fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez. Caroline Kennedy, elder sister of John F Kennedy Jr., became the matron of honor, while her son, Jack, became the ring bearer. Her two daughters, Rose and Tatiana, became flower girls. Anthony Radziwill, the cousin of the groom, became the groom’s best man.
The newlyweds went to Turkey for their honeymoon. When they returned, they encountered a flock of reporters outside their home. As the media attention grew after the marriage, it started affecting Carolyn, who often found it hard to tackle such unwanted scrutiny of her married life. The couple would be followed on every small and big occasion, be it while attending fashionable Manhattan events or meeting celebrities such as Gianni Versace and Mariuccia Mandelli.
Tired of this constant chasing by shutterbugs, Carolyn once told her friend Carole Radziwill that the only way she could keep away from the paparazzi was by leaving her home as early as 7 in the morning. She also told her friend and journalist Jonathan Soroff that even if she got a job, it would be assumed that she had used her fame in getting it.
Soon, she refrained from giving any interviews and also rejected offers to feature in fashion magazines. Her fashion sense and her charitable work made people compare her to her mother-in-law.
Carolyn hosted parties for the glossy monthly magazine ‘George,’ founded by her husband, along with Michael J Berman and publisher ‘Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.’ She also attended dinners at the ‘White House,’ along with her husband. In March 1998, US President Bill Clinton gave a tour to the couple.
Death, Speculations, & Legacy
Carolyn, her husband, and her sister Lauren boarded a ‘Piper Saratoga’ light aircraft (purchased by John F Kennedy Jr.) from the ‘Essex County Airport,’ New Jersey, on July 16, 1999. The couple had plans to drop Lauren in Martha's Vineyard and then travel to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, to attend the wedding of John F Kennedy Jr.’s cousin, Rory Kennedy. The plane, piloted by John F Kennedy Jr., however, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, off the western coast of Martha's Vineyard, killing all three on board.
A thorough search was conducted until the bodies of the three victims were retrieved from the ocean floor by ‘US Navy’ divers on July 21, 1999. Autopsies of the victims revealed that they were not under any influence of drugs or alcohol and had died due to the impact of the crash. Their bodies were then taken to Duxbury the same night and cremated in the ‘Mayflower Cemetery’ crematorium. Their ashes were scattered into the sea, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, from the ‘USS Briscoe,’ the following day.
Following the death of the couple, reports claimed that their marriage had been troubled and that they were contemplating divorce. Several reasons were cited backing such reports, which included Carolyn’s reluctance to have children, her difficulty in handling media attention, her strained relation with sister-in-law Caroline Kennedy, and the fact that she disliked Berman. However such divorce claims were altogether rejected by many close friends and associates of the couple, including Christiane Amanpour and John Perry Barlow.
Carolyn has been mentioned in several books and memoirs. These include ‘The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years’ (2001) by Edward Klein and ‘The Other Man: John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette, and Me’ (2004) by ‘Calvin Klein’ model Michael Bergin, with whom she had had an affair before her marriage.