The story of the Kennedys is one of contemporary American folklore, one that will continue to puzzle everyone for years to come. For many reasons, this premier American family was intriguing, laced with all the trappings of royalty yet constantly synonymous with tragedy and a never-ending dose of ill-luck. One of the reoccurring themes of the Kennedy family was tumultuous relationships with spouses. John F Kennedy Jr And Carolyn Bessette’s marriage was just another episode in a long list of the family’s domestic woes.
To understand the dynamics at play between John and Carolyn, it would be nice to see the world from their individual perspectives. John F. Kennedy Jr was born two weeks after his father, John F. Kennedy was elected president and was thrust into the limelight from birth. One of the most iconic and profoundly sad memories of his father’s funeral was the picture of the then three-year-old JFK Jr. stepping forward to give his father’s flag-draped casket a final salute as he was being carried out from St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
Moments like that and many more to come in future ensured he was always going to be a center of attention for the paparazzi. JFK Jr picked up the typical Kennedy traits that had made the family such a force to be reckoned with in American political and social life. He was charming, charismatic, ambitious and had his fair share of beautiful women by his side. Before he finally married Carolyn Bessette, the young Kennedy had already had romantic relationships with the creme de la creme of Hollywood. He dated models Julie Baker, Cindy Crawford the likes of actresses Daryl Hannah and Sarah Jessica Parker, not to mention the iconic singer, Madonna.
Carolyn Bessette, on the other hand, was born in White Plains, New York, to a school teacher mom and orthopedic surgeon stepfather. Growing up, her poise and elegance stood her out from the crowd. After obtaining a degree in Elementary Education from Boston University, Carolyn was off to the world of high fashion. She rose through the ranks at Manhattan’s Calvin Klein store to become Head of Publicity and later Director of Show Productions. It was at this point she met JFK Jr at a Calvin Klein event.
A series of events in John’s personal life seemed to escalate his desire to settle down. In May 1994, his mother Jackie Kennedy Onassis passed away and in the summer of the next year, his best friend and cousin Tony Radziwill had a recurrence of testicular cancer.
John F. Kennedy Jr And Carolyn Bessette had been dating for about a year. Sources close to JFK Jr said there was something different about Carolyn, in fact, after they met for the first time, the young man was left frustrated by her not returning his calls. He was used to having his way but this time, he was having a hard time getting a girl. They finally began dating and after a year together, he popped the question. To his surprise, she declined to give him an answer. Carolyn had reservations about the fanfare around the Kennedy family and was concerned about the attention and scrutiny that’d come from becoming a Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy Jr And Carolyn Bessette’s Troubled Marriage
Carolyn finally accepted John’s proposal and marriage plans were set in motion without any publicity whatsoever. Make no mistakes about it, Carolyn Bessette was deeply in love with JFK, but she was no fool. She was aware of the excesses of the Kennedy men, the legendary philandering, the relentless press scrutiny, the lack of privacy and the pressure to live up to set standards.
John F Kennedy Jr and Carolyn Bessette wedded on the remote Georgia island of Cumberland in a serene First African Baptist Church on the 21st of September 1996. The choice of the venue was definitely planned to frustrate nosey journalists as it could only be accessed by ferry, private boat or a helicopter. The secret wedding had only 35 invited guests and held under the cover of darkness, illuminated by the candlelight. They were off to Turkey for their honeymoon and by the time they were back to New York, there was a camp of photographers outside their apartment. This unending paparazzi and complete lack of privacy was not new to JFK Jr but were exactly what his new bride had feared.
Carolyn struggled to cope with the paparazzi and her unease took a toll on the relationship. Prior to her relationship with John, she was an enterprising, driven woman who had her ambitions. But now, she could barely get out of the shadow of her husband. It became difficult to maintain her career without someone quipping that she was only feeding off her husbands’ popularity profile. She quit her job in 1996.
As though that was not bad enough, she never hid her dislike for the numerous Kennedy family hangouts and social events. She never got on well with John’s only sister Caroline, all these put a strain on the union. One instance that got media tongues wagging was when the couple was caught on camera having a heated argument at the Washington Square Park on Feb. 25, 1996.
They had taken their dog for a stroll when an argument ensued and eyewitnesses heard them yelling at each other. She pushed him and John, in turn, grabbed her wrist and was visibly seen trying to pull off the wedding ring on her finger. Whatever transpired, after the tensed moment, a distraught JFK Jr was photographed sitting on the sidewalk and Carolyn kneeling by his side. They left hand in hand, apparently settled, but the damage had been done. The media went into overdrive and the press scrutiny was brutal. Carolyn came off worse in the court of public opinion as she was seen as the aggressor. Rumors were rife that the union was headed for the rocks.
In a sad twist of events, en route the wedding of Rory Kennedy (JFK Jr’s cousin), John F. Kennedy Jr lost control of his single-engine Piper Saratoga light aircraft, crashing into the Atlantic off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. He had two passengers on board, his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren Bessette. They all died in the crash.