USA Today, July 13, 2000

    Prying eyes still trail John Jr.

    By Bruce Kluger

    One year ago today, John F.
    Kennedy, Jr., the son of the
    slain U.S. President who went on
    to lead  a celebrated life himself,
    ultimately launching the political
    magazine George, died in a
    private plane crash that also
    took his lives of his wife, Carolyn
    Bessette Kennedy, and her
    sister, Lauren Bessette.

    In the wake of the terrible events
    of that balmy summer weekend in
    1999, colleagues, friends, writers and cultural pundits across the nation scrambled
    to put their personal spin on a life lived, crowding the editorial pages and TV news
    channels with recollections that ran the gamut from historical ruminations to locker
    room stories to a myriad of what-ifs—what if he entered politics, what if he never
    flew that plane, what if his mother was still alive?

    Yet despite their wide range of associations with Kennedy, all who spoke about him
    against the hazy backdrop of search planes combing the Martha’s Vineyard
    shoreline or telephoto views of the family’s Hyannisport compound seemed to agree
    on one thing: that although his life was over, the media circus that for nearly four
    decades had trailed him like a comet’s tail was sure to continue.

    Not surprisingly, that prediction held up, as stories about the handsome heir to
    Camelot continued to appear throughout this past year.

    His own magazine was the first to re-ignite the flame of his memory, publishing a
    special “Tribute Issue” in October 1999 that quietly replayed many of John’s better
    moments that had appeared in George. Then, by year’s end, his striking image
    often tuxedoed, usually with his beautiful young wife on his arm—began
    reappearing on the cover of many publications’ holiday issues. It was almost as if
    we were confessing that, before we could move on to a new century, we needed to
    confirm one last time that the little boy who long ago saluted his father’s coffin and
    won a nation’s heart would not be able to make the trip with us.

    Unfortunately, though, as the new year began, so too did Kennedy-related discord.
    As a new editor took the reins of George, the interim editor vanished in a huff, only
    to resurface with a $750,000 contract with a major publishing company to write the
    definitive George memoir. (This in turn sparked infighting at the magazine, and
    resentment by former George staffers who upon hiring had been asked to sign
    confidentiality agreements about their famous boss.)

    Then came the tabloids, offering outrageous claims on everything from the state of
    John’s marriage at the time of his death, to his rumored inability to pilot his plane, to
    various lawsuits and liaisons that were as absurd as they were unconfirmed.

    Even the unremarkable Tribeca loft in which John and his wife lived together so
    briefly became fodder for quick-fix journalism, when daily papers followed the
    travails of actor Ed Burns as he faced off with the co-op board about purchasing
    the apartment.

    And as recently as this month, ripples continued to disturb John’s resting place in
    our memories when, on one hand, the National Transportation Safety Board
    confirmed that Kennedy had suffered a "spatial disorientation” that resulted in the
    fatal crash; and, on the other hand, the Star magazine promised the inside story on
    “JFK: The Wild Years.”

    Personally, I find it easiest—and least painful—to recall John in a professional light,
    which despite our congenial rapport was the basis of our association. As his editor
    on many of the celebrity interviews he conducted for Georgefrom his first with
    George Wallace (October 1995), to his last, with Garth Brooks (April 1999)—I found
    this extraordinary man to be exactly what you’d expect from a world-famous “prince”
    who had the combined fearlessness and foolishness to decide to run a magazine
    with no previous experience: He was charming and confident, mischievous and
    smart—yet delightfully self-effacing.

    In a  passage from the Brooks interview that was cut for space at the last minute,
    John revealed this endearing humility in a way that captures him best:

    BROOKS: When I'm trying to fit in where I don't belong, I'll mention [trendy] brand
    names of products, just to be cool with everybody. But the people who really know
    their stuff just look at you, and think, “Yeah, right.” They know you don't know what
    you’re talking about.

    KENNEDY: Yeah. That’s how I feel right here.