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
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?
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
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 George—from 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.