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Carolyn Bessette Kennedy
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy

Biography
(1966–1999)
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Carolyn Bessette Kennedy married John F. Kennedy Jr. and was considered a trendsetter and fashion icon. She died in a small plane crash in 1999.

Who Was Carolyn Bessette Kennedy?

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy studied education in college, but worked in public relations for a nightclub. She later worked for Calvin Klein in Boston and New York, and married John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1996. Declared a trendsetter by the national press, Bessette was often compared to her late mother-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, because of her fierce protection of her own (and Kennedy's) privacy, as well as her work for charitable causes. Bessette was killed, along with JFK Jr. and her sister, Lauren, when their small private plane, piloted by Kennedy, crashed off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on July 16, 1999.

Early Life

Born in White Plains, New York, on January 7, 1966, and voted "ultimate beautiful person" of her high school class of 1983, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy grew up in a wealthy corner of Connecticut, just outside of New York City, with her older sisters, twins Lisa and Lauren. Bessette moved to Connecticut with her mother and sisters at age 8 when her parents divorced. Her mother, a school administrator, remarried a prominent doctor.

After graduating from a Catholic high school, Bessette earned an undergraduate degree in education at Boston University. (She was the cover girl for the "Girls of BU" 1988 calendar.) Her first job after college was in public relations for a nightclub company in New England. She went to work at Calvin Klein's store in Boston and then transferred to the company's New York location.

Marriage to JFK Jr.

Six feet tall with long blonde hair, Bessette was linked with an assortment of men before John F. Kennedy Jr., including a Calvin Klein model, a pro hockey player and the heir to the Benetton fashion company fortune. She first met and spoke with Kennedy Jr. when they were both running in Central Park; she impressed him with her beauty, intelligence and sincerity. Their fairy-tale marriage in 1996 took place in a 100-year-old, flower strewn chapel on a secluded island off the Georgian coast.

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After her marriage to JFK Jr., or "John-John," as her husband was often affectionately called, Bessette was the focus of much media attention. Declared a trendsetter by the national press, she was often compared to her late mother-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, because of her fierce protection of her own (and Kennedy's) privacy, as well as her work for charitable causes.

Death in Plane Crash

Kennedy Jr., Bessette and her sister, Lauren, were killed when their small private plane, piloted by Kennedy, crashed off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on July 16, 1999. Nearly two years later, the parents of Carolyn and Lauren Bessette received a monetary settlement as a result of their wrongful death lawsuit against the Kennedy estate.

A&E Biography Special

July 16, 2019, marked the 20-year anniversary of Kennedy Jr. and Bessette's deaths. The two-hour documentary special, which aired on the anniversary, reframed the last year of his life in an entirely new way. Inspired by Steven M. Gillon’s upcoming book, America’s Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr., this captivating special was the most substantive documentary to date and included convincing new evidence regarding his political aspirations before his untimely death. This compelling documentary shined an unexpectedly poignant light on 1999, his last year, as he coped with the fatal illness of his closest friend and cousin, Anthony Radziwill, struggled to save his marriage and tried to rescue his political magazine, George.

With the guidance of historian and longtime friend Steven M. Gillon, along with never-before-seen footage and the recollections of Anthony Radziwill's widow, Carole Radziwill who spoke in-depth for the first time, a new story emerges. As the story unfolded, viewers were given a behind the scenes look at memorable moments in JFK Jr.’s life including his speech at the 1988 DNC convention with never-before-broadcast footage of Kennedy rehearsing for the event, exclusive stories and photos from his wedding, reflections on George and more.

The documentary also featured extensive on-camera interviews with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former George publisher David Pecker, friend Gary Ginsberg, former assistant and close friend RoseMarie Terenzio as well as childhood friend Sasha Chermayeff.

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