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Caroline Bessette Kennedy: 1965-1999

For Bessette Kennedy, joining Kennedy clan meant life in a fishbowl

By Yvonne Abraham and Tina Cassidy, Globe Staff, 07/18/99

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was the only one truly excited about getting into an airplane with him, a smiling John F. Kennedy Jr. told a reporter. They both loved being able to fly off together whenever they felt like it.

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy
Carolyn Bessette Kennedy (AP Photo)

Globe archives:
-Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: from shy student to accomplished celebrity wife, 09/24/96
-'Most Eligible' no longer, 09/23/96

Now the couple, and Bessette's sister Lauren, are missing after their Piper Saratoga failed to arrive as expected on Martha's Vineyard Friday night.

Since the media became obsessed with Carolyn Bessette Kennedy six years ago, tagging her as the princess of a new Camelot, she constantly has been compared with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

But the marriage of Bessette and the son of the late president is far more modern than that. Reporters kept a respectful distance from Camelot, for one thing. There was no chance of that here.

And by all accounts, this is a far more equal marriage: Bessette Kennedy has a great deal more spunk, and a much stronger will, than Kennedy Onassis had during her marriage to the president.

Comparisons between Bessette Kennedy and Kennedy Onassis were inescapable from the start: from the moment she was first photographed, Bessette -- a publicist for designer Calvin Klein at the time -- became a walking style bible. Her studied casual look -- clean and minimal -- was dissected by fashion magazines, imitated by upper West Side residents and midwestern teenagers alike. Her perfectly straight blond hair and six-foot frame were destined to captivate the public. Magazine editors coveted her aquiline face for their covers.

But she denied them.

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Like Kennedy Onassis, Bessette avoided reporters, and constantly tried to dodge the paparazzi, who seemed to find her anyway. Sometimes she was less polite than her partner's mother would have been, abusing photographers who pushed her too hard.

But for their wedding day, the couple conspired to vanquish the paparazzi, and succeeded, at least temporarily, managing to wed in complete secret and utter privacy on a small island off the coast of Georgia before 40 friends. Bessette's bias-cut, white crepe dress, of course, spawned immediate knock-offs.

Bessette Kennedy, 33, grew up in affluent Greenwich, Conn., with her two sisters, Lisa and Lauren, identical twins born 18 months before her.

But in the end, it was Lauren and Carolyn who were inextricably linked by the plane crash.

Lauren's black suitcase labeled with her Morgan Stanley business card was among the first bits of debris that washed up on the Martha's Vineyard beach -- a heart-stopping find for swimmers. The bag contained a bathing suit, a hair dryer, and some makeup.

At the island airport, a couple and little girl waited for Lauren Bessette to arrive. They told an airport employee, Adam Budd, they had met Lauren in Hong Kong, where she worked as an investment banker. She has since transferred to New York. The couple waited for a while, left their phone number with Budd should the plane arrive, and left at about 10 p.m. None of them reported the plane missing.

Lauren, a 1982 graduate of Greenwich (Conn.) High School, was reportedly dating Bobby Shriver, JFK Jr.'s cousin.

The sisters' mother, Ann Freeman, who has worked as a teacher and school administrator in New York public schools, and her father, William Bessette, divorced when they were children. Their stepfather, Richard Freeman, is chief of orthopedic surgery at a White Plains, N.Y., hospital.

Bessette Kennedy attended Greenwich High School for two years before being transferred to St Mary's High School, now closed. She graduated from there in 1983. Even in high school, she was defined by her looks: classmates dubbed her "The Ultimate Beautiful Person."

At Boston University, Bessette Kennedy majored in elementary education. She was not a joiner, participating in few university activities. In her yearbook, her name appears on a page for "camera-shy'' graduates who didn't want their pictures taken. She did, however, pose for photographer Robert DiMarzo, who was preparing a "Women of BU'' calendar.

When she graduated in 1988, Bessette Kennedy worked not in education, but for nightclub owner Patrick Lyons, organizing parties for local companies at his Lansdowne Street nightclubs.

Shortly after that, she began work at a Calvin Klein store in Chestnut Hill where, it is said, Klein himself spotted her and brought her to his flagship store in New York to attend to his celebrity clients. There, she was a fixture in the city's edgiest nightclubs.

She may have met Kennedy at the store, or in Central Park, or through friends, but neither Kennedy nor Bessette Kennedy has stepped forward to set the public straight on that count.

When her relationship with Kennedy became public, she had moved into the store's public relations department: suddenly, all of the calls were about her and not the designer.

She hunkered down, leaving Calvin Klein, avoiding her usual outings and the press, who nonetheless sometimes caught her in unflattering light. They captured her on videotape during a shouting match with Kennedy in a park, told of her explosive temper, and exposed the fact that she had been illegally sub-letting her rent-controlled apartment.

She recently told a reporter she had stopped reading about herself. "I don't want to know," she told the New York Daily News. The gossip "has nothing to do with me or how I live my life. I have problems and issues just like anybody. But I'm a happy person, and maybe a better person, for not knowing."

Since their marriage, the couple have maintained a relatively low profile, attending functions for George magazine, of which John F. Kennedy Jr. is publisher and editor-in-chief, and the occasional charity or social event -- the 11th Annual Kennedy Library dinner in Massachusetts, or the recent White House Correspondents' dinner.

Despite the flashbulbs and microphones, Bessette Kennedy has managed to remain mysterious, as her husband's late mother did after the Kennedy assassination. In that sense, she has fed the mystique, by default.

While her personal style has become as familiar as that of the late Princess Diana, to whom she has also been compared, there have been few clues as to her likes and dislikes, her opinions and ambitions. Those have remained hers alone.


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