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Wife of John F. Kennedy Jr. presumed dead at 33

By Larry McShane, Associated Press, 07/19/99

NEW YORK - Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, the fashion publicist who catapulted to fame by marrying John F. Kennedy Jr. and came to epitomize the elegance of her mother-in-law, was presumed dead with her husband in a plane crash off the Massachusetts coast. She was 33.

Bessette Kennedy was a passenger in her husband's plane, along with her older sister Lauren Bessette, when it went down in the Atlantic Ocean.

The six-seat, single-engine plane disappeared Friday night on its way to a Kennedy family wedding. The bodies weren't immediately recovered, but officials said late Sunday there was virtually no chance the three survived.

Born Jan. 7, 1966, the lithe, blonde Bessette Kennedy enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the stepdaughter of a surgeon in posh Greenwich, Conn. But not even that could prepare her for life in the Kennedy clan, a jet-setting existence complete with White House invitations and family weekends in Hyannis Port.

She was notoriously press-shy, rarely speaking with reporters. Even the details of how she and John Kennedy first met are unclear: One tale says they met while jogging in Central Park; another says they were introduced when he was shopping for suits at Calvin Klein's, where she worked as a publicist.

She drew incredible scrutiny after marrying Kennedy on Sept. 21, 1996. ''Camelot's New Queen'' trumpeted the Daily News after their secret nuptials on an island off the coast of Georgia - an event so exclusive that some family members were not invited.

After a honeymoon in Turkey, the newly minted power couple were greeted outside their Tribeca loft by a swarm of photographers.

People magazine, which had once dubbed her husband the ''sexiest man alive,'' proclaimed Bessette Kennedy one of the year's 25 ''most intriguing people.''

There were endless mentions in gossip columns, relentless pursuit by paparazzi, inevitable comparisons to her late mother-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - many of them favorable, highlighting the young bride's elegance and poise.

There were even reports she was unhappy about her husband's taste for flying - stories Kennedy dismissed.

''Carolyn was the first person to fly with me after I got my solo license,'' he said in an interview two weeks ago.

But Bessette Kennedy also brought along a bit of her own mystique when she joined the Kennedys' ranks. Even in high school, she made a big impression; her classmates at St. Mary's High School in Greenwich voted her ''The Ultimate Beautiful Person.''

She graduated from Boston University with a degree in elementary education but wound up working in a marketing job for a nightclub consortium.

She landed a job at a Calvin Klein store in Boston, reportedly hired by a boss who spotting the stunning woman walking down the street. When she actually met Klein, the fashion designer was so impressed that she was quickly transferred to the New York headquarters.

''She knows how to handle men like practically nobody I've ever met,'' a friend of Kennedy, John Perry Barlow, told New York magazine. ''She is very good at making people feel they are special and important, and largely because she means it. It was the same thing with Jackie.''

The glamorous lifestyle, while heady, came with some baggage.

Paparazzi photographed Kennedy and his bride-to-be arguing in Central Park in February 1996 - he reportedly pulled a ring off her finger - and a television newsmagazine aired a videotape of the fight.

Once they married, the new husband graciously asked photographers to cut his wife some slack: ''This is a big change for anyone, and for a private citizen even more so. I ask that you give Carolyn all the privacy and room you can.''

It didn't really work; even a mundane task like walking their dog would bring photographers running.

But there were pluses, too: a White House invitation in February 1998 to dine with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, along with celebrity guests like Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks and Elton John.

Her clothes and her hair were endlessly studied. The slightest change in her appearance prompted speculation about a possible pregnancy and a new Kennedy heir.

She is survived by her mother Ann Freeman, her stepfather, Richard Freeman, an orthopedic surgeon; her father, William Bessette, an architectural engineer; and an older sister, Lisa, who is Lauren's identical twin.


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