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

By Beth Gardiner, Associated Press, 07/17/99

NEW YORK -- Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was born to privilege and glamour, but growing up as the beautiful daughter of a Greenwich, Conn., doctor was nothing compared to life in the Kennedy clan.

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

An instant tabloid favorite after she wed John F. Kennedy Jr., Bessette Kennedy was tailed by paparazzi photographers, gossiped about by columnists and, inevitably, compared to her husband's late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The former Calvin Klein publicist, 33, also joined JFK Jr. in the jet-set life he knew from birth -- honeymoon in Turkey and the Greek islands, dinner at the White House, and, on Friday, a private flight to a Cape Cod wedding.

The Bessette Kennedy myth-making began shortly after she wed Kennedy in September, 1996, on Cumberland Island along the Georgia coast, in a ceremony so secret that even some family members weren't invited.

Bessette Kennedy's classmates at St. Mary's High Schoool in Greenwich had dubbed her "The Ultimate Beautiful Person," celebrity-watchers exulted. She was so stunning, reports had it, that she landed a job at a Calvin Klein shop in Boston just by walking down the street. Klein himself later hired her to work as a publicist in his New York office.

The Daily News dubbed her "Camelot's New Queen" and some observers said her grace and elegance put her in a class with Mrs. Onassis.

"She is one of those mysterious creatures that understands, on some deep level, mystical femininity," JFK Jr.'s friend John Perry Barlow gushed to New York magazine.

"She knows how to handle men like practically nobody I've ever met. ... 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."

But who could ever live up to the legend of such a famous mother-in-law?

Life in the spotlight brought other pressures, too.

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.

JFK Jr. asked paparazzi to give the couple some privacy after their wedding, but few heeded his pleas. He lashed out at one photographer after a group of paparazzi refused to leave the couple alone as they walked their dog near their Tribeca apartment.

And speculation about a new Kennedy heir was endless. Every time Bessette Kennedy gained an ounce, it seemed, the tabloids had her pregnant.

The willowy blond was raised in wealthy Greenwich, Conn., the daughter of a physician. She majored in elementary education at Boston University, but took a marketing job with a nightclub consortium after graduation.

She eventually moved to New York to work for Klein. Gossip columnists had lots of theories about how she met her future husband, considered by many to be the city's most eligible bachelor.

Some said the two first talked as she helped him buy Calvin Klein suits; others said he contacted her after he saw her jogging in a park. Or maybe they connected on the New York nightclub scene.

However it happened, she'd soon replaced actress Daryl Hannah on JFK Jr.'s arm.

The couple, bound for a family wedding in Hyannisport, Mass., boarded a small plane at Essex County Airport in Fairfield, N.J., with Bessette Kennedy's sister, Lauren Bessette, Friday night.

Nancy Fones, who went to high school with Bessette Kennedy, said she hadn't seen her classmate in ten years but joined the nation Saturday watching the news coverage -- and praying.

"She's a beautiful person and I hope everything turns out alright," said Fones, who lived in Greenwich. "Everybody that knows her loves her. I'm sure a lot of people are praying for her right now."

Robert DiMarzo, a photographer who said he became friends with Bessette Kennedy when she lived in Boston, feared the worst Saturday.

"It's a tragedy," he said. "Everybody's calling me, saying the same thing. 'Why did it have to happen to them?"'


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