With this month marking the 19 year anniversary of the fatal plane crash of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr, The Style Edit takes a look back at the lives and deaths of one of history’s hottest couples.
Carolyn, a former publicist for Calvin Klein, met the son of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline (Jackie) Onassis in 1992 when he was dating actress Daryl Hannah. The pair began dating two years later and their movie star good looks (Carolyn’s icy blonde against John’s tall, dark and handsome) and glamorous backgrounds quickly made them popular tabloid fodder and paparazzi targets.
The couple married in a candlelit ceremony on the remote Georgia island of Cumberland on September 21, 1996 with the fashion forward bride choosing a form fitting gown by Narciso Rodriguez for Cerruti and her signature red lipstick.
Marriage elevated the couple to the status of American royalty and interest in their private lives intensified. Carolyn’s easy chic quickly cemented her as a style icon and drew numerous comparisons to that of her mother-in-law. Her minimalist approach to fashion continues to inspire today with Meghan Markle’s recent wedding dress believed to be a nod to the elegant blonde.
While Carolyn and John appeared blissful in the public eye, regularly attending social events hand in hand, posthumous reports suggested tensions were rife behind closed doors with the couple apparently arguing over when to start a family and issues surrounding John’s political magazine, George. Carolyn is said to have struggled with the press interest and adjusting to not working. In the book, The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America’s First Family for 150 Years, author Edward Klein claimed that the couple’s problems reportedly stemmed from Bessette’s difficulty dealing with the increased media attention surrounding her and the marriage, accusations of infidelity, disagreements about having children, and Bessette’s alleged cocaine use.
Arguments or not, those closest to the pair all seem to agree the couple’s relationship was a passionate one. “They would love hard, and they would fight hard,” Ariel Paredes, who was an assistant to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, told People magazine. “But they were very much in love.”
The couple, accompanied by Carolyn’s older sister, Lauren were travelling to a cousin’s wedding when their plane, piloted by John, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard on July 16, 1999.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the probable cause of the crash was: “The pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation. Factors in the accident were haze and the dark night.”
While society mourned the golden couple their deaths also increased speculation into the state of their marriage – something friends and family actively defended.
“Had he not crashed the plane, it would have been a meaningless few weeks of tension, but it took on a life of its own because it was the last chapter of their life,” an anonymous friend of John’s told People. “One week they could have been at war, and the next week they could be right back in love — we’ll never know.”
Regardless of the rumours and circumstances of their death there can be no denying this was a love to remember and one that will be go down in the history books as one of America’s great romances.