Back in the day, People Magazine, the National Enquirer and Vanity Fair would always run covers of long-dead celebrities and I was always like “what’s the point, people don’t remember them, why do we need this?” But I’ve gotten to an age where the celebrities passed on in MY lifetime and now I get it: the covers are for bittersweet nostalgia p0rn. So it is with People Magazine running yet another John F. Kennedy Jr. cover. Is there really any new information? Of course not. But… nostalgia. And we do like to look at photos of JFK Jr. And this summer will be the 20-year anniversary of his death, and the deaths of Carolyn Bessette and her sister Lauren. Steven M. Gillon has written a book called America’s Reluctant Prince, and it’s all about “the real JFK Jr.” People interviewed Gillon:
JFK Jr. was two people: “He said he was two people,” Gillon remembers John, 38, telling him once. “He said he played the role of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., the son of the president. But at his core, he was just John.” From the moment the 3-year-old saluted his father’s casket, “All the hopes and expectations transferred to him and he carried that burden his entire life,” says Gillon, who delved into John’s efforts to define himself separately from his father, the 35th president.
John knew the weight of his name: John knew his name carried unimaginable privilege. But he also carried the weight of “Camelot,” the myth of the Kennedy White House spun by his mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in the wake of his father’s assassination. “Jackie told people she regretted naming John after his father,” says Gillon. “She realized it only added to the burden. The irony is that in the effort to honor her husband, she inadvertently made her son’s life more challenging.”
John’s enormous fame: During one lunch with John, Berman, his magazine partner, “looked around and he saw everyone looking at John and he said, ‘It must be interesting being you. You don’t know a soul here, but they all know who you are,’ ” Gillon recounts. “That’s not the weird part,” John replied. “The weird part is they all remember, and I don’t.”
No one will ever live like JFK Jr: “John understood the public viewed him the way they did and he accepted it. He understood what he represented to people. No one will ever live a life like John F. Kennedy Jr.”
How John viewed his father: “When I first met John in the ’80s, he referred to his father as ‘President Kennedy,’ ” Gillon says. “And then into the ’90s he referred to him as ‘my father,’ and in the last few years he referred to him as ‘daddy.’ It just suggested to me that he was becoming more comfortable with himself and he did not have to keep his father at such a distance.”
His final months: “He spent his entire life trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do and in those final years he figured it out. What he discovered was that politics was part of his DNA. … I think he was ready to answer that call. His whole life is about promise and what he would have become,” Gillon says, “and he will always be remembered for the promise that went unfulfilled.”
I think we’ve talked about this before, but I do wonder if John would have gone into politics, especially when George (his magazine) folded. Perhaps he could have even folded the magazine and claimed that he was doing it to pursue office. This was 1999 – we knew Hillary Clinton was going to run for the Senate seat in New York, so would John have challenged her for the nomination? Or would he have run for something else? Or perhaps he would have been on the sidelines as a kingmaker. I don’t know. But yes, nostalgia and sadness. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, cover courtesy of People.