John F. Kennedy Jr., better known as JFK Jr., is the son of one of the most famous political couples in the world: President and First Lady John and Jackie Kennedy. JFK Jr. attended his father’s funeral on his 3rd birthday and spent much of his life scrutinised by the media as a member of one of America’s most powerful dynasties.
From saluting his father’s coffin as a toddler to the glittering Manhattan fast life, the glamour and tragedy of JFK Jr.’s life have captivated the imaginations of millions. Here are 10 facts about John F. Kennedy Jr, heir to the Kennedy political dynasty.
1. He was born 2 weeks after his father was elected president
JFK Jr. was born 2 weeks after his father, John F. Kennedy, was elected president, and exactly 8 weeks before he took office. He had an older sister, Caroline, and subsequently had a short-lived younger brother, Patrick, who died 2 days after birth.
Born into America’s First Family, JFK Jr. lived in the White House as a young child. His 3rd birthday coincided with his father’s funeral, following his assassination a few days prior.
2. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s first letter in office was to JFK Jr.
For many, one of the enduring images of JFK’s assassination was his infant son saluting his coffin at his funeral. JFK’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote his first letter in office to JFK Jr., saying that the young boy “could always be proud of his father”.
3. He showed an interest in politics as a teenager
Throughout his education, JFK Jr. used media interest in him and his family to highlight certain causes. He travelled to Guatemala in 1976 to visit the aftermath of an earthquake, and he subsequently founded a student discussion group focused on social justice issues including apartheid and civil rights, inviting UN ambassadors to speak on the topic.
4. It took him 3 attempts to pass the New York bar exam
After spending a few years working in development, JFK Jr. ended up working as an associate for a Los Angeles law firm. In 1989, he earned a law degree from the New York University School of Law, but subsequently failed the New York bar exam twice, passing on his third attempt.
Had he failed again, he would have been unable to serve as a prosecutor in Manhattan, which he did between 1990 and 1994.
5. He wanted to be an actor
Acting proved to be one of JFK Jr.’s passions, but he was forbidden from pursuing it as a career by his family, who deemed it unsuitable as a profession.
Nonetheless, he appeared on stage and screen a handful of times in minor roles, often in front of an invite-only audience.
6. He founded a glossy lifestyle magazine called George
In 1995, Kennedy and his friend Michael Berman founded a glossy monthly lifestyle magazine called George. Kennedy aimed to cover politics in an accessible, entertaining way, writing an editor’s column and interviewing assorted contributors.
However, Kennedy and Berman found themselves with major editorial differences, locked in a power struggle. Berman sold his share in George and left. His departure from the magazine saw a significant drop in sales. The magazine folded in 2001, just 2 years after JFK Jr.’s death.
7. He remained a lifelong Democrat
Despite never personally running for office or becoming embroiled in politics, Kennedy introduced his uncle, Ted Kennedy, at the 1988 Democratic National Convention and endorsed and campaigned for other members of his family running for political office. His appearances on the campaign trail were consistently met with a warm welcome.
8. He married Carolyn Bessette
After dating a string of glamorous women, JFK Jr. married Carolyn Bessette, a senior publicist for Calvin Klein, in September 1996. The wedding generated a huge amount of media attention, and the pair were hounded by the paparazzi. Bessette found it difficult to cope with the fame and pressure that becoming a member of the Kennedy family brought with it.
9. He died in a plane crash in 1999
A qualified pilot, JFK Jr. was flying his wife and sister-in-law to Martha’s Vineyard from New Jersey in 1999, en route to a wedding in Massachusetts: the plane never arrived.
Debris and belongings were found floating in the Atlantic Ocean, and after a deep-sea search, the bodies of all 3 on board were recovered from the ocean floor. Kennedy was still strapped into the pilot’s seat. The inquest found that the crash had occurred because of ‘pilot error’, possibly due to some form of spatial disorientation.
10. The circumstances of his death gave rise to conspiracy theories
At the time, many cited Kennedy’s death as another example of the so-called ‘Kennedy curse’. In subsequent years, fringe conspiracy theories were developed, including one by the far-right group QAnon.
Believing that JFK Jr. faked his own death in 1999, QAnon followers gathered in Dealey Plaza (the site of JFK’s assassination) in November 2021. There, they awaited JFK Jr.’s return, believing that he would emerge from hiding and announce Donald Trump’s return to the presidency.