John F. Kennedy Jr., who died thirteen years ago in a plane crash along with his wife Carolyn Bessette, was a real-life “American prince.”
While there is no actual “royalty” in the United States (since this country was, after all, founded as a republic on democratic principles in opposition to the monarchy of Great Britain), the American people nonetheless seem to hunger for a home-grown royal family.
Enter the Kennedy Family.
Born of poor Irish Catholic roots in Boston, the Kennedys ascended to the zenith of American life through banking and politics (and, it must be said, through Joseph P. Kennedy’s ruthlessness, and illegal activities in stock trading and bootlegging, among other enterprises).
The saga, drama and tragedy of the Kennedys rivals that of any authentic royal family the world had ever seen – they had it all, glamour, wealth, looks, untimely deaths, curses, scandals, you name it.
John F. Kennedy Jr. inherited many of the good qualities of his bloodline – the good looks, the apparent dedication to public service, while apparently lacking the family’s negative attributes (adultery, alcoholism, sex scandals, etc.). But he could not avoid the family’s cruse of tragic, early death.
For men of my generation, JFK Jr. was one of the most famous symbols and role models in the world. Like any member of a royal family or a wealthy dynasty, he was blessed by the fortunate chance of birth to one of the most prominent names on the planet. That type of scenario tends to inspire resentment – but I think the tragic assassination of his father in 1963 made him more of a sympathetic figure.
The photograph of the three-year old JFK Jr. saluting his father’s coffin is one of the most iconic, heartbreaking and indelible images of my childhood and perhaps for millions of others around the world.
While I never met him, friends of mine who ran into JFK Jr. over the years in New York City, described him as a shy, modest, unfailingly polite, and somewhat awkward fellow who seemed utterly uncomfortable with the trappings of unearned fame and a weighty family name.
In some ways he became a target.
I recall JFK Jr. was frequently lampooned by the New York tabloids for being none too bright – it took him several tries to pass him bar exam, for example.
I actually felt sorry for him and the enormous pressures he must have been under. When one is the son of two of the most famous people on earth, one is expected to do great things. But there was nothing he could do to even attempt to match the achievements of his much-celebrated family.
John-John was essentially trapped by his fame and likely just wanted to live a simple, unhurried life unburdened by the demands of the public and mass media. Instead of seeking political office himself, he rather focused upon working as a lawyer in the New York district attorney’s office and later co-founded ‘George,’ the political-lifestyle monthly magazine.
It would have been interesting to see what he would have done as he entered middle age and raised a family. I suspect the bug of running for higher office would have eventually bitten him – perhaps he would have run for Mayor of New York City, or even the U.S. Senate eventually. (I think he would have easily won).
While I normally disrespect or detest most “celebrities,” I have always admired and respected JFK Jr. I think he was a man who found himself in an impossible situation in life and handled himself with immense class, dignity and humility.