John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. (November 25, 1960 – July 16, 1999), often referred to as John F. Kennedy, Jr., JFK Jr., John Jr. or John-John, was an American lawyer, journalist, socialite and publisher. He was the son of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the younger brother of Caroline Kennedy (as well as of the deceased Arabella Kennedy and older brother of the deceased Patrick Bouvier Kennedy).
Born 17 days after his father was elected to the presidency, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was in the public spotlight from infancy. He had lived for most of the first three years of his life in the White House and under the eye of the media who adored his antics. The nickname "John-John" came from a reporter mishearing his father calling him ("John" spoken twice in quick succession), and the name stuck. His father was assassinated on November 22, 1963, three days before Kennedy, Jr.’s third birthday.
The funeral procession actually took place on his birthday, November 25, 1963. While his father’s flag-draped casket was being carried out from St. Matthew’s Cathedral, young JFK, Jr. stepped forward, and in one of the most heartbreaking and iconic images of the 1960s gave his father a final salute.
John, Jr. grew up primarily on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Even as a boy, he was often photographed and still referred to publicly as "John-John", although Kennedy family members themselves did not use the nickname. After his father’s death, his mother was married to Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis from 1968 until the latter’s death in 1975, when John was 14 years old.
John F. Kennedy, Jr. attended The Collegiate School in New York City for the first through tenth grades, and later graduated from the Phillips Academy. Despite a less-than-average academic record, John F. Kennedy, Jr. was accepted into Harvard University, where his father and sister graduated; however, John Jr. turned down the offer, wanting to avoid that degree of special treatment, especially because it would have been regarded as undeserved by the public and his peers. Subsequently, Kennedy matriculated at Brown University, graduating in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in history. At Brown, Kennedy was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. In 1989, he earned a J.D. degree from the New York University School of Law. He failed the New York bar exam twice before passing on the third try.
He spoke at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. He was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan from 1989 to 1993. In 1995, he founded George, a glossy politics-as-lifestyle monthly which sometimes took editorial aim even at members of his own family. The magazine ceased publication shortly after Kennedy’s death.
Through the 1980s until his death, Kennedy was an often-seen and much-photographed personality in Manhattan. He married Carolyn Bessette on September 21, 1996 on Cumberland Island in Georgia, and had dated Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cindy Crawford and Daryl Hannah prior to his marriage.
On July 16, 1999, at the age of 38, John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed along with his wife and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, when the aircraft he was piloting, N9253N, a Piper Saratoga II HP, crashed on a hazy night into the Atlantic Ocean en route from Essex County Airport in Fairfield Township, Essex County, New Jersey, to Martha’s Vineyard, where the Kennedy family has a vacation house. Kennedy and his wife were traveling to the wedding of cousin Rory Kennedy, which was then postponed. Lauren was to have been dropped off at Martha’s Vineyard.
Kennedy was a relatively inexperienced pilot, with 310 hours of flight experience, including 55 hours of night flying and 36 hours in the high-performance Piper Saratoga, but some conspiracy style doubts exist over pilot error being the cause of the crash. He had completed about half of an instrument training course, but was not yet rated for flying in low-visibility conditions. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found no evidence of mechanical malfunction and determined that the probable cause 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." The report noted that spatial disorientation as a result of continued VFR flight into adverse weather conditions is a common cause of fatal airplane accidents. (To prevent spatial disorientation, instrument-training courses use a mask that allows the pilot to see only the instruments and not the sky.) According to literature found in most FAA-approved flight training books, a pilot’s inability to see the horizon leads to spatial disorientation. The inner ear may give the pilot the impression that the plane is turning when it isn’t. It takes many hours of instrument training for a pilot to be able to fly in IFR conditions, conditions that most likely existed when Kennedy was flying on his route to Martha’s Vineyard. Over the water at night there are few lights, and those lights that existed were most likely obscured by the haze, resulting in the boundary between sky and water on the horizon becoming difficult to determine.
Kyle Bailey, 25 and a pilot believed to have been the last person to see Kennedy alive at Essex County Airport, subsequently stated that he had cancelled his own flight to Martha’s Vineyard because the enroute weather was "a little too hazy." It also emerged that while Kennedy had flown from Essex County Airport to the Vineyard several times before, he had never done it without an instructor pilot aboard or at night — factors which can make a night flight challenging, especially for a relatively inexperienced, non-instrument-rated pilot.
During the memorial service on July 23, 1999, Kennedy’s uncle, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, said that, "We dared to think that this John Kennedy would live to comb grey hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But, like his father, he had every gift but length of years." And of his nephew’s marriage, he invoked what had been said of his brother’s Presidency: both lasted 1,000 days. Then U.S. President Bill Clinton attended the service and ordered that the flag at the White House be lowered to half-staff in honor of John F. Kennedy, Jr.
At President Clinton’s orders, warships of the United States Navy earlier assisted in the search for the downed plane. With the permission of Secretary of Defense William Cohen, a memorial service for the three victims was held aboard the Navy ship USS Briscoe. The cremated remains of Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law were then scattered from the ship off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. A wrongful death lawsuit by the Bessette family against the Kennedy estate concluded with an out of court settlement. This avoided the publicity of a public trial, as the accident was ultimately caused by pilot error.
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