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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

The most eligible bachelor and his bride

They loved, they fought, they sparkled, and the media couldn't look away

July 19, 1999
Web posted at: 11:04 a.m. EDT (1504 GMT)

TIME magazine

The prince of camelot had a storybook wedding. The site was Cumberland Island, a windswept retreat off the Georgia coast, overrun by wild horses. The chapel was a tiny wood-frame church lit only by candles and kerosene lamps. But most magical of all was the complete absence of members of the media, which had been skillfully kept in the dark about the wedding of the decade.

John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette's ultra-secret wedding nearly three years ago was a rare moment of privacy in a relationship that had largely unfolded in the media glare. From the moment they met in 1994--by some reports, while walking in New York City's Central Park--they were the couple America couldn't stop talking about. The truth was, they made a riveting pair: the world's most eligible bachelor and the cool blond looker who finally got him to the altar.

John's wild oats had been tabloid fodder for years. He had been linked to Madonna and Julia Roberts and seriously dated actress Daryl Hannah. There had also been a string of less celebrated beauties, each of whom prompted a new round of is-she-the-one speculation in the gossip columns. Of course, Bessette had her own illustrious past, which included Calvin Klein underwear model Michael Bergin; Alessandro Benetton, scion of the Italian fashion house; and a hockey star who went on to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Bessette, 33, was raised in tony Greenwich, Conn., by her mother, a public school administrator, and stepfather, an orthopedic surgeon. She had twin sisters, Lauren and Lisa, who were 18 months older. Lauren--who went down with Carolyn and John on the plane--was a Wharton School graduate and an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Lauren Bessette spent five years in Hong Kong and handled deals across Asia. She was a star who was "stunningly beautiful and not afraid of being beautiful" in the male-dominated world of mergers and acquisitions, says former colleague Chip Arndt.

Carolyn Bessette attended Catholic high school in Greenwich, where she was voted "the ultimate beautiful person." She went on to Boston University, studying education and landing on the cover of a "Girls of B.U." calendar. After college, she worked for designer Calvin Klein as a publicist, and later as a coddler of high-end clients.

It was sometimes hard to get beyond Bessette's physical appearance: she was a reed thin, almost-6-ft. blond with striking good looks. (Legend has it she got her job with Calvin Klein's Boston shop when she was spotted walking down the street.) But friends say she was quick-witted, stylish and unusually self-possessed. "She is one of those mysterious creatures that understands, on some deep level, mystical femininity," Kennedy family friend John Perry Barlow told New York magazine.

The road to the altar was rocky. There were reports that Kennedy proposed only after Bessette became enraged over tabloid stories saying he had had an affair with actress Sharon Stone. In February 1996, Kennedy and Bessette were videotaped in a very public lovers' quarrel in the middle of Central Park. At one point, Kennedy grabbed the engagement ring off her finger and sat down on a curb to cry. The tape was aired on a TV newsmagazine show. But by September it was ancient history, and he was declaring at his rehearsal dinner, "I am the happiest man alive."

The couple cut an elegantly hip figure in downtown Manhattan, living in a TriBeCa loft apartment and instantly becoming the center of attention wherever they turned up around town. Still, New York social observers delighted in pointing out that, although life seemed to have dealt her a pretty good hand, Bessette rarely looked happy. A gossip columnist, on seeing her at a party where she seemed in good spirits and demonstrably affectionate with her husband, said, "I had to do a double-take to make sure it was her."

Though she once made her living as a publicist, Bessette rarely spoke to the media. Kennedy implored reporters and photographers to leave his wife alone. At one point, he lashed out at photographers who continually followed the two of them when they walked their dog in their TriBeCa neighborhood. Bessette's reticence gave her an air of mystery, much like John's mother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. But it also led to a constant stream of conflicting rumors about the solidity of her marriage. The tabloids were on "baby watch," with occasional rumors that she was pregnant. Yet as recently as May, Kennedy said it wasn't so.

One source of tension between the two was Kennedy's love of flying. He told friends not long ago that he was having a good time going up in his plane but was having trouble getting his wife to come along. As Bessette smiled a tight smile, he added, "She doesn't like me to fly." Bessette may have landed the world's most eligible bachelor, but she wasn't able to ground him.


Cover Date: July 26, 1999

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