Biography of John F. Kennedy Jr.

John Kennedy, Jr. Attends Ceremony Awarding the John Kennedy Prize
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John F. Kennedy Jr. (November 25, 1960–July 16, 1999), the son of President John F. Kennedy, was considered the heir to one of America's greatest political dynasties until his death in a plane crash at age 38.

In one of the most iconic photographs in American history, the 3-year-old Kennedy is seen saluting his father's casket three days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Fast Facts: John F. Kennedy, Jr.

  • Known For: Attorney, journalist, and son of President John F. Kennedy
  • Born: Nov. 25, 1960 in Washington, D.C.
  • Died: July 16, 1999 off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
  • Education: Brown University, B.A.; New York University, J.D.
  • Spouse: Carolyn Bessette
  • Key Accomplishments: Criminal prosecutor in New York City, founder and publisher of George magazine, and founder of non-profit Reaching Up
  • Famous Quote: “People often tell me I could be a great man. I'd rather be a good man.”

Childhood

John F. Kennedy Jr. was born on November 25, 1960—the same month his father, John F. Kennedy, was elected to his first term as president. He became an instant celebrity, despite his parents' attempts to give him as normal an upbringing as possible. Despite spending his first few years of life in the White House, however, Kennedy later said that he had lived a "pretty normal life."

Kennedy was the second of three children born to the Kennedys. His older sister was Caroline Bouvier Kennedy; his younger brother, Patrick, died in 1963, two days after birth.

On his third birthday, in 1963, JFK Jr. became the subject of one of the most iconic scenes in American history: standing on a Washington street, wearing a dress coat, saluting his father's flag-draped coffin as it passed by on a horse-drawn carriage on the way to the Capitol. Kennedy's father had been assassinated three days earlier in Dallas, Texas.

John F. Kennedy Jr. Saluting His Father's Casket
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The president's widow moved the family to the Upper East Side of New York, where JFK Jr. attended a Catholic elementary school. He later attended Collegiate School for Boys in New York and Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, much of the American public waited for the young Kennedy to join the political world that had already been shaped by his family.

Careers in Law and Journalism

JFK Jr. graduated Brown University in 1983 with a degree in American history. He then attended law school at New York University, graduating in 1989. Many considered his law degree a precursor to a political career, but JFK Jr. instead went to work in the Manhattan district attorney's office for four years.

In 1995, Kennedy launched a magazine, George, which blended celebrity and public affairs. The magazine was meant to be a mass-market political journal, or, as one of its editors explained, "a political magazine for Americans turned off by political magazines." Kennedy wrote and served as editor-in-chief for George. Its publication ended in 2001, after Kennedy's death.

Marriage to Carolyn Bessette

In 1996, JFK Jr. arranged a secretive wedding to Carolyn Bessette, a fashion publicist. The couple went to extraordinary lengths to conceal their nuptials from the public. The wedding was held on an island 20 miles off the coast of Georgia; they chose that particular island in part because it had no access by road or telephone, and almost no lodging. The public learned of their marriage a week after it happened. The couple had no children.

Death

On July 16, 1999, Kennedy was piloting a small single-engine airplane headed towards Martha's Vineyard, with his wife and her sister onboard. The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. The bodies of the three crash victims were found off the coast of Martha's Vineyard five days later, on July 21.

One year later, in 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled the crash an accident caused by Kennedy's "failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation." The government agency said haze and darkness were factors in the crash.

Legacy

Kennedy was raised to abide by a scriptural passage found in Luke 12:48: "Of those to whom much is given, much is required." It was in that spirit that, in 1989, he founded a nonprofit called Reaching Up, which helps low-wage health and human-services professionals attain higher education, training, and career advancement. Reaching Up continues to help students pay for tuition, books, transportation, child care, and other education costs.

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