BSince I’ve been watching a lot of 90s sitcoms recently, I’ve been thinking of John F Kennedy Jr. Seinfeld, Sex And The City, Murphy Brown – his name appears on all of them. This summer will be 22 years since he died, so many people have forgotten how important he was back then, especially in New York. But John-John, as his parents and the media jokingly called him, is still the closest thing America is likely to have to a prince. When his plane crashed, just two years after Princess Diana’s death, it truly felt like the cruelest fairy tale – the most beautiful prince and princess in all the lands would not be old.
I have always been fascinated by Kennedy, the boy who, at the age of three, greeted the coffin of his murdered father, and then grew up to be the most golden of America’s youth. That excess of beauty, that heavy name, her efforts to live up to her mother’s high standards as she skates around the familiar whirlpool of politics. The media were never sure whether to scoff or swoon, so they did both, epitomized in the headline after he failed the New York bar exam twice: “The Hunk Flunks.” He had all the privileges God could give a man, but he had to deal with the sting of his mother’s disapproval of his career choices (acting, founding George magazine) and his girlfriends (Daryl Hannah). It was a Shakespearean character with the body of a Ken doll.
Kennedy has been overlooked so far in the current trend of 1990s revisionism, where we look back at the way we treated celebrities then (badly). This is surprising, especially with all the current focus on Harry and Meghan, and the personal and public pressure they feel, and the cruelty of the press towards them. Well let me introduce you to Kennedy and his late wife, Carolyn Bessette, who lived through all of that and more.
Kennedy spoke often about the stress that any woman photographed with him endures. These pressures were embodied by his wife; Photos of Bessette, looking haunted and haunted, clutching her Calvin Klein coat protectively around her as the press pack chased her, became as much a staple of the ’90s New York tabloids as gossip about who Jerry Seinfeld was dating. Kennedy had somehow found a woman as beautiful as him, who managed to make even the most gloomy clothing (beige skirts, little sunglasses) look absurdly elegant. However, she hated the attention she got from being a Kennedy, and who could blame her? On July 16, 1999, they lived through the most Kennedy fate of all, dying young when the plane they were flying in crashed with Bessette’s sister, Lauren, on the way to a cousin’s wedding. I watched the news coverage the next day and the only positive thing anyone could say was, “Thank God your mother didn’t live to see this.”
Hearing his name ring out through 90s television shows, far more so than any other celebrity of that era, it’s impossible not to wonder what he would have done with his life if he hadn’t been doubly cursed with so much money he could buy. a. plane and that absurd confidence of Kennedy that told him that he could fly it at night despite not having the full license. Other names from the same period have taken unexpected paths: Seinfeld is now almost a billionaire., Monica Lewinsky is an activist. And then there is someone else.
Two years ago, Q Anon writes they were inflexible that Kennedy would come out of hiding and be elected vice president to Donald Trump for the 2020 election. Spoiler: it didn’t happen. But, and I swear this is the only time you’ll hear this phrase from me, Q Anon had something here. Kennedy and Trump are each other’s yin and yang, the two sides of a very New York coin, blessed with absurd opportunities because of their families. The 2016 elections will never make any sense to me, but maybe, I think now, my brain softened after a year of confinement, it was always thought that a telegenic quasi-celebrity with a famous name would win the presidency that year. It’s just that we were wrong.
I have a soft spot for alternative stories that play on the idea of fixing a bad past: Quentin Tarantino’s fantasy of saving Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood; o Doctor Who showing Vincent van Gogh how loved it would be one day. Preventing the assassination of Kennedy Sr. is the ultimate alternative history fantasy, because his assassination has been viewed by many as a downward turning point in American history, a theory undermined by Stephen King’s novel 11/22 / 63. For Americans, the Kennedy family will always represent a golden promise that was never fulfilled. And what else is there to do, when you’ve run out of Seinfelds and still can’t go to the pub, when the present feels much bleaker than the bright future you were promised in the past, but sit on the couch? and think: what if, what if, what if?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism