Inside John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette’s Marriage Struggles

Nearly 20 years after the tragic plane crash that resulted in the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. (JFK Jr.) and Carolyn and Lauren Bessette, we’re looking back at JFK Jr.’s relationship with Carolyn Bessette. Their lives together played out in the pages of New York City’s gossip columns, which captured many of their marital struggles. Keep reading to learn more about the struggles they dealt with inside their marriage.

Paparazzi created stress for JFK Jr. and Bessette

After Bessette and JFK Jr. got married in 1996, they thought the press would lose interest in them.

“They thought that people were going to be interested in the wedding, and if they could pull off the wedding being private, their marriage would not be that interesting,” a college friend of Bessette’s told Town & Country. “She’s off the market; business is done; they’re going to be private citizens.”

The couple’s private lives became even more of a hot topic after they became husband and wife.

According to JFK Jr.’s friend, John Perry Barlow, Bessette felt trapped. She “felt cornered” by photographers who were outside the couple’s apartment constantly, waiting to capture photographs of their coming and goings.

Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant recalled in her book, Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family, a conversation she had with Bessette about her fear of the paparazzi. “She couldn’t take it. She wasn’t brought up with it. John was, Carolyn wasn’t,” McKeon wrote in her book. “She said, ‘I’m terrified of them.'”

JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy attend the “Brite Nite Whitney” Fundraising Gala March 9, 1999 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. |Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

J. Randy Taraborrelli quoted an anonymous friend of JFK Jr.’s, in his book The Kennedy Heirs, who explained that he went to the couple’s apartment to find them snorting cocaine.

“He [the friend] walked in just in time to see Carolyn doing a line of coke from the coffee table,” Taraborrelli wrote in his book, according to People. “‘It’s been a bad week,’ John told [the friend] as he sat down and did a line.”

The friend then described that JFK Jr. held each other. “They looked peaceful together,” the friend said.

JFK Jr. and Bessette went to marriage counseling

In 1998, Bessette became close with an old friend. Taraborrelli described in his book that Bessette visited her friend’s apartment where they kissed. According to the author, Bessette “pulled away and said, ‘No, what am I doing? I can’t be here right now,’ and quickly left.”

JFK Jr. learned of the kiss from his wife and two days later, showed up to her friend’s apartment where he “swung a punch” and said “‘Stay away from my g*dd*amn wife.’”

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and JFK Jr.
John F. Kennedy, Jr. editor of George magazine, gives his wife Carolyn a kiss on the cheek during the annual White House Correspondents dinner May 1, 1999 in Washington, D.C. |Tyler Mallory/Liaison

Later the couple went to counseling. “Both wanted to improve their marriage,” according to Taraborrelli. “John didn’t want to be one of those Kennedy men who didn’t care how his wife feels.”

JFK Jr. and Bessette both emotional about relative’s cancer prognosis

In the weeks leading up to their dragic deaths, Bessette and JFK Jr. were dealing with the fact that Anthony Radziwill was dying from cancer. Radziwill was JFK Jr.’s cousin and best friend.

Even though the couple had their struggles, their marriage wasn’t in a bad place, according to Carole Radziwill, Anthony’s widow and close friend of Bessette’s wrote in her book What Remains.

“To say their marriage was on the rocks is just inaccurate,” Radziwill wrote. “Anthony’s impending death was a strain on their marriage, no doubt. But it was a difficult time for all of us. If it weren’t, we would be inhuman.”

Anthony Radziwill and JFK Jr.
Jacqueline Kennedy (right) stands with her daughter, Caroline, her son, John F. Kennedy Jr., and her nephew, Anthony Radziwill, outside Buckingham Palace as they watch the changing of the guard ceremony, London, England. | Albert McCabe/Express/Getty Images

In his book, Taraborrelli highlighted the impact Radziwill’s illness had on the couple’s marriage.

“You can’t overestimate the impact Anthony’s illness had on John and their marriage, and his feelings of despair about what was happening to his cousin,” Taraborrelli said.

“John and Anthony had a relationship no one could get in the middle of. And Carolyn was having a hard time accessing him.”’

Although they had their struggles (what marriage doesn’t?), “John and Carolyn loved each other,” as Taraborrelli wrote in his book.