Terenzio, who worked as JFK Jr.'s chief of staff and has fiercely protected his memory, recently came forward in a new A&E documentary titled “Biography: JFK Jr. — The Final Year,” which is airing on Tuesday, the 20-year anniversary of his death.
Hosted by Kennedy’s friend, historian and biographer Steven M. Gillon, the special explores the events that impacted Kennedy before he perished, including coping with the fatal illness of his closest friend and cousin, Anthony Radziwill, his struggling marriage and his quest to rescue his political magazine, George.
Radziwill lost his battle to cancer on Aug. 10, 1999 at age 40 — nearly a month after Kennedy passed away.
Terenzio spoke to Fox News about what it was really like to work with Kennedy and how he was “emotionally devastated” by Radziwill’s cancer diagnosis.
Fox News: There are so many myths surrounding your friend John F. Kennedy Jr. What were some that you wanted to address in this documentary and why?
Terenzio: I don't know about myths, but we did want to portray John as the man he was — a leader, a mentor and a person who went through life in a way that his fame, his name, his family history was not a burden to him. He saw it as a huge opportunity. I think that there is the misconception that it was such a burden to him and it was so hard for him. That was not John's feeling at all. He felt like a lot of it was an opportunity for him to do things in a way that made a difference.
Fox News: How important was it for John to carve out his own identity?
Terenzio: I think that was probably the most important thing to him — to have his own identity, to be his own person. I think he really accomplished that. Obviously, with George magazine, he took a path that not many people would have imagined for him. But I think he had a way of respecting who he was and his family history and his legacy, while still being his own person.
Fox News: How would you describe your relationship with John?
Terenzio: For me, John was the best teacher about life. He was a mentor. He was a dear friend. He was a great boss. He was very wise. Very worldly. Just about every day, I think about something that he taught me.
Fox News: Was there a specific lesson or advice that sticks out to you?
Terenzio: Nothing is as good or as bad as it seems at the moment. That's the big one. If I had to say one takeaway, that would be it.
Fox News: Did John ever speak to you about pursuing politics?
Terenzio: Yeah, I mean, I think it was a family business, as they say. So it was always going to be something where people expected him to pursue and wanted to know when and how he would pursue it. But for him, he was not going to move on to the next phase of his life until George magazine was a success and whatever that took, he was going to make it successful.
Fox News: How did John deal with the intense media scrutiny that followed him throughout his life?
Terenzio: I think there were times when [paparazzi] got out of line and he let them know. He put them in their place. But John was never not famous. He was born famous. So for John, it was a part of his life. He didn't see it as a burden on intrusion. At times, it could be intrusive and then it could be bothersome. But for the most part, I think, he really didn't know life without it. And I think that when he got married, John believed this would all die down because he wasn't the "Sexiest Man Alive" and the "World’s Most Eligible Bachelor" anymore. The opposite happened and I don't think he was prepared for that.
Fox News: How would you describe his friendship with Anthony Radziwill?
Terenzio: Anthony was more of a brother than a friend to John. He was the closest family member to John and they really did grow up together. They remained close throughout their lives and they spoke nearly every single day. I think that relationship was one of the most important relationships in his life… Anthony’s [cancer] was emotionally devastating to John. I think John knew that Anthony’s passing would change his life profoundly. I don't think we were ready for it. I don't think he could have ever been ready for it.
Fox News: What’s one memory of John and Carolyn Bessette that still sticks out to you?
Terenzio: Just their generosity. John and Carolyn would always make a big deal about my birthday. On my 30th birthday, Carolyn threw me this huge party downtown with my friends. And for my birthday another year, John took me for a Knicks/Bulls game and we sat on the court. It was a great time. They were always so generous with things like that. Even Christmas, they were always extremely thoughtful and generous. They really made you think you were part of their family.
And I think John and I also had the same sense of humor, so that helped a lot. We were both sarcastic and irreverent and we would joke with each other all the time; tease each other all the time. He had a quick, amazing sense of humor and so did Carolyn… They really took me into their world, took me under their wing and taught me so much and they were just so generous. Not just with material things, but with their time, their advice, with any help you needed. They just really welcomed me.
Fox News: Was there a practical joke you remember from your time with John?
Terenzio: There were so many. He put gum in my hair one time. He thought that was clearly funny and it wasn't *laughs*. He thought it was so hilarious. He would always eat half of my lunch before I got to it.
Fox News: What do you think made Carolyn different?
Terenzio: As beautiful as she was, that's how down-to-earth she was. She was the most disarming, warm, loving person. Had an amazing sense of humor. Was always laughing and I think that what people didn't see was her warmth, her generosity, her friendship. She was such a good friend and her... the first thing she would say is "How are you doing?", "How is your day going?", "What's happening with so and so?", "How is your sister feeling?" Like she was always, it was always you first, with Carolyn. She had a way of making people feel taken care of.
Fox News: What are some misconceptions you feel people still have about their relationship?
Terenzio: I think there's all this nonsense about their marriage, [that it] was failing and they were getting a divorce. And they were splitting up and there was a lot going on. They were going through a rough patch but I think that there was no sense that they were not going to work things out. And I think that it's unfair to any couple in that situation should be judged by three years of their lives. If you think about it, Carolyn really was judged by the world on these three years of her life.
Fox News: Did she ever talk to you about dealing with the paparazzi?
Terenzio: Yeah, I think initially it felt really intrusive and it was scary. I mean it would be for anyone who's not used to it. And I think the biggest misconception is that she knew what she was getting into. And no one knows what they are getting into until they are in it. There is no way to predict how that's going to play out, how you're going to feel. And I think that, unfairly, people judged her initially by her reaction to that when a lot of it was just fear. It felt very intrusive to her and she wasn't used to it.
But as she got more used to it, she was able to deal with it and understood that it was really not, in her opinion, it was really not part of her real life. It was sort of like this thing out there that's public, but it doesn't really affect how she lived her life. Initially, she was worried about going out and therefore stayed home a lot more. But eventually, she came out of that and went about her business. The paparazzi just wasn’t something that was really central to her personal life.
Fox News: How would you describe their relationship?
Terenzio: I would say that they were very affectionate. Always touching, kissing and having their arm around each other. They were really good friends. They gossiped together, they laughed together, they joked together and they had a really good time together. They had fun together. And they both had each other's backs. And I think about what really drew John to her was this sense of loyalty and that she would take care of him and that she had his back. And I’m sure he played practical jokes on her *laughs*.
Fox News: How did you cope with losing them?
Terenzio: I think initially, for me, I carried on as though they were coming back or they were still here. What would I do if they were coming back? What would I do if he were still here? And I think that's how I got through the initial six months of it. And there was a lot to do in working out the estate and working with his sister to help wrap things up. That was a long process. But after that, I think, the most profound thing was this loss of identity. I didn't have an identity anymore. I wasn't John Kennedy Jr.'s person or John Kennedy Jr.'s chief of staff anymore. I was just lost.
Fox News: How are you doing today?
Terenzio: I am doing great. I love what I do and I have a great job. I am getting married in the fall. And I think my book really helped me understand and pass away that identity so that I could move on. It really was cathartic.
Fox News: What do you hope audiences will get from this documentary?
Terenzio: You know, I wanted to participate because I think the most important thing is now. It's not really about protecting that privacy anymore. It's about protecting their memory and ensuring their legacy. I want people to remember him, to remember them. And understand that this was a totally different time when he was a different kind of celebrity. He carried his fame with dignity and grace. There'll never be anyone like him again.
“Biography: JFK Jr. — The Final Year” airs July 16 at 9 p.m. on A&E.