John F. Kennedy Jr.’s assistant recalls her friendship with Carolyn Bessette: ‘She was so warm and funny’

RoseMarie Terenzio still has fond memories of Carolyn Bessette, who would have turned 54 on Tuesday.

The Calvin Klein publicist who was married to John F. Kennedy Jr. died in 1999 at age 33 alongside Kennedy, 38, and her sister Lauren Bessette, 34. Their plane, piloted by Kennedy, crashed into the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, killing all three.

“She was so warm and funny,” Terenzio, who was Kennedy’s executive assistant, told People magazine on Wednesday. “Our birthdays are close together, so we would always do something alone together in between her birthday and mine. She always made it so special picking a place we’d never been before or somewhere we loved. She always bought me something nice when we would shop. She would insist.”

Carole Radziwill, the widow of Kennedy’s cousin Anthony Radziwill, previously told the outlet that Bessette was “quite a lovable person.”

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John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette stop for photographers after Kennedy presented actor Robert De Niro with the Municipal Art Society of New York's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal at a gala dinner in New York, March 4. De Niro was honored for his outstanding contribution to the preservation of New York City's neighborhoods.

John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette stop for photographers after Kennedy presented actor Robert De Niro with the Municipal Art Society of New York's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal at a gala dinner in New York, March 4. De Niro was honored for his outstanding contribution to the preservation of New York City's neighborhoods. (Reuters)

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“She was clever, she was naughty and she had that balance of being able to be really serious and deep and yet funny,” the 56-year-old added.

In 2019, Terenzio came forward in an A&E documentary titled “Biography: JFK Jr. — The Final Year,” to coincide with the 20-year anniversary of his death. At the time, she told Fox News Bessette and Kennedy’s friendship was still vivid in her mind.

“John and Carolyn would always make a big deal about my birthday,” she explained at the time. “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,” she continued. “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.”

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John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette.

John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

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Terenzio also shared how Bessette was different.

“As beautiful as she was, that's how down-to-earth she was,” said Terenzio. “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.”

Terenzio also added it troubled her that there are still misconceptions that exist about the couple’s relationship today.

“I think there's all this nonsense about their marriage, [that it] was failing and they were getting a divorce,” she said. “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.”

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John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn, walk with their dog January 1, 1997, in New York City. 

John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn, walk with their dog January 1, 1997, in New York City.  ((Photo by Evan Agostini/Liaison))

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“… I think the biggest misconception is that she knew what she was getting into,” stressed Terenzio about the intense media scrutiny her friend endured. “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.”

Since their deaths, Terenzio has published “Fairy Tale Interrupted” about the couple and her life with them. She’s still determined to share the truth about two people she truly loved.

“It's not really about protecting that privacy anymore,” she said. “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."