Carolyn Bessette’s confidence in dating Camelot’s prince was greatly shaken when she met his no-nonsense aunt Ethel Kennedy in 1994.
Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli is examining the deeply private marriage of Bessette and John F. Kennedy Jr. and the complexities behind it in a new book titled “The Kennedy Heirs,” which also dives into the Kennedy family’s third generation, the grandchildren of Rose and Joseph Kennedy.
According to Taraborrelli, who previously published an intensive book on Kennedy Jr.’s mother, Jackie Kennedy, as well as her sister, Lee Radziwill, and their mother, Janet Lee Auchincloss, Bessette struggled to fit in with the Kennedys.
People magazine reported Thursday that when Bessette attended her first family dinner with the Kennedy cousins at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, she was not expected to be quizzed about current events, which was actually a family tradition. But when Ethel asked her opinion on the federal assaults weapons ban, Bessette was unsure what to say.
“You may have to read up on it,” Ethel quickly remarked.
A shaken Bessette reportedly told a friend she had no plans to go back to the family compound. But according to Taraborrelli, her insecurity ultimately didn’t stop her in wanting to fit in.
“Carolyn tried to fit in — and that speaks to her tenacity and her desire to please John,” he said.
According to the outlet, after Bessette and Kennedy had a highly publicized fight in New York City’s Central Park in February 1996, it was Ethel who summoned Bessette to Hickory Hill, her home in Virginia.
“Ethel was surprised when Carolyn admitted to insecurity related to John,” Taraborrelli wrote.
“But you’re so beautiful,” Ethel told her. “And so smart. Why?”
Taraborrelli claimed Bessette told a confused Ethel she often felt she was in Kennedy’s shadow.
“I went through that with [my husband] Bobby [Kennedy] at first,” Ethel replied. “Then I finally got it that the only way to survive in this family is to look in the mirror and say, ‘You know what? I’m enough.’ Eventually, it will sink in and no one can ever take that away from you. Not even the Kennedys.”
“I think you’re more powerful than any of the other women John has dated,” Ethel continued, advising Bessette to never change who she was.
“Ethel was tough,” Taraborrelli noted. “But then she also tries to protect Carolyn.”
When Bessette and Kennedy were invited to the wedding of Ethel’s youngest, Rory Kennedy, in July 1999, she reportedly called the matriarch and said she just “didn’t have it in her” to attend. However, Bessette changed her mind a few days later, deciding to accompany her husband and well as bring her sister Lauren along.
The trio never made it to the wedding.
On July 16, 1999, the plane, piloted by Kennedy, crashed into the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, killing all three.
Taraborrelli said Ethel rarely speaks about the tragic deaths. However, the now-91-year-old reportedly confided in a friend just last year and said she often thought of Carolyn, who had been so excited to marry into the family but struggled along the way.
“Being a Kennedy isn’t for the faint of heart,” said Ethel.
Taraborrelli also shared Bessette and Kennedy were working on their marriage at the time of the tragedy, which was heavily scrutinized by the paparazzi.
“They were working on their relationship at the time they died,” said Taraborrelli. “They thought they had all the time in the world to figure this out.
“Together they had the most thrilling highs and the most crushing blows,” he continued. “They really did love each other, but the question I ask in the book and the question they asked themselves was, ‘Is that enough?’ Their love for each other was undeniable, but was it enough considering everything that was working against them?”