20 Years On: The Death Of JFK Jr

by Robert Clunie

It was a day that marked yet another tragedy for one of America’s most influential families – on July 16, 1999, JFK’s eldest son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr died in a plane crash en route to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. One can consider this calamity as cruelly ironic because ‘John-John’, as he was affectionately called, died doing something he aspired to as a child. JFK Jr received his pilot’s license a little over a year before his death and he was at the controls of his Piper Saratoga when the aircraft plummeted out of the sky.


Kennedy was born on November 25, 1960 to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and JFK Sr – who would later be assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. He was a renowned public figure, lawyer, journalist and magazine publisher. He graduated from Brown University in 1983 and during his studies he managed to convince U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young to speak about the atrocities of apartheid at the university after a visit to South Africa. Kennedy also dated a string of high-profile women like Cindy Crawford, Julie Baker, Sarah Jessica Parker and Daryl Hannah before he wed publicist, Carolyn Bessette on September 21, 1996.

Bizarrely, Kennedy suspended any and all of his flying activities shortly before that fatal crash. JFK Jr felt that death was lurking after his cousin, Michael LeMoyne Kennedy died in a skiing accident in 1997. He took a hiatus from all of his lessons for a total of three months; an activity which his sister, Caroline (which he had strenuous relationship with) hoped he would put on hold permanently. Kennedy departed from Fairfield, New Jersey to attend his cousin, Rory Kennedy’s wedding, but was not heard from again soon after checking in with the control tower at the Martha Vineyard airport.

Tragically, Kennedy, his wife Carolyn and his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette all died on impact when the plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft was reported missing after it failed to arrive on schedule and a rescue mission soon ensued. Fragments of the plane were found three days later by a ship belonging to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via sonar technology. The search concluded on July 21 after US Navy divers found the three bodies on the seabed, 37m below the surface. Carolyn and Lauren’s bodies were found near the wreckage and John’s still strapped into the pilot’s seat.

JFK Jr was certainly not the only member of this illustrious family to pass on in a rather unconventional manner. There is, in fact, a long list of members who died from causes other than natural, natural causes or were involved in incidents where third parties were killed. These events have led to a notion that there is a curse plaguing the family. The late Ted Kennedy himself publicly wondered whether a “curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys”. Critics certainly dismiss this idea, but the fact remains that members of this family have been picked off in unusual ways; aircraft crashed are particularly prevalent. Have a look below – age in brackets.

  • Rosemary Kennedy (86): She was long believed to have been intellectually impaired and her father, Joseph Sr worried that her behaviour would besmirch the family name. She died of natural causes in 2005, but it must be noted that she underwent a lobotomy at her father’s behest in 1941 that left her with walking and talking difficulties.
  • Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr (29): Was killed in action during WWII when an explosive prematurely denoted on board the plane he was piloting over Suffolk, England.
  • Kathleen Cavendish [daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Kennedy] (28): Cavendish died in 1948 when the plane she was travelling endured severe turbulence over France. Weather conditions ripped the craft apart mid-air before it tumbled toward the ground.
  • Joseph P. Kennedy Sr (81): Kennedy died in on November 18, 1969, of natural causes. He did however suffer a severe stroke some years before his death and later suffered from aphasia. He outlived four of his children, two of which (John and Robert) were assassinated.
  • Patrick Bouvier Kennedy (two days): Died of infant respiratory distress syndrome 39 hours after being born despite attempts to save him. Died three months before JFK’s assassination.
  • John F. Kennedy (46): Sitting president of the US when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas by Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy was shot twice while travelling in a presidential motorcade.
  • Ted Kennedy (77): Died in August 2009 following a battle with brain cancer. In 1964, however, he spent several weeks in a hospital following a plane crash. He suffered a broken back, a punctured lung, broken ribs and internal bleeding. Then, in 1969, during what is now called the Chappaquiddick incident, which fatally trapped his 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. He later pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of the accident causing personal injury.
  • Robert F. Kennedy (42): The US Senator was assassinated by Palestinian national, Sirhan Sirhan on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles immediately following his victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.
  • Joseph P. Kennedy II (living): Overturned a Jeep he was driving in 1973, permanently paralysing his brother, David’s girlfriend, Pam Kelly.
  • Edward Moore Kennedy Jr (living): Kennedy was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a form of bone cancer when he was 12. His leg had to be surgically amputated on November 17, 1973.
  • David Anthony Kennedy (28): Nearly drowned as a 12-year old in the Pacific Ocean. Watched (June 5, 1968) the broadcast during which his father claimed victory in the California presidential primary election and assassinated moments later. Sustained a fractured vertebra in same accident as the one his girlfriend, Pam Kelly became paralysed – became addicted to the painkillers he was given. Died of a cocaine and pethidine overdose in a Palm Beach, Florida hotel room.
  • William Kennedy Smith (living): Tried and acquitted on a charge of rape in April, 19991. Three other women claimed to have been assaulted by him during the 80s, but their testimonies were excluded during the case.
  • Michael LeMoyne Kennedy (39): Died during a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado. Played football on skis with friends and family without safety gear – warned by patrol staff to cease activity. Hit a tree and was pronounced dead an hour-and-a-half later.
  • John F. Kennedy Jr (38): Died when he crashed his own plane into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Kara Kennedy (51): died of a sudden heart attack while she was working out at her local gym in 2011.
  • Mary Kathleen Kennedy (52): Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed for divorce from Mary Kennedy on May 12, 2010. Three days later she was arrested for driving under the influence and it came to light that she battled with alcohol abuse and depression. She was found dead at her home in Bedford, New York on May 16, 2012 after she committed suicide by hanging. An autopsy revealed that she had anti-depressants in her system.

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