INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW

The night John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, died in a plane crash, 'when I looked at my husband I said,"It was supposed to be you."'

LINDA FRUM December 5 2005
INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW

The night John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, died in a plane crash, 'when I looked at my husband I said,"It was supposed to be you."'

LINDA FRUM December 5 2005

INTERVIEW

The night John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, died in a plane crash, 'when I looked at my husband I said,"It was supposed to be you."'

CAROLE RADZIWILL TALKS TO

LINDA FRUM

Carole DiFalco met Anthony Radziwill in 1990 when they were both producers at ABC News in New York. They married in 1994, in what Carole Radziwill understandably describes as a fairy tale: she was a self-starter from a tough, working-class background, and he was a handsome Polish prince and American aristocrat. Anthony Radziwill’s first cousin, John Kennedy Jr., and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, were the couple’s closest friends. In the summer of 1999, Radziwill, then age 40, succumbed, after a five-year struggle, to a rare and aggressive cancer. John Kennedy Jr. was to deliver his eulogy. But three weeks before, Kennedy and his wife spiralled to their own deaths in aplane crash. In her new book, What Remains, Carole Radziwill writes about her summer of astonishing loss.

QPart of the sadness of this story is not only did John and Carolyn die young, they weren’t in a very happy place at the time of their deaths. That summer was difficult for all of us. We spent every weekend together and were trying to keep appearances up for Anthony. Anthony was very much still in denial about dying. But by that time we had all come to terms with the fact that he would not make it through to the end of the summer. It’s hard to keep up appearances and make it seem like everything is normal. It’s a lot of pressure. It was a lot of pressure on me.

It was a lot of pressure on Carolyn. That summer wasn’t the best summer in any of our lives.

And John’s magazine George wasn’t doing well...

Right.

In fact he had just come to Canada to find some financing.

Yes. That was about three days before he died.

And John and Carolyn were noton the best terms that summer...

They loved each other and they respected each other and there was a tremendous amount of love always. They were a very affectionate couple.

But that summer they were having difficulties ...

It wasn’t an easy time for any of us. There were stories about them splitting up—anything that could possibly be said about two people has been said about them. What distorts so much in life is not understanding the difference between fact and truth. The fact is we were having a really hard time. The fact was they were seeing a marriage counsellor. But that was because they wanted to be sure that they were okay. They were under a lot of stress. The truth is, they loved each other. So that’s the difference between the fact and the truth.

Part of the bond that you and Carolyn shared was that you were both outsiders in the Kennedy world. Did that put a lot of pressure on each of your marriages?

I think marrying into any family—there is a transition. And John and Carolyn weren’t married long. Because of Anthony’s illness— I did learn his family’s rituals. And in turn,

Anthony had to endure Sunday barbecues at the DiFalcos’ and screaming arguments about the Yankees pitching staff.

But you didn’t meet his mother, Lee Radziwill, until after two years of dating...

Yeah, and I was happy about that.

She must be a formidable human being.

I think Anthony and I

A both realized that if our relationship was going to work, we needed privacy. We needed to create our own little world. We were on a very equal playing field at ABC News. He was very compartmentalized about his famous family. And I was happy about that because it’s stressful enough meeting your boyfriend’s mom. And I wanted to make sure that it was a real thing. And obviously he did too.

Did you everget to the point where you felt like an insider in the family?

I did because I was the only person in the family dealing with Anthony’s illness.

Did your mother-in-law have anything to teach you about handling grief?

I think after that summer—none of us who were really close to the three of them were good for each other. I think we were all searching for the same thing and couldn’t get it from each other. I went through a period where I didn’t see anyone for a long time.

sAs you wrote this book, how did you navigate the fine line between telling your own story while not violating the privacy of the Kennedy family?

I think the rumours of “Kennedy privacy” have been gready exaggerated.

This is a very honest book. You write about what it’s like to live with someone who has an illness, and how difficult it was for you. You don’t whitewash. And that’s unusual. There’s not a lot of writing in our culture...

... that tells the real truth about what it is to live with illness?

Exactly. Was that part of your motivation for writing this book?

I thought that if I was going to write a book then I was going to have to be honest. People recognize honesty. They crave it.

For example, you write that after John and Carolyn died, you no longer had the strength to take care of Anthony.

As far as I was concerned, that night of the accident it was like they all died and I was mourning all three of them.

John was working on Anthony’s eulogy and in the end it was Anthony who attended John’s funeral.

It was cruel and unusual and ironic that Anthony had to see that. The night of that accident when I looked at my husband, I said, “It was supposed to be you.”

Did you say that out loud?

No. To myself. But I think he knew I was thinking it.

Your reaction to John and Carolyn’s deaths was anger. And it was anger directed at Anthony.

I just couldn’t believe it. I thought fate would look kindly on all of us because we had dealt with a lot over the previous year. And it was heartbreaking and sad. And I thought, okay, we’re going to get a pass. Nothing bad is going to happen to us because we weren’t always perfect but we did our best and we took care of Anthony. I thought there would be a time, months or years later, when we would all look back and talk about the good times we had. We would talk about Anthony. And that was robbed from me.

Isn’t that ultimately the message of your book? There are no passes?

No one gets one. And the minute you start thinking you do, you can get into trouble.

One of the most powerful scenes in the book is your description of a time in the ICU when |j^ John thought Anthony was dying. He took his hand and softly sang, “If you go down to the woods today,” the childhood lullaby that Jackie Kennedy used to sing to them when they were little boys. It gave some truth to what death looks like.

Right. In the end we all struggle. It’s about trying to find what works. Whether it’s with a childhood lullaby or having your friends around, or not having your friends around. Unfortu-

nately there’s no memo on how to proceed.

Of all the characters in your book, Carolyn is the one you seem to love unconditionally. You are most passionate when you write about her.

It’s interesting that you picked that up because the intimacy in that last year shifted from me and my husband, to me and my best friend. I mean certainly, when you are writing about your marriage and your husband— it’s a much more complicated relationship. With Carolyn, she was such a great friend. It was unconditional. There was nothing I couldn’t tell her. But there was a lot, on the other hand, that I couldn’t tell my husband.

Because he was sick?

Because he was so sick.

Or because husbands are more difficult than friends?

Are you married?! Husbands can be a big pain in the ass. Let’s be honest. They’re annoying. No, seriously, it was because he was so ill and he was in denial about what was going on. And I went along with that denial in the first three or four years. But that last year was so difficult for me. I needed someone to talk to. I needed someplace to go. And Carolyn just stepped right in and really saved me.

When you first met her, you took a look at her, “eight storeys tall and blond” as you describe her, and you thought to yourself, “This is not a friend for me. ”

Yes.

But apart from that first impression, you fell in love with her.

Oh yeah. Everyone fell in love with her. There was nobody warmer, or more compassionate, or touchy-feely. When we first met she started with all the touching and hugging. And I was the one who took some time to get used to it. She was unbelievably open and warm. And she had so much love for her friends.

As a public personality she did not exude the warmth and openness that you describe in your book.

Q Isn’t that funny? I’ve never seen a situation where someone’s public persona is so completely contrary to who they really are.

She gave you a lot of fashion advice. And obviously you found that endearing...

It was only endearing. After we met, she left me a note that said, “You have to get rid of those GAP sneakers. Our friendship cannot proceed in a growth-oriented way until you realize how important this issue is to me.” Now, this was a hilarious letter if you knew her because she didn’t really care about them. It was her sense of humour. I only knew her as a private person. When I see the pictures of her and she’s very fashionable, very beautiful and demure, I don’t recognize her in those pho-

tos. But I didn’t write this book to correct the record, or change the record, or change anyone’s perception of who she was. I just wrote honestly and I wrote about that friendship.

You worked as a producer with Peter Jennings for six years.

He was a mentor and a role model and someone I admired enormously.

How did you react to his death?

I was writing a note to his wife, who is a friend of mine and was also a colleague at ABC News. I said to her, I feel that I should impart some great wisdom to you having gone through this myself. But in the end I don’t have any. There is nothing I can tell you. Death is such a personal thing. It’s universal but it’s also personal. I wouldn’t presume to

'There was nothing I couldn't tell Carolyn. But there was a lot that I couldn't tell my husband.'

understand other people’s grief. What I do know is that it is the loneliest emotion anyone will ever have to go through. It is intensely lonely even if you have one hundred friends around.

There is no such thing as unending good fortune.

I’ve thought about this a lot. Every one of us feels heartbreak and sorrow in our lives. For me it might have come a little earlier. But in the end, my story is everyone’s story. Your friends die. Your husband or wife dies. That’s just life. You can never predict where it’s going to go. You do the best you can with what you are given. And I think Anthony and I, Carolyn and John, we did do that. M