Los Angeles pet lovers.
John F. Kennedy Jr.
By Lori Golden
As a true child of television, the images of that sad moment in our nation’s history have been etched upon my memory for all eternity. Evidently, I was not the only one. For when the news came that John F. Kennedy Jr. was lost at sea with his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette on July 17th, those long ago images were played over and over on every television station reporting the events.
Some of the archival footage that aired featured young JFK Jr running around with dogs…at the White House, Hyannisport, and other undisclosed locations. And photographs in tribute magazines pictured the presidential son with more dogs.
Photographs of John Kennedy Jr were scarce as he grew up away from the Washington spotlight, but then resurfaced with a vengeance in recent years, especially with his launch of George Magazine and his wedding to Carolyn Bessette three years ago. And once again, there were dogs in his life. Did these faithful companions play a large role in his world of fame and media frenzy? You decide.
In a September, 1995 interview with Larry King to publicizeGeorge, King asked John about his earliest memories. “We had a dog who was named Pushinka, who was given to my father by the premier of Russia, the Soviet Union at that time… It was the daughter of the first dog in space. And we trained it to slide down this slide that we had in the back of the White House, -- sliding the dog down the slide is probably my first memory.”
After the assassination of the president, Jackie Kennedy worked feverishly to protect her children’s privacy yet wanted them to know about their past. Little is known about the children during those years, but apparently dogs were still a part of their life.
On February 3, 1971, First Lady Pat Nixon invited Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 13-year-old Caroline and 10-year-old John to a private dinner at the White House so they could see the official portraits of President and Mrs. Kennedy prior to their public unveiling. It was the first time the family had visited the White House since the assassination.
In a thank you letter young John sent to the Nixon’s the following day, he wrote: “I can never thank you more for showing us The White House. I really liked everything about it…. I really really loved the dogs. They were so funny as soon as I came home my dogs kept on sniffing me. Maybe they rember the White House.” (This actual letter along with others from Jackie Kennedy and Rose Kennedy can be viewed on the Nixon Library web site.)
Eric Pooley wrote of John in Time Magazine, “if you didn't know who he was, you'd take him for a typical '70s teenager, face obscured by a helmet of longish brown hair, heading to Central Park with his friends to throw a Frisbee or play with a pack of bandanna-wearing dogs.”
As time marched forward and John grew to be the man remembered after his tragic death, others shed some insight into his life. His longtime friend Richard Wiese told NBC Dateline’s Stone Phillips: “he was a pretty happy guy in general. He loved playing touch football, liked being outdoors. Every time we were in the park and a dog would come by… he would say ‘come on boy’… I guess the reason he probably liked little kids and dogs are they accepted him without any kind of aura. When a dog came up, the dog didn’t know it was ‘the hunk’ or ‘the sexiest man alive.’ It’s just a guy petting him.”
Even Senator Edward Kennedy, in his eulogy at the private family memorial service, related a “dog” experience with his nephew. “He campaigned for me during my 1994 election and always caused a stir when he arrived in Massachusetts. Before one of his trips to Boston, John told the campaign he was bringing along a companion, but would need only one hotel room. Interested, but discreet, a senior campaign worker picked John up at the airport and prepared to handle any media barrage that might accompany John’s arrival and his mystery companion. John landed with the companion alright — an enormous German shepherd dog named Sam he had just rescued from the pound.”
John Searbrook in “The New Yorker” remembered John in his Tribeca neighborhood:
“He was as visible a part of the neighborhood as almost anyone. You’d see him riding his bike to work with a big steel chain wrapped around his suit jacket, like an urban knight. He walked with his head down, but, wanting to be neighborly, he would often make contact by saying hi to people’s dogs. Later, he got his own dog, (a white Canaan named) Friday, and you’d always see him out on the street with it, sometimes carrying the dog on his shoulders.”
In 1997, after John and Carolyn were married, the NY Daily News carried this report:
“John Kennedy Jr. apparently didn't appreciate the unusually large posse of photographers that tailed him and his wife, Carolyn, over the weekend. The couple ducked into a Tribeca eatery, leaving their dog, Friday, leashed outside. Concerned with the doggie's whimpering, one paparazzo started petting the pooch. Seeing that, John came out of the restaurant and told the lenswoman: "If you guys are going to be inhumane to my wife, you shouldn't pet my dog.''” The article further stated that “among the shots the camera crew captured that day was one of Carolyn bending down to scoop up after Friday.”
Neighbors used to seeing the couple out walking with Friday were concerned about the fate of their pets, which included a cat.named Ruby that belonged to Carolyn before she was married. Apparently the couple often took their pets with them when they flew. But NY Daily News reporter Dave Saltonstall wrote that, according to friends, “they already were on Martha's Vineyard, where the caretaker of Kennedy's 500-acre estate has been watching out for them since the fatal crash.” The latest reports have it that both animals will be taken in by John’s sister, Caroline, and her three children.
There are many photographs of John Kennedy Jr with Friday, who also was known to have accompanied his master to work. And the latest issue of Vanity Fair Magazine features a number of candid shots of Carolyn Bessette with Friday.
Sadly, like his father before him, John F. Kennedy Jr will remain a young man who never had the chance to grow old. He didn’t have the chance to have children with his beloved Carolyn. We can only assume they would have made wonderful parents by remembering how they treated their pets.
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