August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

As little boys they played together for hours on end. As adults they served as best man at each other’s weddings. And in the early morning hours of July 17, it was Anthony Radziwill who took on the task of telephoning Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, vacationing in Idaho, to tell her that her brother’s plane was missing. Technically, the two young men were just cousins. But as anyone who knew Radziwill and John F. Kennedy Jr. understood, they were in truth much more like brothers. “That’s exactly what they were like,” says Lee Radziwill Ross, Anthony’s mother and Jacqueline Kennedy’s younger sister. “Since day one.”

On Aug. 13, just three weeks after John’s funeral, 300 of the Kennedy clan and friends gathered for another painful farewell, this time for Anthony, 40, a TV producer, who died on Aug. 10 after a decade-long battle with cancer. At a memorial service at Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton, N.Y., his friend Diane Sawyer recalled Radziwill as “a knight who had wandered in from another century, sworn to uphold the codes of beauty, valor and gallantry’.” His cousin Caroline spoke more simply. “Anthony,” she said, her voice breaking, “emanated love.”

This past July, as his illness progressed, Radziwill and his wife of five years, Carole, 36, an ABC producer, had spent the month at John and wife Carolyn’s home on Martha’s Vineyard. In the wake of the tragedy that took their best friends’ lives, “Anthony and Carole were beyond devastated,” says a friend. Still, Radziwill attended John’s burial at sea on the Navy destroyer USS Briscoe. “It wasn’t easy for him,” says a friend, “but he’d never let you know that.”

Born in Switzerland to Lee and expatriate Polish Prince Stanislas Radziwill, Anthony spent his childhood in England before moving to the U.S. in 1976. (His parents had divorced in 1974, and Lee married director Herb Ross in 1988. His sister Tina is now 39 and half brother John is 52.) With a degree from Boston University, Anthony embarked on a broadcasting career that took him to NBC, ABC and HBO, and earned him three Emmys and a Peabody Award. “I used to tease him about being a prince,” says his friend Holly Peterson, “but he was so down-to-earth, he would never have wanted to use that term.”

In fact, Radziwill was known as a tireless practical joker. It was that same high spirit, combined with courage, that helped sustain him through his illness. “He knew early on that the prognosis was not encouraging,” says ABC’s Sam Donaldson. “But after each setback, he simply battled on.” Even in the final days of his life, says a friend, “he was still swimming in the ocean.”

On Aug. 7 a small group of friends gathered at a Long Island summer home to belatedly celebrate Radziwill’s 40th birthday. “There was a peacefulness about him,” says one. Three days later he checked into New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he died within hours. The following Friday, loved ones met at dusk on an East Hampton beach and, as others had done so recently for his best friend John, cast Radziwill’s ashes into the sea.

Susan Schindehette

Jennifer Longley in New York City, Mark Dagostino in Boston and Jane Podesta in Washington, D.C.

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