December 31, 1999 12:00 PM

Nearly six months later, the images from that terrible week won’t go away: the circling helicopters; the by now dreadfully ritual gathering of the Kennedy clan in Hyannisport; the huddled figures on the back of the naval ship that bore the ashes; the steady procession of mourners outside the loft building on Moore Street in downtown Manhattan. But the same national consciousness that fixed itself on the tragic death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn, and his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette is capacious, and it is resilient. For a lifetime of sunnier images competes with the dark shadows of last July, images of a young man who turned out to be every bit the heir—in style, in grace and in substance—of his martyred father and his beloved mother. Curiously, one could say that the odds were against JFK Jr. In some lives the blessings of wealth, fame, even physical beauty can turn out to be bitter masters, shriveling those other, more meaningful virtues: spontaneity, humor, the ethic for hard work, the even more valuable capacity for friendship. Not for this fellow, though. With the entire world present and watching every large or small step he took throughout his 38 years, Kennedy maintained a remarkable balance. Hounded by the media, he kept his temper and his dazzling smile. Pursued y women both famous and beautiful, he took his time find one who seemed a genuine match. Wealthy enough to have led a life of idleness—or, in some ways worse, a life of political entitlement—he chose instead to create something of his own, something risky and self-exposing. George magazine may not have been the unqualified success he had hoped for. But under Kennedy’s fully engaged leadership it established itself sufficiently that, after his death, his corporate partners sought out the interests of the Kennedy estate and announced that the magazine would continue publication. Yet even a healthy and respected business will not adequately serve as Kennedy’s legacy. There were too many years ahead for him, too many possibilities not realized, or even imagined. “We dared to think,” his uncle Ted said at the funeral, “that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years.”

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