An Intimate Look at JFK Jr.
AN ENDURING FRIEND
John (in 1976) met his good friend Sasha Chermayeff (who shared with PEOPLE her private collection of photos, letters and memories of JFK Jr.) when they were both new students at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. "We were bonded within a month," she says.
A HOLLYWOOD ROMANCE
"They were young and weren't going to end up together, and when they realized that, they went their separate ways," says Sasha of John and his onetime girlfriend Daryl Hannah (on Martha's Vineyard in 1993).
ON A SERIOUS NOTE
"I think people thought he was this goofy kid for a while, but he outgrew that," notes Sasha of John (on Memorial Day in 1992). "He had a hard time being seen as this clumsy younger brother in this whole legacy of brilliant people."
"They were in love," says Sasha of John and his then-girlfriend Jenny Christian (at her 1978 prep school graduation). "She was my best girlfriend. We got tight fast."
CENTER OF ATTENTION
John shows off his playful side with Sasha (right) and her sister Maro (at their mother's Manhattan apartment in 1992). "If he got to know you, he loved you, and then you were part of his world," says Sasha.
John's Sept. 21, 1996 wedding to Carolyn Bessette on Georgia's Cumberland Island was a relaxed affair: He played football – and mugged for the camera – on the beach while his bride-to-be got ready. "He's pretending to be a nervous wreck because he's about to tie the knot," says Sasha.
A DAY AT THE BEACH
In a rare moment away from the media attention, John and Carolyn relax on Martha's Vineyard in 1996 with Sasha's son Phineas, John's godchild. As for rumors of a troubled marriage, Sasha says of the couple (who began dating in 1994), "They were in love. It was not a show for our benefit."
PORTRAIT OF A FAMILY
John and the male guests (including his uncle Ted Kennedy, to his right) gathered for a casual group snapshot at his 1996 nuptials. As Sasha recalls, the big day was pulled together with similar ease. "The wedding invitation was John calling and saying, 'Guess what? I'm getting married.' He didn't give us much notice," she says.
"She didn't feel severe in real life," says Sasha of Carolyn (early one summer morning in '98 in John's Martha's Vineyard house). "My kids loved her. Whatever 'it' is, she had it. She often cared for them on their summer weekends, always calling ahead to ask what they needed."
Sasha, who spent two long weekends with John just before he, his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren died in a plane crash on July 16, 1999, says John (pictured with Sasha's daughter Olivia on a Hyannis Port boat ride in 1998) "was looking for what he wanted to do in his life. He was going forward with clarity and not in a fog."