The world always saw Jackie Kennedy as a model of strength and elegance — but now a new book reveals untold details about her inner struggle and deep depression following her husband’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
In Jackie, Janet and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli, — excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday — the author describes how Jackie was “constantly crying” and confessed she was drinking too much in the months that followed her husband’s tragic death.
“She often threatened suicide,” the author said. “She couldn’t sleep; she had nightmares.”
Jackie also blamed herself for her husband’s death and said she wished the bullets had struck her instead. “If I had just been a little more to one side, it could have been me,” she’d say, according to Taraborrelli.
Jackie’s sister Lee Radziwill told friends that the former first lady once called her in the middle of the night and said she wanted to take pills and vodka so she wouldn’t have to wake up the next morning. A frantic Radziwill rushed over to Jackie’s apartment in New York City, where she flushed all of Jackie’s prescription drugs down the toilet.
“It wasn’t unusual for people at that time to take barbiturates and take whatever it took to get them through the day,” Taraborrelli explained to PEOPLE. “So when Jackie went over the line and just really began to heavily medicate herself, they really didn’t know what to do about it. It took years for them to unravel and a lot of courage for Jackie too because she did not continue that. She went into therapy.”
“She dealt with it head-on, and [the drug use] did not continue in her life after the late ’60s. She just stopped,” Taraborrelli added. “Pretty typical of the way Jackie would do such a thing. She just made up her mind and then that was the end of it.”
For more on Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill’s relationship, pick up the newest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
But the trauma of her husband’s murder was much harder to shake. Jackie also discussed her suicidal thoughts with a trusted priest, Father Richard McSorley, who later told author Thomas Maier that Jackie once asked him “if God would separate her from her husband if she killed herself.”
Maier recounted the conversation in his 2003 book The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings, explaining that as the priest told Jackie the church’s position on suicide, “she finally interrupted him and said, ‘Father, I understand. I know it’s wrong. I wouldn’t do it. But it’s so lonely out there.’ ”
Knowing how deeply lonely and depressed her sister was, Radziwill was eager to help — even if it meant sacrificing her own happiness.
Taraborrelli tells PEOPLE that Radziwill was seeing Aristotle Onassis before he went on to become Jackie’s second husband — and that Radziwill gave him up to help Jackie and her children.
“She realized that she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if something happened to Jackie and the kids because she would not allow Onassis to be their protector,” Taraborrelli explains. “She abandoned her love for Onassis for her, sister rather than take a chance on something happening to her sister and her niece and nephew.”
“All Jackie said to Lee at that time was, ‘I need this.’ And Lee realized that Jackie, who was suffering from PTSD over Jack, who was drinking and having nightmares and having suicidal thoughts and who was really going through a lot in her lifetime, that yeah, she did need it. If anybody needed Onassis, Jackie Kennedy did. Lee gave him up for her.”
Jackie, Janet and Lee goes on sale Jan. 30.