Remembering JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette 23 Years Later

On the anniversary of their tragic plane crash, we look back at the couple's romance

01 of 09

23 YEARS AGO

Image
Tyler Mallory/Newsmakers/Getty

Over the weekend of July 16, 1999, one of the most famous couples of the '90s met a heartbreaking end. John F. Kennedy Jr. was flying his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren, to Martha's Vineyard when his plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all three passengers instantly. On the 23rd anniversary of the accident, PEOPLE looks back at a romance cut short by tragedy.

02 of 09

JOHN-JOHN

JOHN-JOHN
Stanley Tretick/Corbis

From the day he was born – 17 days after his father was elected president – John F. Kennedy Jr.'s life played out in public. During his father's time in the White House, toddler John-John (a nickname invented by a journalist who misheard the elder Kennedy) delighted in hiding under his father's desk.

03 of 09

AMERICA'S SON

AMERICA'S SON
White House/Rex USA

Though he only lived in the White House for three years, the public memory of Camelot would follow John F. Kennedy Jr. throughout the rest of his life, as his successes, failures and relationships all became grist for public consumption.

04 of 09

A CONNECTICUT GIRL

A CONNECTICUT GIRL
AP

Carolyn Bessette's early life lacked the glamour that surrounded her eventual husband. However, once she landed a job at Calvin Klein and moved to New York, Bessette traveled in fabulous circlesawhere one might meet (and fall in love with) a Kennedy.

05 of 09

FASHION ICONS

FASHION ICONS
Lawrence LeVine/AP

It was while working as a publicist at Calvin Klein that Carolyn met her future husband. The pair soon began living together in the up-and-coming area of Tribeca, helping put the New York neighborhood on the map.

The pair snuck off to an island in Georgia for a secret wedding in 1996, but even that didn't stop them from making the cover of PEOPLE.

06 of 09

PAPARAZZI TARGETS

PAPARAZZI TARGETS
Luca Bruno/AP

After the couple's marriage, swarms of photographers followed Carolyn and John's every move. The new bride was said to resent the intrusions, turning down every interview request she received.

07 of 09

APPLE OF THEIR EYE

APPLE OF THEIR EYE
Dave Allocca/DMI/Time Life Pictures/Getty

Though she remained intensely private, eventually Carolyn began making more official appearances alongside her husband. She was taking more of a public interest in her husband's magazine, George, and appeared less tense around the media than previously noted.

08 of 09

ONE FINAL APPEARANCE

ONE FINAL APPEARANCE
Justin Ide/Getty

In one of their last public appearances together, the couple visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library for the annual bestowal of the Profiles in Courage Award in May 1999, just two months before their deaths.

09 of 09

TWO LIVES CUT SHORT

TWO LIVES CUT SHORT

When America mourned the couple in the summer of 1999, they weren't just reflexively memorializing another dead Kennedy. They were also mourning for the loss of potential the pair represented: two young people, it seemed, who could have done anything.

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