John F. Kennedy, Jr., Remembered

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Reactions of friends, family, and public figures

by Beth Rowen
Source: AP

Memorials to John F. Kennedy, Jr., appeared at his Tribeca home and the offices of George magazine in New York City.

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John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, perished in the waters off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on the evening of July 16, 1999. Kennedy was flying the Piper Saratoga plane that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.

Authorities speculate, based on the erratic course his plane took just before the crash, that Kennedy suffered from "spatial disorientation," a problem common to novice pilots, that causes pilots to literally not know which end is up.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Robert Pearce said that Kennedy was on course about 34 miles away from the airport. He was beginning his descent only slightly faster than would be normally expected.

Kennedy ran into trouble about 20 miles away, when the plane turned right and began climbing. The plane briefly leveled before turning right and making the fatally fast descent, more than 10 times the normal speed.

John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and Lauren Bessette will be missed by friends, family, and mourners all over the world.

Here are some quotes excerpted from speeches and prepared statements from friends, family members, and other luminaries.

  • President Clinton: "For more than 40 years now, the Kennedy family has inspired Americans families to public service, strengthened our faith in the future and moved our nation forward. Through it all, they have suffered much and given more. At this difficult moment, we hope the families of these three fine young people will feel the strength of God, the love of their friends and the prayers of their fellow citizens. It is at times like this that we really stop to recognize that as big and diverse as our country is, we can come together as a national family. We can come together in sorrow or in joy if it reflects the values that we honor most." (Source:
  • Sen. Edward Kennedy: "John was a shining light in our lives and in the lives of the nation and the world that first came to know him when he was a little boy. He was a devoted husband to Carolyn, a loving brother to Caroline and an amazing uncle to her children, a close and dear friend to his cousins and a beloved nephew to my sisters and me." (Source: Prepared statement to media)
  • Dave Eikenberry, a close friend: "He assumed the best about people and never became cynical about their motives... It took enormous fortitude for him to stay well grounded in the face of his bizarre celebrity, but he did it. Besides which, he was just the best guy to do stuff with I've ever known. I'm going to miss him for the rest of my life." (Source:
  • Dr. and Mrs. Richard Freeman and father, William J. Bessette, the sisters' family: "John and Carolyn were two soulmates, and we hope to honor them in death in the simple manner in which they chose to live their lives. We take solace in the thought that together they will comfort Lauren for eternity." (Source:
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson: "Nothing about our faith makes us pain-proof. It does hurt. It does make us cry. And we must dry our eyes and continue our work until our time is finished." (Source:
  • Vice President Al Gore: "He has carried his legend with enormous grace and a commitment to live up to his father's legacy and his mother's love. ... One cannot help but reflect that the Kennedy family has given more to our country than any family should have to do. But our country is so much better because of the gifts that they have given. Our prayers are with the entire family this day." (Source:
  • Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) introduced a bipartisan resolution on July 19 on the Senate floor to express "profound sorrow and regret" about the tragedy. The resolution said, "The heart of this nation goes out to the Kennedy and Bessette families as search efforts continue." (Source:
  • House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt: "He followed in the great tradition of his father and his uncles, not as a politician, but as a journalist. He tried and succeeded in rekindling some light and understanding and passion in politics that is too often missing today in our country." (Source:
  • Statement from Brown University: "He was a reluctant celebrity who sought no special treatment... after graduation, he was often in the public eye. But Brown knew him for his private acts of service. John recently asked how he could best serve the University, and had agreed to serve on a Board of Trustee's advisory committee...John will be deeply missed at Brown."
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "John Kennedy, Jr., has carried on the family tradition of selfless devotion to a better America. Perhaps John's greatest accomplishment has been his unwavering devotion to his family, particularly to his mother before her death, and to his sister Caroline. JFK, Jr., was doing everything right. He got his law degree, worked as a prosecutor, started George. I expected sometime in the future he would definitely have gotten into politics." (Source:
  • President George Bush: "We wish to extend our most sincere and deep condolences to everyone in the Kennedy and Bessette families, especially to John's beloved sister Caroline. John was a man of enormous promise and of great character. Like all Americans, Barbara and I, and the entire Bush family, mourn their passing." (Source:
  • President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy Reagan: "It's hard to express in words the scope of the tragic death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren Bessette. Despite the fact that his family has endured more than their share of tragedies over the years, the anguish they are experiencing right now must be extraordinary." (Source:

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