JFK Jr. would’ve been 60 today — a look back on his life

JFK Jr. would've been 60 today -- a look back on his life

“John-John” Fitzgerald Kennedy should’ve turned 60 this week.

The handsome son of former President John F. Kennedy died more than two decades ago, but his legacy lives on, with friends and colleagues honoring his would-be birthday by recalling his cut-short life.

“His legacy was really about who he would’ve become,” former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Brian Steel, who worked with Kennedy, told Today this week. “But I just think America and maybe the world would have been a better place” if he had lived longer.

In his 38 years, JFK Jr. became a trained lawyer, launched a magazine and managed a media spotlight perpetually focused on him since childhood. His life came to an abrupt end when, on July 16, 1999, he died alongside his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, after the private plane he was piloting plummeted into the Atlantic.

“If John knew he would be gone at 38 years old, I don’t think John would have wanted to be forgotten,” former magazine executive assistant Rosemarie Terenzio told Today.

On what would’ve been his 60th birthday, some highlights from a life curtailed.

JFK Jr. was born Nov. 25, 1960, just two weeks after his father was elected president. The nickname “John-John,” developed after a reporter misheard JFK refer to John, and became a popular diminutive for him in the media — although his family didn’t adopt it.

John Jr. grew up at the White House until his father’s 1963 assassination. On his third birthday, in a moment which was captured in an iconic photograph which would become representative of the decade, he rendered a final salute during his father’s state funeral procession.

Following Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 assassination , Jackie Kennedy took John and his older sister Caroline out of the US, fearing for their lives. That same year she married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, and the family proceeded to live on his private island, Skorpios.

JFK Jr. spent most of his elementary, middle and high school years at elite Manhattan private schools. After graduation, he traveled widely and volunteered before attending Brown University, where he continued to be politically involved in helping the causes he was most moved by, including civil rights and gun control.

John F. Kennedy Jr.

Actor Daryl Hannah with former boyfriend John F. Kennedy Jr. at Ted Kennedy Jr.’s 1993 wedding on Block Island, RI.

Getty Images

John John kennedy and his wife Carolyn in New York

John Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, stroll together near their Tribeca loft.

Lawrence Schwartzwald

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In his short adult life, John managed to become a lawyer, worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as a prosecutor, for the New York Times as a journalist, as an actor at Manhattan’s Irish Arts Center and, in 1995, co-founded the political lifestyle magazine George, which folded in 2001.

Press Conference For New Magazine "George"

John Jr. during a press conference for the new magazine George at Federal Hall in New York City.

Ron Galella Collection via Getty

US President Bill Clinton (L) talks with Jacquelin

President Bill Clinton talks with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and John Jr. in October 1993 during the opening ceremonies for the newly redesigned John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

AFP via Getty Images

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On July 16, 1999, JFK Jr.’s plane was reported missing while en route to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. A search commenced, but within days a Coast Guard admiral admitted to the family that there was no hope of finding John, Carolyn or Lauren alive.

Fragments of the plane were discovered on July 19, and on July 21 all three of the passengers’ bodies were recovered.

Hundreds came to pay their respects at the July 23 funeral at Manhattan’s St. Thomas More Church.

In Sen. Edward Kennedy’s eulogy of his nephew at the service, he noted that JFK Jr. had not even lived long enough to comb a gray hair.

“I think that was probably the line that took us all out,” Terenzio told Today. “Now you look back, and you think of what might have been.”

Coffin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis exits the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola

John Jr., Caroline Kennedy and others follow the coffin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as it exits St. Ignatius Loyola Church in NYC on May 23, 1994.

Getty Images

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