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New JFK Jr. Angle!

Earlier crash ruined his mother's marriage. ... Was Maria less callous?


Posted Tuesday, July 20, 1999

        Ellen Ladowsky, author of the biography Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, reminds me of an angle that may actually have been overlooked in the saturation coverage of the John Kennedy, Jr. plane crash: the eerie resonance with the 1973 death in a private plane accident of Aristotle Onasssis' son and heir, Alexander. At the time, Onassis was married to Jacqueline Kennedy. Alexander -- a pilot, like John Jr. -- perished when his plane crashed on takeoff from Athens Airport on his 24th birthday. Aristotle Onassis, by all accounts, was crushed by the loss. ... The crash also provoked the final unraveling of Onassis' marriage to Jackie: he believed (rightly or wrongly) that she was unfeeling in failing to grieve sufficiently for Alexander, and wound up turning to old flame Maria Callas for solace. Within months he was planning a divorce from Jackie. ... What's the connection, aside from coincidence, and the truism that the rich like to fly private planes, which tend to crash? How about this one: the Alexander Onassis crash casts new and weirder light on John Jr.'s decision to become a pilot. After all, Aristotle Onassis was John, Jr.'s stepfather at the time, the victim of the crash his stepbrother. John Jr. had thus seen, in his own life, the class-disrespecting risks of flying, and he'd seen how a single plane crash could devastate a wealthy and powerful family. Yet he still chose to become a pilot (though he waited until after his mother's death to get his license). ...

        Incomplete burnishing: Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has been making the point that Kennedy became a pilot because people would bother him when he flew commercial. "When he flew on commercial aircraft, fellow passengers would ask questions, seek autographs, exchange memories," Schlesinger says. "He could not bear to be impolite, but the benign interest of others was a burden." . . . Makes sense, until you realize that Kennedy could have easily afforded to charter a private plane and enjoy both privacy and the safety of having an experienced pilot. ...

        The Times Helps The Torch Try to Put Out a Fire: The most recent issue of Newsweek, which came out on Monday, contains Jonathan Alter's report that "a close friend" of John Kennedy confided that "Kennedy might well have run for the U.S. Senate in 2000 if Hillary Clinton had not; he was very quietly exploring a campaign before the First Lady expressed interest." Comes now the New York Times to throw cold water on Alter's scooplet -- and the idea, unflattering to Hillary, that she might have elbowed Kennedy out of the race. Katharine Seelye's Tuesday Times piece quotes only Hillary's sponsor, Senator Robert "The Torch" Torricelli, chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, who says he'd approached Kennedy but that Kennedy had responded "no" -- all before Hillary started to show interest. Back to Alter, who stands by his story: "John Kennedy may have not [consulted] with Senator Torricelli about his possible interest in the race, but there are half a dozen other people he talked to about it." Before Hillary expressed interest, Alter says, Kennedy held conversations with political consultant Hank Morris, union leader Dennis Rivera, and media executive Bob Pittman. Kennedy decided the timing wasn't right. But he later revisited the issue after Hillary had begun her public flirtation with candidacy, figuring that if Hillary didn't run he'd be the perfect foil for the now-likely candidacy of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Says Alter: "Senator Torricelli may have been out of the loop on this one." ...

Copyright 1999 Mickey Kaus.

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posted 07.07.99