John F Kennedy Jr and “George” Magazine
Through the front left cockpit window the summer light was quickly fading as the small white Piper Saratoga aircraft continued its journey over the Atlantic Ocean.
The plane’s three occupants were truly on their own now having left the last traces of North American soil and civilisation behind them with just the clouds around them and sea below for company.
Adding to the imperfect flying conditions was a gradually increasing and thickening atmospheric haze. (More on this later)
At the controls of the plane was a 39-year-old man by the name of John F Kennedy Jr, in the rear were the two passengers, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, his wife of 3 years and her sister Lauren Bessette.
At the time, in 1999 John Kennedy Jr was one of the most famous, handsome, and recognizable individuals in the world.
Along with his beautiful wife Carolyn who worked for Calvin Klein, he tried to live a normal life eschewing glamour, working a normal job, cycling to work and living in Tribeca district of Manhattan, which at the time was not at the level of wealth and trendiness that it is now.
The only son of assassinated former American President John F Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy, (later to be known as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) John Kennedy Jr’s life along with his sister Carolyn was spent in the public eye and paparazzi.Carolyn Bessette hated the daily attentions.
John Kennedy Jr was also the nephew of Robert “Bobby” Kennedy Snr who himself was also tragically assassinated whilst campaigning as a Senator, five years after his brother death in Dallas.
One of the elder family members was also killed on a top secret reconnaissance flying mission over Northern France in World War Two.
The Kennedy’s themselves are one of the United States most wealthy, famous and influential political families stretching back many generations to the turn of the 20th century.
Obvious to say but John Jr and the Kennedys then were no stranger to tragedy and less than an hour later the conclusion of the Saratoga’s flight was to bring even more tragedy to the family.
The group of three were flying to a family wedding at the Kennedy family compound at Hyannis Port off the coast of Massachusetts with Carolyn’s sister Lauren being dropped off en route at Martha’s Vineyard.
By now it was darkening and the light that was left was diminished by the haze, which was beginning to make flying and navigating by eye difficult.
Navigating by eye is easier when flying over land in day light as the landscape can be used as a reference point, the same with flying at night albeit with the aid of the lights of roads, towns and cities down below.
The worsening conditions meant he would have to refer to the plane’s instruments to maintain his correct course and altitude instead of visual cues.
No stranger to flying planes, (and taking risks) John Kennedy knew that he had one disadvantage, he had next to no experience in night time flying and had to rely solely on the planes instrument readings. He was still working towards his instrument rating.
This lack of experience and added anxiety, confusion and tiredness from working all day in the hours before the flight began to tell....., the plane gradually veered off course and started to sporadically lose and gain altitude.
By now the haze was causing the horizon’s true level to become visually distorted, causing the pilot to have trouble telling where the sea ended and the sky began.
In layman’s terms his brain and eyes were telling him one thing but the plane’s dials were telling him something else.
He didn’t have the flying experience to ignore his doubting mind and trust what the plane’s dials were accurately telling him.
In flying terms, all the mental elements, visual elements and atmospheric aspects caused John Kennedy Jr to suffer one of the biggest things a pilot dreads which is “ spatial disorientation”.
Spatial disorientation being the sole cause of the crash, was the result of the findings of the official investigation.
Not long after, with the planes retrieved black boxes later revealing sudden changes in direction and dramatic loss of altitude moments before crashing,
the piper saratoga crashed into the water with huge force killing everyone aboard.
The wreckage and bodies were recovered four days later after a huge air and sea recovery operation. Kennedy, his wife and sister in law were later buried at sea.
In life some people take their time before they start to show their true potential, or find their true calling. John Kennedy Jr was no different.
Having initially wanted to be an actor, which he took up whilst at University, he then focused on law and worked for a Manhattan law firm for a number of years. He ended up failing his Bar exam twice.
The shadow of a political career was always there but he really wanted to pursue something in the creative field namely magazine publishing.
His family, particularly his mother, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, were against the idea as they were with his desire to break into Hollywood and his love of flying.
By now 36 he was married and determined to use his family name, influence and celebrity contacts he co-founded George Magazine.
The magazine’s design style, content and direction reflected a man who was culturally and socially ahead of his time.
The same was said of his father President John Kennedy back in the late 50’s and early 60’s.
John Jr’s aim was to essentially give politics a younger and more diverse audience whilst ridding it of it’s archaic, stuffy and elitist image.
The magazine would encourage the public to find political news more interesting to read about.
He wanted to have a glossy monthly magazine with intelligent content that fused politics and Hollywood celebrity. A main stream political magazine up there with monthly heavyweights like GQ, Rolling Stone, Arena, Vanity Fair.
George Magazine was launched to huge fanfare and critical acclaim in 1995.
The biggest talking point though was his idea for the cover, which perfectly fused politics and Hollywood glamour.
The cover was of the worlds most famous supermodel Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington (the first ever President of the United States) and shot by photo royalty Herb Ritts.
Other later covers featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney and Charlize Theron who was herself an unknown face at the time.
The magazine was initially a huge success but began to lose money due to gradually falling advertising revenue in later years.
Critics argued that despite it’s best efforts the magazine never truly merged politics and celebrity.
For the type of magazine it was, the Bill Clinton/ Lewinsky scandal should have been fertile ground but not one article was published on it, which was surprising.
Kennedy Democratic ties and sympathies meant that was never going to happen, though Republican party linked misdemeanors and problems were well covered.
After Kennedy’s tragic death, critics began to speculate on the magazines long term future .
In reality Kennedy himself was the reason the magazine was popular and this was proved as despite new ideas, staff and creative input, the magazines popularity continued to drop and loss of advertising revenue didn’t help matters.
In the early days of George, Kennedy was very aware of the pulling power of his surname and cleverly used it to draw big blue chip advertising contracts to the magazine.
His death in essence bought about the death of George and 18 months later the magazine printed it’s final issue in early 2001 with John Jr himself the posthumous cover star.
In my opinion the magazine could well have survived if as speculated, Kennedy had got the magazine signed up to Conde Nast Publishing who’s CEO Steve Florio was a friend of Kennedy’s.
The magazines contract with Paris based Hachette Fillipachi Publishing (with whom Kennedy was said to have had many disagreements) was soon to end.
Critics argued that the magazine never really successfully achieved it’s aims of fusing politics and celebrity.
Also I believe Kennedy would have learnt from past mistakes and stubborn behaviour and accepted the expert advice of his magazine staff more readily, (including co-founder Michael Berman) whom all had far greater experience in magazine publishing than he did.
Had he lived, and run to be Governor of New York state, (his Uncle Ted Kennedy was keen to see another Kennedy in the White House) and no doubt run for Presidential office later on and become elected, he would have achieved a lot more.
Still, despite it’s short 6 year run, George Magazine with it’s off beat concepts and unconventional cover imagery is his main legacy.