by Andersen, Christopher
It's interesting that Jackie Kennedy had premonitions of JFK Jr.'s plane-crash death, that he almost hit an American Airlines jet, and that, to prevent those last shrieking 15 seconds when G-forces distorted his face prior to impact, all he had to do was punch two buttons and the Piper Saratoga would've landed safely on autopilot.
The Day John Died is a misleading title, because it's mostly about his life: his family dynamics, romances, dreams, and achievements. Christopher Andersen, a former Time and People editor, gives a surprisingly well rounded account of John's character--along with 73 eloquent photos and lots of the dishy details inquiring minds want to know. The book is both trashy and classy. Though some of the inside stuff is tough to know for sure (was Carolyn Bessette really a manic druggie who denied John sex for a year?), Andersen knows more than most, having spent years researching Jack and Jackie and Jackie After Jack. We feel Jackie's power over her unstudious, scatterbrained, yet rather smart son, and Andersen plausibly sketches her brilliant job of shielding him from the worst influences of the Kennedy clan, her withering effect on his acting career, her revulsion over his stint as Madonna's boy toy, and much more. Andersen's expertise about the family makes us less skeptical of, say, his account of Bessette's wily seduction technique (she used an expertly timed cold shoulder and a hunky model-actor from Baywatch to make John jealous), or their spat over Sharon Stone.
There's gobs of drama besides the finale: John the child saved from death in a fiery Hawaiian luau pit (by the same father-figure Secret Service man who saved his mom from drowning), John repeatedly risking death by flying his ultralight into the ocean and power lines, John twice saving pals from drowning, once while diving for a pirate ship. Andersen omits no dirt (yes, JFK Jr. snorted coke from a JFK ashtray in college), yet he's fair (JFK Jr. had no real drug problem, while his dad was a chronic speed-needle freak). All in all, John comes off as a hell of a nice guy--almost the opposite of his Machiavellian father. He was about one-thousandth as promiscuous as he could've been, and all his exes remained his friends, even Daryl Hannah (the only girl he could've married for her money), who went down on one knee to propose, but was opposed by Jackie and Caroline.
Mostly, it's a poignant book. When told that JFK had gone to heaven, JFK Jr. asked his nanny, "Did Daddy take his big plane with him?" The nanny said, "Yes." --Tim Appelo
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