A Camelot Tale
CAROLE RADZIWILL shares her story of LOVE, LOSS and KENNEDIAN tragedy
Carole Radziwill's story is both fairy
tale and tragedy. After leaving her
working-class upstate New York
hometown, Radziwill became an
award-winning producer for ABC News, where she
met her future husband, Anthony Radziwill, who as
nephew to President John F. Kennedy and Jackie
Onassis, and one of the princes of American public
life. Through marriage she became close friends
with JFK Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette during
summers in the Hamptons and on Martha's
Vineyard, and intimate dinners in New York City.
Now, she is the only one of the quartet who
remains to tell a unique story of love, friendship
and loss in "What Remains," a tender memoir of
the time before John and Carolyn died in a plane
crash and Anthony died from cancer. Here are
excerpts of an interview of Carole Radziwill by
Carol Joynt at the Q&A Café at Nathans:
Carol Joynt: You have carried on remarkably and I
think the first thing I want to know is, was this book
therapy for you?
Carole Radziwill: I first started writing the
book four years after the summer of '99, when
my husband, John and Carolyn died. I was
moving on with my life a bit but I was forgetting
things. It started as a little bit of therapy
but then it quickly became good old fashioned
CJ: Well, let's go back. How did you meet your
CR: I was working at ABC News as a production
assistant for Leslie Cockburn, working on a documentary
about Cambodia. Then, I was assigned
to "Primetime Live" to work on the Menendez
murders and Anthony Radziwill was one of
the producers. There was something very sort of
steady and stable about him. He was handsome
and very polite. When I walked over to the table
where he was sitting, he stood up immediately.
Most don't do that.
CJ: Did the romance happen right away?
CR: No, no. Although there are some of the producers who to this day say that they saw
sparks. It wasn't. I didn't see him that much.
CJ: At what point in your relationship, if ever,
did he sort of give you the 411 on his family?
CR: I think he assumed that I knew a lot about
his family. [He never said] that John Kennedy
is my cousin, Jackie is my aunt, and my mom is
Lee Radziwill. He was very compartmentalized
about his family and I liked that. We dated for a
long time, almost two years, and we had very few
conversations about family, mine or his. We were
kind of creating a little private world for just the
two of us.
CJ: You fell in love and got married. Did you
know when you got married that he had cancer?
CR: I did, because he was diagnosed right before
we got engaged. I also knew he had testicular
cancer already five years prior, and couldn't have
kids. It never reccurred. He didn't have testicular
cancer the second time. It was a completely new,
different, primary cancer. And we were talking
about kids or something…no we were talking
about sex actually. Actually, safe sex.
CJ: It was on your honeymoon that you thought
you saw or you felt a lump? When was the first
time you were scared? How did you deal with
CR: The very first time that he was diagnosed
was before we even got married. I didn't have
any experience with cancer. My grandmother
had died of cancer, but she was very old. I was
pretty nervous. [But] I put it in the back of my
CJ: Could you talk to him about it?
CR: No, he wasn't on the same track. He was
always beating it and except for the cancer, he
was very healthy. It allowed us to be in denial
because he was very strong. He ran marathons.
He was at the gym twice a day and biking twenty
miles. He was good at compartmentalizing, and
he comes from a family of stellar people. They
kind of just keep marching on.
CJ: So let's try to walk through when you met
John Kennedy, Jr., for the first time. How did
CR: Anthony and I shared a summer house with
him in 1992. We'd been together for almost two
years and this was the first time I was meeting
any of his family. John came out of the bedroom
and he knew that I was there and he introduced
himself. When he felt comfortable with people
and when he was around people that he trusted,
he was very funny and very open. He came over
to me and he was wearing his boxers. He and
Anthony had a very close relationship and they
had pet names for each other all the time too.
John would call Anthony Princeipo or Tony Pro.
They were like brothers in the way that brothers
can really get on each other's nerves. They
constantly kept each other in check. There were
times when I could see Anthony being protective
of John. They knew each other's secrets.
CJ: You were a journalist, and you saw John's
world. How did you see the world that he saw?
CR: I think nowadays, anyone who has a camera,
and screams a question, claims to be a journalist.
I worked with people like Leslie Cockburn
and Peter Jennings, who are journalists. What we
did at ABC and what I saw people doing to John
and his family are not the same things. It would
be like saying that pharmacists and drug dealers
are both in the pharmaceutical business. But John
was really good at dismissing it. He didn't really
let it intrude on his life.
CJ: Carolyn enters the picture. [With the relationship
you shared] I couldn't help but think of
Princess Diana and the Duchess of York.
CR: Does that mean I'm Fergie?
CJ: Or that the men you were [each] in love
with were from this strange family.
CR: Yes. John and Carolyn were out for the
weekend and I didn't know anything about her,
but she seemed familiar to me. Her mannerisms,
how she spoke, what she talked about. She just
felt familiar. I got to know her more, it turns out
she grew up not far from where I grew up. We
found out we both worked at Caldor, which was
a discount department store in the Northeast. It
was funny, but I had never told my husband I
worked at Caldor. We didn't talk about that kind
of stuff. And Carolyn hadn't told John, either.
One night we decided to tell both of them, and
we realized we were kind of being snobs. They
didn't care, they enjoyed it.
CJ: And Carolyn had pet names for you, too?
CR: Yes, Lamb or Lamby.
CJ: How did Carolyn Bessette get along with
Caroline [Kennedy Schlossberg]? Did she have a
good relationship with her?
CR: I don't think that they were very close.
There wasn't enough time and they were very
different. I spent a lot of time with Caroline,
because Anthony was very close to her, but she
had a different life with children.
CJ: Was John different around Caroline?
CR: He was definitely different around his family
than when he was out in public.
CJ: You were going through grief for such a long
time and in many instances you were experiencing
it all alone because you were surrounded by people
who said, ‘No we're going to keep going. We're
going to get through this. Nobody's dying."'
CR: I was.
CJ: Except you had Carolyn [Bessette] because
she was going through all of it with you.
CR: She saw that I was struggling with it a little
bit. I was already two years into his illness and
probably two or three operations down the
line, she stepped in. We used to go together
to the NIH down in Bethesda to Dr. [Steve]
CJ: Everybody knows that John and Carolyn and
her sister Lauren were killed in a plane crash. And
at the time that happened, your husband [Anthony]
was virtually at death's doorstep. He died three weeks
later. How did you get through that night, those three
CR: I really don't remember those three weeks. I
think that the night of the accident I was mourning
and grieving for the three of them. Anthony
as well because I knew it was just a matter of time.
But Anthony was still in denial about his illness.
And he handled it much better than I did. At this
point, he was on dialysis every morning because
his kidneys had failed. It really is a bit of a blur to
me, those three weeks. I stayed in bed a lot.
CJ: Do you think there is a curse on the
CR: No, no but they've certainly had to endure
their share of sorrow.
CJ: They don't wallow in their sorrow?
CR: No, no not at all. They just keep moving.
For more information please visit www.
nathansgeorgetown.com. Coming up: One of
the nation's top divorce layers, Washington's
own Sanford Ain, February 28.