Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s Pals Remember Warm, Silly, Fun-Loving Friend Who Was the ‘Opposite of Buttoned Up’

25 years after her death, a new biography of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy reveals she knew how to have fun



Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy

Twenty-five years after the death of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, there remains an air of mystery about the woman who became world famous when she married Joh F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1996, yet never gave an interview.

A new biography, Once Upon A Time: The Captivating Life of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy by Elizabeth Beller, excerpted in this week’s PEOPLE, aims to change that with a fresh and empathetic look at the stylish New York woman who once worked for Calvin Klein in VIP sales and publicity.

“She had a beautiful eye, obviously, but for the people who knew and loved her, her style was not the most important thing,” says Beller. “She was joyful and buoyant and wanted to partake of everything in New York. She was a warm, effervescent and vivacious person who was misrepresented in the press."

Related: Why Carolyn Bessette Kennedy Never Wore Logos — and More Secrets Behind Her Timeless Style (Exclusive)

The Carolyn her friends knew, Beller says, loved to have fun. "She was the opposite of buttoned up. That was a side of her that you can’t see in photographs when she’s being chased down.”

In the early days of their relationship with John, Carolyn found a pair of boots in his closet belonging to his former girlfriend Julie Baker. “It’s a very Carolyn thing," says Beller, of the moment. "Even though they were a size too small, she wore her duck boots. That was her sense of humor. I think Carolyn wore a size 9 ½ or 10 and these were a size smaller.”

<p>Bobby Dimarzo/POLARIS</p> Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy at 22

Bobby Dimarzo/POLARIS

Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy at 22

For more on Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

There was also a softer side to Carolyn that the author discovered through her interviews with people who knew her. “She was more vulnerable to scrutiny than people realized,” says Beller.

“When she was working [at Calvin Klein] she was a powerhouse and she wanted to work again [after leaving that job to prepare for the wedding]. At some point, I think John was going to run for office. And she made sure she looked as perfect as possible so nothing could be picked apart in the press — such as her Yohji Yamamoto dresses which the designer himself once described as 'armor.' In a way, that was to protect herself from the scrutiny."

Still, she adds, "there were days at Martha’s Vineyard where she wore colorful sarongs and had messy hair and she was very relaxed outside of the public eye.”

<p>John Roca/NY Daily News Archive via Getty</p> Carolyn and John boating in Martha's Vineyard

John Roca/NY Daily News Archive via Getty

Carolyn and John boating in Martha's Vineyard

But once she married John, there was a notable change. “Suddenly her hair is much blonder, she plucks her eyebrows and she loses weight,” notes the author. “A friend of hers says she really felt, if she had time, she would have bounced back to her vivacious self.”

Sadly, she never had the chance.

“What was surprising to me is quite how vulnerable she was,” she adds. “I learned the different ways that people spoke about her. If they didn’t know her, they could be harsh, casting her as icy. But if they knew her, they spoke about someone with a lot of compassion and warmth. Something to take away from this whole story is how hard it is to be in the public eye because things may look a certain way from the outside and they are not that way on the inside.”

Once Upon a Time is out May 21, and available now for preorder, wherever books are sold.

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Read the original article on People.