In an exclusive interview, and in her first public discussion of her sister Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwill sits down with 20/20’s Barbara Walters to talk about Jackie’s marriage to JFK, life after his assassination and her sister’s death in 1994.
Four years younger than her sister Onassis, Radziwill witnessed the legendary first lady’s lifetime of privilege, glamour and tragedy. But the intensely private Radziwill has never before talked publicly about the Onassis she knew — and their life together — until now.
The interview aired on 20/20 Friday Oct. 20 at 10 p.m. ET.
Radziwill recalls her relationship with her sister as children. She says her older sister found her “quite annoying,” but they were very close. “One of the most outstanding things she did to me,” recalls Radziwill, “was to hit me over the head with a croquet mallet so that I was unconscious for about a day, I was told.”
Both girls were young when their parents got divorced, but Radziwill thinks it had a somewhat positive effect on her sister. “I think it made her feel more responsible,” she says. “I think it made her feel very grounded.”
Life After JFK
The happiest moments of her sister’s life, says Radziwill, were when she was with her husband and children. Left a young widow after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, her sister, says Radziwill, carried on because of her “extraordinary strength of character.”
“In the face of every challenge,” she says, “she always kept her dignity and her courage. And I find that that’s a very profound legacy.”
Walters also talks to author Sarah Bradford, who spent four years researching the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for her biography, America’s Queen, and interviews Karen Lerner, former wife of Alan Jay Lerner, the author of Camelot, which came to symbolize the legendary White House years of the Kennedy administration.
Lerner, too, describes the strength Jackie showed the nation after JFK’s assassination.
“No one will ever forget the riderless horse, and the caissons rolling,” Lerner says. “Behind that veil, she was mourning herself.”
The interviews deal with Jackie’s subsequent marriage to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, his death and her strong desire for her children to lead independent and private lives. “She was delighted by her children,” Lerner says. “She couldn’t mention John’s name without a laughing voice.”
“She wanted this wonderful combination of allowing them to learn as much as they could, but also be private people,” says Lerner.
Walters’ discussions with Radziwill, Bradford and Lerner explore the personality and legacy of one of the most revered women in American history.
Trying to explain why America remains fascinated with Onassis, Bradford says, “She led this extraordinary life, and it was a life — it was a fairy tale. But then it had this sort of dark river of tragedy running through it … I think Jackie is still a mystery to us.”