'The Day John Died' Excerpt

As John tried to bring his ultralight in for a landing, police lines lit up with frantic calls from onlookers who feared the young man in the odd-looking contraption would be killed. On the ground, Carolyn’s aquamarine eyes widened in horror as John’s flying machine careened wildly out of control. At the last minute, an updraft miraculously halted his descent, and instead of plummeting to earth he collided with one of his mother’s beloved Scotch pines. Carolyn ran toward the crumpled ultralight, only to see John hopping on one foot in her direction before crumpling to the ground. “I’m okay!” he shouted. “It ... it’s just my ankle. I think I broke it . . . “

Carolyn, relieved but still shaken, knelt down beside her husband in the grass and shook her head. “Don’t ever,” she told him as she brushed a tear from her cheek, “scare me like that again. Do you hear me? Ever.”

“Please don’t do it. There have been too many deaths in the family already.” —Jackie to her college student son when she learned he was secretly taking flying lessons.

Thursday, July 15, 1999

A collective gasp went up from the crowd of forty-nine thousand people at Yankee Stadium—not because of Roger Clemens’s pitching against the Atlanta Braves, but because a new television crew broadcasting the game had zeroed in on a single fan. There, smiling over the throng, was the tanned, movie-star-handsome face of John F. Kennedy Jr. Thousands of heads swiveled as spectators frantically searched the stands for a glimpse of John in the flesh—to no avail. Inured to the sort of commotion his mere presence often caused, John leaned back in his box seat near the dugout (courtesy of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner) and washed down a Lemon Chill with Deer Park bottled water.

John, crisply attired in a white dress shirt rolled up at the sleeves, rose with his three friends to leave when Anthony Hahn, a securities trader from Staten Island seated a few rows away, bounded to his feet and walked toward him. “If I don’t get your autograph,” he said, “my sister Karen will kill me. John,” Hahn asked sheepishly, “would you mind signing?” Kennedy smiled and scribbled his name on one of the pink menus handed out to box seat holders. It would be one of his last autographs.

Then John grabbed the two white metal crutches that had been propped up against the seat next to him and began the difficult climb up the stairs leading to the nearest exit. It had been six weeks since he broke his left ankle flying his Buckeye powered parachute on Martha’s Vineyard, and the itchy, uncomfortable cast had come off only hours before. But he still needed both crutches to walk, and winced noticeably whenever he put the slightest bit of weight on the injured leg.

Attending the Yankee-Braves game that night was worth the discomfort, if only to get his mind off other, weightier things. For the last few weeks, John had been courting new financial backers for George, the irreverent political magazine he had founded in 1995. Executives at Hachette-Filipacchi, the French publishing conglomerate that bankrolled the magazine from the outset, were no longer in awe of Jack and Jackie Kennedy’s only son. After a wildly successful beginning—fueled largely by JFK Jr.’s celebrity megawattage and personal charisma—the magazine had taken a steep dive in both circulation and advertising revenues. By the summer of 1999, Hachette had lost tens of millions on the venture and was now ready to pull the plug.

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