NBC's Matt Lauer interviews Edward Klein.
NBC News
updated 12/8/2003 2:33:44 PM ET 2003-12-08T19:33:44

Drug use, physical abuse, accusations of infidelity — those are the stunning claims about John F. Kennedy Jr.’s marriage in a shocking new book. But are they true? How could one reporter find out so much of what went on behind closed doors with a couple that valued privacy so highly? NBC’s John Hockenberry talks to the book’s author, Edward Klein.

John Hockenberry: “Do you believe there’s a Kennedy curse?”

Edward Klein: “Yes, I do.”

He believes it so strongly that former New York Times reporter and editor Ed Klein made “The Kennedy Curse” the title of his new book. In it he argues that the disastrous end to John F. Kennedy Jr., and Carolyn Bessette’s lives in July of 1999 is part of persistent pattern — a curse made inevitable by the Kennedy’s history, psychology, and genetics. It may not be scientific but since it involves the Kennedys, Klein’s theory is no curse to magazine sales. Vanity Fair ran it as this month’s cover.

Klein: “The Kennedys have this obsession with power that motivates them to take these reckless, very dangerous leaps that inevitably lead to collisions with reality.”

But Klein believes that of all the Kennedy’s, John junior seemed the most likely to beat the odds until he met Carolyn Bessette, a 28-year-old publicist who worked in the fashion industry. They married in 1996.

Klein: “It became clear to me that one of the allures, if you will, of Carolyn Bessette, was that she was exciting and dangerous, that he was attracted to her for the very same reason that so many other Kennedys have been attracted to excitement and danger.”

Klein theorizes that Carolyn Bessette represented a fatal danger to her unsuspecting husband.

Hockenberry: “One is certainly left with the impression that this woman was Kennedy’s special version of this curse.”

Klein: “I think there’s no doubt about that. I think he absolutely adored her. But I think that she made his life not only miserable, but perhaps led him to his final doom.”

Klein pulls no punches weaving a narrative of marital discord. He says John was horrified by Carolyn’s rumored drug use, which Klein says came with her association with the high flying fashion world.

Klein: “He came home one night, found her sprawled on the floor in front of the sofa conked out with cocaine, and according to somebody who was there, he lost it and yelled at her, ‘You’re a cokehead.’”

Hockenberry: “Do you believe she was a cokehead?”

Klein: “You know, it’s very hard to know how much she was taking. Nowhere in my book do I say that she was an addict.”

Hockenberry: “So, she was someone who took cocaine?”

Klein: “Someone who was regularly into the use of what’s called loosely, recreational drugs.”

Klein admits much of his story of Carolyn’s alleged cocaine use is anecdotal and he has no way of knowing how this might have contributed to the couple’s marital tensions. But there were other more public signs. Carolyn was terrified by the public fishbowl her life with John had become.

Klein: “She was a woman who didn’t seem to be able to handle the new role she had willingly accepted as John Kennedy’s wife.”

Klein, who relies on anonymous sources throughout his book, says the pair’s quarrels were legendary.

Klein: “Those who knew John and Carolyn, knew that their fights often turned violent, that they threw things at each other, they slapped each other, that they weren’t simply verbal arguments.”

Hockenberry: “How many Kennedy family members did you talk to for this book?”

Klein: “I didn’t speak to any Kennedy family members.”

Hockenberry: “And did they refuse to speak to you?”

Klein: “They always have, yes.”

Klein’s book covers considerably more than the last years of Kennedy’s life and for those details, Klein draws on what he says was a more than 10-year friendship with John’s mother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He says she told him of her private concerns for John. She made him promise not to get his private pilots license, but he did so after Jackie died.

And she worried about John’s decision to launch George magazine in 1995. He had no publishing experience, and Klein says Jackie questioned the proposed tone of the magazine which was to explore the private lives and public celebrity of political figures.

Klein: “I don’t think she would have approved of delving into people’s private lives.”

Hockenberry: “So she would have hated this book?”

Klein: “She would have been very upset that John’s private life was exploited in this way, yes.”

With his anonymous sources there’s apparently no topic that is off limits for Klein these days. Carolyn, Klein says, became enraged by rumors that John was still seeing his old flame, the actress Daryl Hannah. As for Carolyn, before she met John, she’d had an relationship with Michael Bergin, an actor and model. They stopped seeing each other after Carolyn married John. But according to Klein, Carolyn taunted John by lying to him, telling him she was still involved with Bergin.

Klein: “She was pushing the worst possible buttons by telling her husband that she was being unfaithful to him. and it drove him absolutely crazy.”

By March 1999, less than three years after they were married, the two were in marriage counseling. The issue: Klein says John had all but given up hope that he and Carolyn would have a family of their own.

Klein: “This was a key element of the friction between them. We know that John was talking to two or three friends about divorce.”

Sources close to the Kennedy’s say Klein had nothing more than a business relationship with Jackie Onassis. As for Carolyn Bessette’s mother, she would not comment on the book. Close friends of John and Carolyn concede that there was tension in their marriage but they insist that seeking counseling was evidence they were trying to save it. There may have been tension over the timing of children these sources say, but it was normal for a career oriented couple in their first years of marriage. One more thing, these sources say, Carolyn had picked a godmother.

Yet Klein says by July of 1999, John had moved out of his house to an upper east side hotel and had told a friend by phone that his marriage was unraveling.

Hockenberry: “Any idea how long he’d been away from home at the time that you heard about this phone conversation?

Klein: “About two days.”

Hockenberry: “Two days.”

But friends of the couple deny that this was anything more than the cooling off period after a major fight. It was no formal separation. Two days after moving out John agreed to have lunch with his wife and her sister Lauren. Lauren wanted to help them make up in time for a Kennedy family wedding they were to fly to attend that weekend. John and Lauren were to make their way to the airport that evening and meet Carolyn. But Carolyn, Klein says was late. It was getting dark. The sky was hazy, visibility was limited, in these conditions he would need instruments to fly and pilot John wasn’t instrument certified. Where was Carolyn?

She had not one, not two, but three pedicures, which made her quite late, to leave to the airport where she arrived later than John and her sister, making all of them even later than they otherwise would’ve been.

Hockenberry: “Now, you suggest that, you know, this pedicure killed Kennedy by making him late enough that it was dangerous to fly.”

Klein: “I think I suggest that it may have contributed to their deaths.”

But reports at the time suggested Carolyn and John arrived within a half hour of each other, and that John made the decision to go ahead with the trip.

Hockenberry: “She got on the same plane and it was John F. Kennedy Jr.’s decision whether or not to fly.”

Klein: “Well, John should not have flown. I agree.”

Hockenberry: “So that’s the cause of his death.”

Klein: “Well, John was responsible for it, of course, but he was certainly made later than he otherwise would have been by his wife.”

Close Kennedy friends, who would not speak on camera have accused Klein of “grave robbery,” dredging up material about two high-profile people who cannot defend themselves. Klein says despite his friendship with Jackie O, he has no obligation to the dead.

Hockenberry: “Haven’t the Kennedys been dealing with people dredging up details from their personal lives, you know, for generations?”

Klein: “Yes, they have.”

Hockenberry: “Yeah. I mean, if there’s a Kennedy curse, maybe it’s guys like you?”

Klein: “I’m the Kennedy curse?”

Hockenberry: “Well, people who write books like this about those kinds of details, pedicures, that sort of thing, long after they’re dead?”

Klein: “Well—”

Hockenberry: “That’s a curse, wouldn’t you say?”

Klein: “That’s something that they brought on themselves.”

Hockenberry: “They brought it on themselves?”

Klein: “Yes.”

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