It was a summer of tragedy. Carole Radziwill talks about the
deaths of her friends, John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette,
and the death of her husband just weeks later.
Carole Radziwill's story begins
like a fairy-tale…a small-town girl from a working-class
family falls in love with a real-life prince and marries into
America's "royal family," the Kennedys. But, for
Carole, there was no "happily ever after."
During the summer of 1999, Carole lost her husband and two close
friends within three weeks of each other. First, her beloved
friends, John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, died in a tragic
plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean. Weeks later, her husband
and John's cousin, Anthony Radziwill, lost his battle with
After years of struggling with the loss, she wrote her memoir, What
2 On that fateful July night in
1999, Carole was at home reading Anna
Karenina when she got a phone call from her best friend,
Carolyn Bessette. Carolyn had boarded a plane in New Jersey and
was about to take off for Massachusetts, but before she did, she
wanted to confirm weekend plans with Carole.
"It was a short conversation because I was going to see her
the next day," Carole says. "I hung up the phone and
opened the book I was reading, and an hour later she was
The plane that was carrying John, Carolyn and Carolyn's sister
Lauren went down at approximately 9:38 p.m. that night.
"I became almost obsessed in the year following that night
about what I was doing at the exact moment when Carolyn was in
that plane," Carole says. "That first chapter that I
wrote was sort of a nightmare that went over and over and over
again in my head every day.
"Afterward I tried to find something to explain what had
happened—was it cloudy, were the stars out?" Carole
writes in her memoir. "But the night was ordinary. It
usually is, I think, when your life changes. Most people aren't
doing anything special when the carefully placed pieces of their
life break apart."
after hanging up the phone with Carolyn, Carole was awakened by
another call. »
3 At midnight that same night, the phone rang and awoke Carole
and her husband, Anthony, who was in the last stages of cancer.
Carole expected to hear John's voice on the other end, but
instead it was John's friend, Pinky.
"[Pinky] was at Hyannis Airport, and he was waiting for
John's plane, and he said, 'But they're not here. Are they there
with you?'" Carole says. "And the moment he said
that…I don't know how much time passed. It could have been
seconds. It could have been minutes…[but] I knew immediately
that the plane had probably crashed. I just knew."
Carole's journalism instincts, from the years she spent at ABC
News, kicked in. She made phone calls to airports, the Coast
Guard, the Air Force and Carolyn's cell phone for hours, late
into the night. "I left messages hoping that she'd pick
up," Carole says. "And then later on in the night, I
just called just to hear her voice."
At 5 a.m., Carole made a heartbreaking phone call to Carolyn and
Lauren's mother to tell her that her daughters were missing.
Anthony called Caroline, John's sister. Then, they waited for
"It was Saturday morning and I remember just sitting in
front of the TV," Oprah says. "We were just sitting
there waiting, waiting, waiting."
Carole held out hope that they might be found, but by Monday,
the families began making funeral plans and on Tuesday, the
plane wreckage was found. Carolyn, John and Lauren were buried
at sea days later.
lost her best friend that day, but for Anthony, the loss was
4 Carole's husband, Anthony, was
not only John's first cousin; they were best friends. But most
times, they behaved like brothers.
In her memoir, What Remains, Carole writes, "John is
Oscar to Anthony's Felix. If Anthony is the angel, the
well-mannered school boy, John is the scamp…Watching them, I
can see they can't stand too close to each other and can't bear
to be too far apart."
John was Anthony's best man at his wedding, and he also stood by
Anthony's side throughout his long battle with cancer.
The first time doctors told Carole her husband was on the verge
of death, John showed up at the hospital late that night wearing
a tuxedo. He had just come from a black-tie affair, and he went
straight to the bedside of his best friend and held his hand.
"[John] was made for the big moments, and he always pulled
it out," Carole says. "And this was a big
"[John] started singing a song, humming at first and then
started singing," Carole says. "Carolyn and I didn't
know what the song was, but it was a children's nursery rhyme.
And then Anthony recognized it. It was called "Teddy Bears
Picnic"…It was a song that John's mom would sing to them
when they were 11- or 12-year-old boys—when they thought they
were big—and she would sing this song to remind them that they
were still little boys."
Although Anthony was in and out of consciousness, he smiled and
started humming along with John. "And in the book, I
remember you saying," Oprah recalls, "That the doctors
think that Anthony will die tonight, and John takes him, by
singing that song, to the safest place he knew."
and Carole's friendship was also something very special, from
the moment they met. »
5 From the first moment they met,
Carole and Carolyn shared a special bond. "We instantly
liked each other," Carole says. "And we didn't really
know why, because I didn't know her. She didn't know me. But we
just clicked in a way that had never happened for me
before…and it hasn't happened since. I saw something familiar
in her, and she did in me."
The two women came from similar, working-class backgrounds and
grew up right across the Hudson River from one another. Carole
was raised in Suffern, New York, Carolyn in Yonkers—far from
the lavish estates of the Kennedy family. Carole barely
recognizes the glamorized version of Carolyn seen in
photos…the woman she remembers usually wore sweatpants and
T-shirts, with her hair all a mess. Carole also remembers
Carolyn sitting with her in the hospital room for 12 hours at a
time, rubbing Anthony's feet. Carolyn would also make up excuses
to get Carole out of the hospital—like a need to buy tulips or
a quick trip to the mall.
"I never told her this, but she saved my life so many
times," Carole says. "So many times. She was so much
fun. She's just like the girlfriend every girl should
does Carole want everyone to know about her best friends? »
6 After the tragic plane crash
that killed John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, rumors
circulated in the media about the state of their marriage and
possible drug abuse.
Carole calls the rumors "unfair," saying, "I
think this is something that really has a way of distorting
everything in life, and people don't understand the difference
between fact and truth. And the fact is it was a very difficult
summer. The fact is Anthony was dying. John's business was
struggling. The fact is that they were in marriage counseling.
The truth is that they loved each other and they were committed
to their relationship, and you can't judge someone's marriage or
life on a snapshot, you know, of one month or two months or one
How does Carole want her lost friends to be remembered?
"I think nobody knows what happens in a marriage except for
the two people in it. I honestly believe that," says
Carole. "I know that they loved each other and they were
committed to their relationship."
made a lasting impact on Carole, too. »
7 Two weeks after Carole's husband
passed away, she had a special encounter with Oprah at the home
of their mutual friend, Diane Sawyer. Carole recounted the
brief, yet moving moment.
Carole: You got very serious and you were saying
goodbye. … And you sort of held me by my shoulders and looked
at me straight in the eyes and said, "You're going to be
okay. You're going to be fine." And I [was
thinking]…"I hope I don't wake up in the morning."
… You just knew that there was something that you saw or
something that you knew that I was going to be okay.
Oprah: I was trying to will that to you.
Carole: You did.
talks about living through cancer with a loved one. »
8 Carole's husband, Anthony, lost
his battle with cancer just three weeks after the fatal plane
crash. Carole recalls their struggles because of the illness:
"We were all sort of in denial. It was the way Anthony and
I decided to conduct the whole illness. He would have the cancer
and I would take care of it, and we wouldn't really talk about
it. And we compartmentalized it."
Carole says that toward the end of her husband's fight with
cancer, John Kennedy Jr. insisted they try to help Anthony get
through the five stages of grief. Despite John's concern, Carole
says she felt Anthony's denial would outlast the disease.
"With Anthony I think it did. And that's the way he wanted
it. And I had to respect that. And it was very difficult, you
know, it was very difficult not to talk about it, but I knew
that he didn't want to talk about it."
made Carole write her book? »
9 Carole began writing her memoir about four years after that
summer, saying it was a book she needed to write: "In the
chaos of the aftermath of that summer, I kind of assumed this
responsibility to keep them all alive. No one asked me to, but I
felt like I was the link to the three of them. And that was a
huge responsibility." She explains, "We keep the dead
alive in our minds to keep them close and there came a point
where I couldn't live with that anymore and I knew I had to find
a space for all of that that was outside of my head."
Carole also says she had started to move on with her life, but
was beginning to forget details of the past: "I was
forgetting things and it was making me anxious, and I thought, I
can't lose them a second time."
For Carole, it was "an unbelievable relief" to begin
to tell her story. "I felt that it really allowed me to
move on in my life in a way that I couldn't possibly have done
without getting all of that stuff out of my head."