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John F. Kennedy Jr. was born with the fortune (or, indeed, misfortune) of sharing a name with the 35th president of the United States – who also happened to be his father. And not any president, but perhaps the president of the 20th century, part of a grand political dynasty and the closest thing to royalty the country ever had – it’s little wonder that the young Kennedy was deemed America’s prince. And, like all good princes should be, he was handsome – an irresistible blend of his all-American father and the innate East Coast elegance of his mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – a brand of archetypal good looks that saw him named “sexiest man alive” by People magazine in 1988.
Despite his lofty status, Kennedy Jr. nonetheless became a kind of mythical boy-next-door – such was his mother’s insistence that he lived a normal life that when he was robbed of his bicycle in Central Park, aged 13, she said it was probably good for him (“unless he is allowed freedom, he’ll be a vegetable,” she once said). This desire for normality perhaps explained why he always looked most at ease on the family estate on Martha’s Vineyard, the island just off Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, away from the confines of New York (perhaps all the more tragic then, that it was where he was flying to when his plane crashed and he died, aged 38).
On the long beaches of Cape Cod, the young Kennedy Jr. was a glowing vision of American athleticism: he sailed and swam, played touch football and tennis, or rollerbladed along the beachfront boulevards. His did so in perhaps the simplest, and yet most timeless, of beachside uniforms – a pair of swimming shorts (brief, as was the style in the 1970s), accessorised with little else than his then-signature shark’s tooth necklace, the occasional string of beads, and a ruffled head of windswept curls.
“People often tell me I could be a great man. I’d rather be a good man”
– John F. Kennedy Jr.