On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. took off from a New Jersey airport on his single-engine plane, along with his passengers: wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and her sister, Lauren Bessette.
About an hour after they left, at approximately 9:40 pm, John encountered a thick fog and lost his bearings. The plane spiraled downward and crashed into the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard, killing all three.
“If John knew he was going to be gone at 38, he wouldn’t want to be forgotten,” says RoseMarie Terenzio, a close friend who worked as John’s personal assistant and then chief of staff during his tenure running George magazine.
“It doesn’t get any less sad, and that’s something that will always be,” says Terenzio who wrote about John and Carolyn in her 2012 memoir, Fairy Tale Interrupted. “It’s important that people remember him. He was part of American history. ”
Much has been written about John in recent weeks, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the fatal plane crash. Last week saw the release of a new biography, America’s Reluctant Prince, written by his friend and historian Steven M. Gillon, which revealed a man much more complex than the world knew.
“He said he was two people,” Gillon told PEOPLE earlier this month. He said he played the role of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., the son of the president. But at his core, he was just John. ”
The eldest son of a slain world leader, John “wore his fame and carried his legacy with such integrity,” Terenzio says.
“He understood his legacy and was careful with it,” she says. “He only used it in a way that would benefit the greater good. He never did an interview unless there was a purpose. It was always about what good it would do. ”