How a Broken Promise to His Mother Led to JFK Jr.’s Untimely Death

Jackie Kennedy and JFK Jr.

If you've followed the Kennedy political dynasty throughout the years, you should be keenly aware that they have endured extensive pain and loss. Many Kennedy family members have died due to heartbreaking tragedies, including John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy Jr. 

A Kennedy “Curse?”

In 1944, Joseph “Joe” Kennedy, JFK's older brother, died from an in-air explosion as he flew a bomber plane during a volunteer mission in WWII. This unfortunate turn of events seems to have set off a family “curse” in which several members died before age 50. 

In 1963, JFK lost his life to an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas, as his motorcade drove through the city. Dramatic pictures show his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, leaning over the back of the car she and the president were riding in. They speak loudly of the personal cost of the shooting. 

Tragedy continued to follow Jackie after her husband's death. An assassin also killed her brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, after he won the California Democratic Primary in 1968, five short years after JFK's death. 

John F. Kennedy, Jr. 

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. was born to John F. and Jackie Kennedy on November 25, 1960. He was the younger brother of Caroline Kennedy, and the two children grew up in the public eye. JFK Jr. famously saluted his father's casket as it passed during the state funeral procession. 

Although Jackie Kennedy died at age 64, she had earlier requested a promise from her son, who was 33 at the time of her death. 

Broken Promises

According to the biography The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, the former first lady was said to have “made John swear that he would not pursue his pilot's license.” She had every right to be worried about her son flying. Her brother-in-law, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, was severely hurt in a 1964 plane crash that killed two others, and while Jackie was married to her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, his son Alexander died in a plane crash.

After asking Ted Kennedy and her then-partner Maurice Tempelsman to hold John to his promise, Jackie lost her battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1994.

The Family's Death Toll Rises

Against his late mother's wishes, John F. Kennedy Jr. received his pilot's license in April 1998. On July 16, 1999, five years after Jackie's death, he flew with his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, to his cousin Rory Kennedy's wedding. According to reports, Kennedy suffered from spatial disorientation during the night flight, lost control, and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha's Vineyard. The three bodies were recovered on July 21.

As of the time of this writing, 22-year-old Saoirse Kennedy Hill, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was the latest Kennedy to die. Saoirse died in 2019 in the Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, family home. This is the same home John Jr. planned to visit for Rory's wedding in 1999. Claims have been made that Saoirse suffered from depression and died after an accidental overdose. 

Kennedy Curse

Whether you call it bad luck, a family curse, or just a set of terrible circumstances, there is no doubt that the Kennedy family has suffered more than their fair share of tragedies. That John F. Kennedy, Jr. died in a plane crash after allegedly promising his mother he wouldn't pursue his pilot's license is a twisted coincidence that adds even more sadness to the family's story.