John F. Kennedy Jr. ‘Went Sour’ on the Press After Courting Their Attention for Years: ‘It Was Feeding His Ego’

John F Kennedy Jr at the Fisher Center Foundation Annual Gala Silent Auction at the St Regis Hotel in New York City, 1999. Globe Photos/Mediapunch/Shutterstock

He didn’t mind the attention … at first. In episode 4 of the “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” podcast, new details emerge about the relationship John F. Kennedy Jr. had with the press when he was a young man — and how that relationship changed after his celebrity status climbed to new heights.

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JFK Jr. seemed to cultivate a good relationship with the media early on, former New York Post reporter Linda Massarella explains. He was constantly being photographed with whichever celebrity he was dating at the time — from Cindy Crawford to Sarah Jessica Parker to Daryl Hannah. But the true media frenzy around John F. Kennedy’s son began when he started seeing Madonna.

“John had a love/hate relationship with the press in general,” reporter Leon Wagner says in the episode. “He courted them, unlike his mother, and he provoked them … They loved taking pictures of him on bicycles and what have you, and he gave them opportunity after opportunity. … Obviously when he went out with Madonna, that caused a storm unlike anything else.”

Wagner continues, “He became huge when he started dating celebrities … Madonna was a far bigger celebrity than he was. When they got together, it was photography heaven … Everywhere he went, he was flirting with everybody. Charms were all over the place, and he was having a good time.”

John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, arrive at the Minskoff Theatre. Mitch Jacobson/AP/Shutterstock

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Experts believe JFK Jr. didn’t appear to mind the new level of attention — if anything, he seemed to enjoy it.

“When he was able to leave the law and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and go into publishing and hang out a little bit more, he had more freedom to be the exhibitionist that I think he really was,” Massarella claims. She thinks JFK Jr. “was not trying to blend in” and was actually showing off for the press.

“By the time he stopped dating celebrities, he was already a celebrity,” Massarella adds. “It caused him to be a celebrity. So, there was no going back.”

JFK Jr. began to have more tumultuous encounters with photographers and his relationship with the press began to sour over time. The Secret Service wasn’t assigned to the children of former presidents at the time, so Kennedy was offered little protection once he turned 18. His celebrity status may have put his wife, Carolyn Bessette, at risk as well. To protect themselves, JFK Jr. and his wife went to great lengths to keep their exact New York City address a mystery to the media.

Former paparazzi photographer Lawrence Schwartzwald recalls taking “a very famous picture” of the couple holding hands as they left their New York City home. While JFK Jr. grew up in the limelight, Bessette seemed ill-prepared for it. Schwartzwald says JFK Jr. seemed “happy and comfortable with the press” when he captured that couple photo of the duo, but Bessette’s body language made it clear that when it came to media attention, “their temperaments were totally different.”

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Eventually, the pressure seemed to get to JFK Jr. He was allegedly captured on camera physically and threatening to attack a photographer. Tillett says in episode 4 of the podcast that there were multiple instances in which the publisher lost his temper with the press.

“He’d almost get violent with them,” Wagner adds. “He cursed at them and what have you, which only provoked them further because him being crazy is a better picture than him being sober and just standing there.”

To learn more about his life and untimely death, tune into “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” every Wednesday. Catch up on episodes 1 through 3 wherever podcasts are available.

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