I Am JFK jrThe story of John F. Kennedy Jr, a young man destined for greatness, but determined to be good in a world filled with high expectations. AIRS: Saturday March 13, 2021 at 9:00 PM ET/PT on documentaryChannel
“I could be a great man,” John F. Kennedy Jr. once told his friend John Perry Barlow. “But I wonder if it wouldn't be a better goal to become a good man?”
The White House was the first home John knew. The son of President John F. Kennedy and the former Jacqueline Bouvier grew up under the eyes of America. And when TV and press cameras captured the moment three-year-old JFK Jr. snapped a smart salute to his fallen father the image was seared into the nation's collective memory. I Am JFK Jr. tells the story of that little boy who would grow up to become arguably the most famous—and according to People Magazine, the sexiest—man in America. It's also the story of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a woman who defined style for a generation of Americans, and of the young, charismatic president whose legacy would shadow and shape John's life.
He was born by Caesarean section on November 25, 1960, the second child of John Fitzgerald and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. It may have been the President's habit of calling John's name repeatedly that led to the widely-used nickname of “John-John.” But Jackie never liked the nickname (and neither did JFK Jr.). Little John developed an early love of aviation. Nothing got him so excited as the comings and goings of the presidential helicopter.
JFK's funeral was held Monday, November 25—John's third birthday. Outside the cathedral, as the flag-draped casket departed for Arlington Cemetery, Jackie leaned down and told John he could salute his father now. TV and press cameras captured the moment as JFK Jr. turned and saluted his father. That iconic moment sealed the popular bond with young John that would later make him arguably the most famous man in America.
I Am JFK Jr. features interviews with people from every area of John's life. From his famous friends Robert De Niro, Cindy Crawford and Christiane Amanpour, who before gaining fame on CNN shared a big house with John and other friends attending college in Providence. Other interviews include John’s former Executive Assistant RoseMarie Terenzio and colleagues from his pioneering George magazine, Gary Ginsberg and Matt Berman, along with close friends such as Grateful Dead songwriter John Perry Barlow, Sasha Chermayeff, Chris Oberbeck, Richard Wiese, Brian Steel, and John Hare. John had some controversial acquaintances too, evidence of a tendency to defy people's expectations of him. He would forge personal and professional relationships with Mike Tyson, Larry Flynt, and Ann Coulter. Michael Reagan, son of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, CNN’s Chris Cuomo and political advisor Paul Begala are also featured.
Along with these cinematically shot interviews, I Am JFK Jr. features personal photographs from John’s friends, vintage footage of young John-John at the White House and on vacation with his family, and very rare footage of John from the years following his famous father's assassination.
At the Democratic National Convention of 1988, John F. Kennedy Jr. made his true political debut, introducing his uncle, Ted. Twenty-seven years old and gorgeous, it was clear that JFK Jr. was a potential political superstar. The September 2, 1988 cover of People magazine anointed JFK Jr. as “The Sexiest Man Alive.” As Sasha Chermayeff recalls, “Things changed. He had to be more careful with himself.”
Under this intense spotlight, he had to endure a very public struggle to pass his New York bar exam. He failed on his first try in July 1989, which inspired derisive headlines such as “The Hunk Flunks.” Still, he was able to work as an assistant prosecutor in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. He would pass the bar exam July 24, 1990, on his third try. John was an integral part of the Manhattan landscape. Actor Kristoffer Polaha, who would later portray him in the film America's Prince, recalls the sense of excitement that came with JFK Jr. sightings: “It was like seeing Santa Claus.”
I Am JFK Jr. is also a portrait of John's mother, the woman who defined fashion for a generation of Americans—but who considered motherhood her most important role. As Christiane Amanpour recalls, Jackie was a devoted and adoring mom who would greet her son at the door, with “Oh, angel!” Her death was a tremendous loss but also a watershed moment for John who would now strike out on his own.
Launching George magazine would be a turning point in John's life, the moment when he began to forge his own path. His assistant Rosemarie Terenzio was there to see it all, taking calls from the likes of De Niro and Marlon Brando and even planning his secret wedding to the stunning and stylish Carolyn Bessette (an event Terenzio somehow managed to keep secret). Former Senior Editor at George, Gary Ginsberg, describes the work environment as, “more hectic than the White House.”
All through his life, John had to deal with the expectations and scrutiny that came from being the good-looking, charismatic son of America's martyred president. Michael Reagan and author Douglas Wead talk about the difficulties and strange destinies of presidential children, while authors Christopher Andersen and Laurence Leamer offer background on the life of America's most famous family.
On the evening of July 16, 1999, John, Carolyn, and her sister Lauren Bessette would board John's Piper Saratoga for a flight to Martha's Vineyard. It would never arrive. Once again, America was plunged into grief for a charismatic young Kennedy—but for his friends, the loss was much more personal and painful.
What did America lose in John? What did the future hold for America's prince? A future leader certainly. But as John Perry Barlow recalls, it also lost a young man destined for greatness whose true ambition was to be good.
Directed by Steve Burgess (The Cowboy) and Derik Murray (I Am Evel Knievel, I Am Steve McQueen, I Am Bruce Lee, I Am Chris Farley), produced by Derik Murray and executive produced by Paul Gertz (I Am Evel Knievel, I Am Steve McQueen, I Am Bruce Lee, I Am Chris Farley), Kent Wingerak (I Am Evel Knievel, I Am Steve McQueen, I Am Bruce Lee, I Am Chris Farley).