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Jewish World Review July 21, 1999/ 8 Av 5759

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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JFK Jr. and Diana: the pain of privilege -- WHEN I FIRST HEARD the news of John Kennedy Jr.'s missing plane, I felt the same profound sadness I had upon learning that Princess Diana had been involved in a fatal car accident.

Why would the deaths of these two people exceptionally bother me when I wasn't particularly interested in keeping up with their lives?

Though I was just vaguely aware of all of Diana's philanthropic activities, and even less so of her personal problems, I had a sense that she suffered immensely during her life. Regardless of her sometimes self-abusive behavior, she otherwise dealt with her pain in a healthy way: by losing herself in tireless service to others.

Her life and death symbolized the truism that royalty, wealth and all their trappings are insufficient to bring fulfillment to a person's heart.

It seemed that she was intensely discontented, and forever trying to escape. Even when she had apparently found the love of her life in Dodi Fayed, she couldn't quit running. But unlike before, she was not seeking refuge from her own demons, but the relentlessly stalking media.

It just struck me that Diana's entire adult life had been one of internal torment. She had everything that many people spend their whole lifetime pursuing, yet she spent hers trying to dispossess herself of it.

John Kennedy Jr. was born into America's version of royalty. Though we have no monarch in the U.S., neither does Britain anymore, except nominally. And President Kennedy's rise to power was almost as arranged (by his father) as a king's entitlement to the throne is sealed by his bloodline.

The wealth, good looks and glamour that characterized the "King" of Camelot (JFK) lent credence to his royal pedigree. Then his assassination-generated martyrdom ensured de facto royalty for his family in perpetuity.

From that point on, the media viewed Kennedy's surviving siblings, then nephews, as potential heirs to the throne. Surely there was a political messiah among JFK's two surviving siblings. But they both fell in succession: one, as a result of his own death, the other, as a result of Mary Jo Kopechne’s death.

Tragedy, scandal and misfortune have plagued collateral heirs further down the royal line as well. David Kennedy died from a drug overdose in 1984, and Michael (who had been accused of having an affair with his family's teen-age babysitter), from a 1997 skiing accident. Robert Jr. was charged with possession of heroin in South Dakota in 1983, and William Kennedy Smith was charged with, but acquitted in 1991, of rape at the family's Palm Beach estate.

While John Jr. experienced his own difficulties (twice flunking the NY bar exam) he seemed to be a cut above his cousins. He may have been referring to that in his column in the September, 1997 issue of George magazine when he described two of them as "poster boys for bad behavior." John Jr. seemed just as anxious to escape his royalty as Diana was hers. In his childhood, he tried to ditch his Secret Service agents, partly out of mischief and partly for privacy. As an adult, he preferred taxis to limousines and lived in a loft in a warehouse district rather than a palatial pad overlooking Central Park. He didn't deny, or forego, the advantages of his family name. "I can't pretend that my last name didn't sell this magazine," he told reporters. But at the same time, he didn't rest on his family laurels. Instead, he chose to actively involve himself in the magazine, from column writing to management.

From most accounts, John Jr., like Diana, was a gentle spirit with a servant's heart. His name and status did not prevent him from treating others decently.

John Jr., again like Diana, seemed to have everything anybody else would have wanted except inner peace. One psychologist speculated that Kennedy has never been able to replace the void left by his father's death. She surmised that he might have had a death wish of sorts, seeking a post-mortem reunion with his departed father. To her, that may have explained his frequent high-risk behavior.

If such high-risk behavior indeed contributed to the deaths of Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law, their deaths are that much more tragic.

What strikes me as most tragic about the deaths of John Jr. and Diana, though, was the pain associated with their privileged lives. Even if they were both on the verge of finding themselves prior to their deaths they each suffered greatly because their respective circumstances made it virtually impossible to enjoy the one thing they probably craved more than anything else: simple, normal lives.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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