Katie Couric on JFK Jr.’s Final TV Interview


“A couple of months before his death, I sat down with John F. Kennedy Jr. for what would turn out to be his last TV interview”

A couple of months before his death, I sat down with John F. Kennedy Jr. on the TODAY show for what would turn out to be his last TV interview. Today, with the 20th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of John, his wife Carolyn Bessette and her sister Lauren, I wanted to share my memories of that interview.

When we decided to try to interview him for the show, I was so excited — because, like so many others, I had a crush on him. I had followed his career and was so thrilled to be featured on the cover of his brash upstart politics magazine, George, in May 1997. I have a huge poster of that cover in my basement at the beach. Sometimes I look at it, and it feels like a lifetime ago — when my hair was very, very brown.

An NBC colleague and friend Lori Beecher and I met John at Michael’s restaurant in Midtown to try to make the interview happen. Michael’s is a popular lunch hotspot for the media crowd, but we picked it for a breakfast rendezvous. John ordered cereal with fruit. I clearly remember that they gave him cornflakes with honeydew sliced up on top of it. We all laughed and thought that was super bizarre.

Growing up, “Camelot” had such a hold on the public’s imagination. The image of “John John” as a three-year-old saluting his father’s casket was seared into the American consciousness. After JFK’s assassination, everyone seemed to be looking for someone to recapture the spirit of the young, athletic, vibrant Kennedy family. To many, John seemed to be the embodiment of that potential and people couldn’t seem to get enough of him, especially as he grew into a handsome young man.

I always felt a lot of sympathy for him. Imagine the public humiliation he experienced when he was mercilessly mocked for not passing the bar exam — not once, but twice. The expectations that were thrust upon him just by virtue of his name were so enormous, but somehow he pulled it off so gracefully.

On the day of our interview, he rode his bike to the studio at 30 Rock- which was pretty typical for him. Speaking with John on camera, he was kind, self-effacing, and surprisingly open. When I had interviewed his sister Caroline, she seemed much more guarded and less relaxed. But John spoke freely about a lot of very personal things, from his relationship with his mother to whether he thought his father would be proud of his career. It was very moving, and you can watch a clip of the interview here.

I’ll never forget when, two months later, on a Saturday in July 1999, my late sister Emily called me to say that John had been in a plane crash. It reminded me of how I felt when Princess Diana was killed in that terrible accident just two years earlier. They were both global icons who we lost too soon. I often wonder what both would be doing now. On my way to Nantucket this past weekend, I thought about him flying over the same waters and plunging into the Atlantic along with his young wife and her sister. Three lives ended that night; so heartbreaking for their families. But for the country, the hope and promise of Camelot seemed to be extinguished for good.