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Author Defends 'Kennedy Curse'

1998/1/3 John F. Kennedy Jr. and wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy headshots, at funeral of cousin Michael Kennedy, photo
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A controversial new book has made headlines by claiming that the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s marriage to Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was deeply troubled and that the couple may have been on the verge of divorce when they died in a plane crash four years ago.

The book, "The Kennedy Curse" examines the lives of several generations of Kennedys. But its revelations concerning John F Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn have made news and drawn criticism. The book claims, among other things, that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was a cocaine user and may have been physically abusive towards her husband.

"Also, the Archbishop of New York John Cardinal O'Connor had been called in by Teddy Kennedy, the senator, to help heal the rift between these two people," says Edward Klein, the book's author and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. "The Kennedy Curse" is the third book that he's written about the Kennedy clan.

In response to his critics, which include Kennedy biographer Lawrence Leamer, Klein tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, "How can one respond to somebody who doesn't have my sources? I have had one thought that's always gone through my head in 40 years of journalism as a foreign editor of Newsweek and The New York Times for 12 years and now as contributing editor to Vanity Fair and Parade, which is the truth hurts. Lots of people don't like to hear the truth. It is painful. And many people would like to deny it."

Klein's Vanity Fair piece, Smith notes, had a lot of un-attributed accusations giving the story sort of a tabloid style to it. But Klein says it is not for lack of sources.

"I have been reporting on the Kennedys for 15 years now," he says. "It all began with a cover story for Vanity Fair in 1989. This is my third book on the Kennedys. The other two books were best sellers as well. I have had several hundred sources. This book has 140 sources on the record.

"Some of the key sources," Klein adds, "such as Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's former lover, the Calvin Klein underwear model with whom she carried on an affair while she was living with John before they got married, is on the record. As is his manager and many, many other people. It's curious to me that other authors who haven't been able to penetrate as deeply as I would come out and say these things."

Klein also points out that John and Carolyn's story is just one chapter in his book.

Are the Kennedys really cursed?

Klein says not in the supernatural sense: "It's my view that the Kennedy family has what you might call combination of classic hubris and modern genetics," Klein says, "and they have this obsession with power, almost to the exclusion of ethical standards. This has led them to a feeling that they can get away with things that others can't."

Klein says it is really a "psychological and genetic curse, if you will, in the sense that they're impelled to do self-destructive things." He says this does not necessarily mean bad behavior; it can simply mean making poor choices.

He says, "In the four years since John Kennedy was assassinated, Kennedys and those associated with them have been dying, literally dying, at the rate of one every two years. I searched high and low for families that have anything near this kind of record and I couldn't find anything unless you go back to Greek mythology."

It all started back to Ireland, he says.

"We forget the Irish people were colonized by the British and kept under the boot of the British for centuries, the only white immigrant group in this country that had been colonized," Klein says. "They came here with a terrible sense of inferiority and found more prejudice here. I think they compensated for that in some cases with this sort of grandiosity."

Klein says he is often asked whether the Kennedy curse continues, and his answer to that is, "I think, in the case of John, it did. We thought that he was exempt from this curse. And I think that his death was an example of a young man who was psychologically distraught over his marriage and the collapse of his magazine and physically was in no shape to fly the plane because he had just broken his leg. Technically, couldn't handle the plane and yet, to prove himself, as so many Kennedys have done, went ahead and tragically died."

A friend of President Kennedy's widow, Klein admits the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis wouldn't have been thrilled to read his book. But he says he is certain it would not have severed their relationship.

He says, "I wrote about Jackie while she was alive. She said to me, 'Oh, Ed, give me a break,' on more than one occasion. But it never broke our friendship."