LOS ANGELES, July 16 (UPI) -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. took a longer time to grow up than most people and four years after his death, he remains in the collective hearts of the American public who remember him as the brave little boy who saluted his slain father's casket.
According to Kennedy family historian and author Laurence Leamer, "John-John" -- as he was affectionately known -- was on the precipice of coming into his own both as a man and as the son of one of the most beloved presidents in the history of the United States.
While he matured slowly, Leamer told United Press International in a telephone interview from his Washington home, Kennedy "had finally gotten there -- and in those years as editor-in-chief at his magazine, George, he had an immense higher education in politics and he'd fully become a public man.
"His father would have been proud of him his entire life, even when he was having a good time in his youth, and it was only after the death of his mother in 1994 that he fully grasped hold of adulthood. Of course, she too would have been immensely proud of what he had become."
Leamer said that Jackie Kennedy always worried that her son was not taking his obligations as a Kennedy son seriously enough.
"She wanted him to do something serious," he said.
Never the subject of a tawdry scandal, even though he lived under the blazing inspection of the media microscope, Kennedy attended a series of schools, passed the bar exam on his third try and became a deputy district attorney in Manhattan in 1989.
He had an affair with actress Daryl Hannah, but his mother never approved of the Hollywood lifestyle and the relationship eventually ended. When he launched his political magazine, the first issue featured supermodel Cindy Crawford on the cover, nattily and sexily dressed -- parody style -- as George Washington.
But the best-selling issue of the publication was when Kennedy himself posed nude with the strategic body parts coyly covered. He once wrote a column that named his first cousins, Michael and Joseph, "poster boys for bad behavior," leading some to criticize him for not being loyal to the Kennedy name.
Four years ago Wednesday, July 16, Kennedy's Piper Saratoga was on approach from New Jersey to Martha's Vineyard (headed from there to Hyannis Port for a family wedding) when it went missing over Long Island Sound. Kennedy, 38, a relatively inexperienced pilot, was at the controls; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, 34, were also onboard. Their bodies were recovered from the submerged wreckage five days later.
Leamer, who has written two authoritative Kennedy books, has a third tome coming out early next year titled, "The Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty." This book is based on numerous exclusive on-the-record sourced interviews with Kennedy members and close inner-circle friends.
"I know about John's life through not only hours, but days and days of talks with his nine closest friends in the world," said Leamer. "If those who are closest to you know the truth about their friend's life, then my book has the truth: Finally, John becomes a public man, yet he had an intense passion and private life that was totally apart from the public life. That later life, very few people ever saw except for his closest friends and his sister and his wife," said Leamer.
Leamer continued: "Four years ago this whole nation mourned for an entire week over the loss of John; the television anchors cried -- he was on the cover of news magazines."
Referring to Edward Klein's newly released book "The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years," Leamer lamented the lack of documented close Kennedy sources in the tabloid-style book.
"If acquaintances, hairdressers and so-called anonymous voyeurs know the 'real' truth, then my book must be a pack of lies," Leamer wryly noted to UPI.
Leamer said that he had spent the day Tuesday with Tim Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics International Games that were held this year in Dublin.
"There was almost nothing in the American media about the spectacular events in Ireland and how that entire country was transformed for two weeks, but when there is savagery about the Kennedys available, then that is widely broadcast," Leamer said.
Klein's book, using hair colorists, pedicurists and many unnamed friends among its sources, alleges that the marriage of John Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette had crashed and burned in an ugly hail of drugs, depression, disloyalties, disagreements and even a possible impending divorce. His book is number 12 this week on The New York Times Hardcover Non-Fiction Best Sellers list.
Leamer said, "In my opinion, there is both darkness and light to the Kennedys and both should be seen."
While it is daunting to predict what the scion to the Camelot legend would have been doing today, Leamer believes he indeed could have run for a major political office.
"He was interested in so many things and he could have done absolutely anything he set his mind to do," Leamer suggested.
Kennedy's partially recovered remains were buried at sea off the United States Navy destroyer Briscoe in the murky Atlantic Ocean on July 22, 1999, under blue skies just a few miles from where the three bodies had been recovered. The flag at the White House was flown half staff that day in honor of another Kennedy.