Lee Radziwill, sister of Jackie Kennedy, dies aged 85

American socialite was visible support for her sister following JFK’s assassination

 Lee Radziwill pictured at London Airport after the shooting of US senator Robert Kennedy in 1968. Photograph: Michael Stroud/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Lee Radziwill pictured at London Airport after the shooting of US senator Robert Kennedy in 1968. Photograph: Michael Stroud/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

The American socialite Lee Radziwill, who was Jackie Kennedy’s younger sister, has died aged 85. Her daughter, Anna Christina Radziwill, confirmed the death, citing natural causes.

Radziwill was born Caroline Lee Bouvier in Southampton, New York in 1933, four years after her sister. Briefly and unsuccessfully an actor, she worked for editor Diana Vreeland at Harper’s Bazaar magazine and achieved success as an interior designer and public relations executive in the fashion industry, working for Giorgio Armani.

In a glamorous life she counted Truman Capote and Andy Warhol among her friends and she was married three times: to Michael Canfield, a publishing executive; to the Polish prince Stanislaw Radziwill; and to the choreographer and director Herbert Ross. The first marriage was annulled and the second and third ended in divorce.

Among her lovers was the British politician Roy Jenkins, a Labour home secretary and chancellor and author of a number of well-received historical and political books.

She was reported by the tabloids to have had a relationship with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis before he married her sister, something Radziwill scoffed at in a recent New York Times interview. Radziwill described Onassis as “dynamic, irrational, cruel, I suppose, but fascinating”.

Radziwill’s sister, then Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, married future president John F Kennedy in 1953 and Onassis in 1968. She died in 1994.

For years, especially before and during her sister’s time as first lady, Radziwill had been close to her sister, sharing holidays and family gatherings; attending state functions; visiting the White House; hosting the Kennedys at the Radziwill town house in London; and, notably, taking a monthlong 1962 holiday with Kennedy in Italy, India and Pakistan. Cementing family ties, the Kennedys had named their firstborn child Caroline, after Caroline Lee, who had always been known by her middle name. John Kennedy had been godfather to the Radziwills’ daughter, Anna Christina.

Sisters and socialites Lee Radziwill and Jacqueline Kennedy, sitting in the back of a car in London, May 15th 1965. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images
Sisters and socialites Lee Radziwill and Jacqueline Kennedy, sitting in the back of a car in London, May 15th 1965. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

JFK’s assassination

Radziwill came to resent media attention based on her famous sibling, telling Vanity Fair in 2016: “Please tell me this is not a story about my sister and me. I’m just sick of that! It’s like we’re Siamese twins!” Vanity Fair duly told Radziwill’s story as it intertwined with that of Kennedy Onassis.

Radziwill nonetheless frequently discussed her time in and around the Kennedy White House, telling the New York Times she could not “deny those few years were glamorous. Being on the presidential yacht for the America’s Cup races, the parties with the White House en fête. It was so ravishing.”

In a 2001 interview with ABC, she told of being in the private quarters of the White House with Kennedy and her sister at the peak of the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962. She said one night the president took a phone call and then told them: “In three minutes we’ll know if we’re in all-out war or not.”

During John F Kennedy’s funeral, following his assassination in 1963, she was a visible support for her sister, escorting the body to the Capitol to lie in state; during the funeral at the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle, and at burial ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

Truman Capote

Radziwill’s friendship with writer Capote was both glamorous and stormy - she became one of his “swans”, the name the writer gave to his gossipy circle of socialite female friends. Capote fell out of favour with them in 1975 when Esquire magazine published La Côte Basque 1965, his thinly veiled tale of sex and dirty secrets.

Radziwill’s relationship with Capote became more bitter in the late 1970s when she sided with the author Gore Vidal in a feud. Vidal sued Capote for telling an interviewer Vidal had been thrown out of a 1961 White House party for drunken behaviour. Capote claimed he heard the story from Radziwill but she responded that she had never said such a thing.

Capote called Radziwill a “treacherous lady” and began to publicly discuss the particulars of her love life, although in the past he had encouraged her to pursue an acting career and wrote the screenplay for the 1968 TV adaptation of Laura in which Radziwill starred. She also had a run in a Chicago stage production of The Philadelphia Story, but was panned.

In 1974, the CBS television network gave her an interview show, Conversations With Lee Radziwill, in which she talked with famous friends such as the ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. It was cancelled after six episodes.

Radziwill had two children with her second husband. Her son, Anthony Radziwill, died in 1999, shortly after her nephew, John Kennedy jnr. She is survived by her daughter, Christina.–Guardian and New York Times