Politics, as the saying goes, is Hollywood for ugly people, and that was one reason Jack Kennedy gleamed so in his chosen field. Youth, wealth and that Kennedy brio helped, no doubt, but in this nation, which always loved its movie stars more than its leaders, dashing good looks, a beautiful wife and an untimely death make a sure ticket to immortality. John Kennedy Jr. was not in politics (though remarkably, everyone now seems to remember him as headed that way). Just as well, perhaps ó we donít much like our politicians these days, and private-sector John-John (our name for him) was his father brought nearer and friendlier, the affable scion on a SoHo street corner. And he certainly wasnít ugly ó indeed, he was handsomer in person, handsomer than his father, handsomer than just about anybody else we liked to think we knew. But what if he hadnít been? What if he had been less like Princess Diana, and more like Prince Charles?
Start by throwing out three-quarters of those magazine covers ó at the very least. "This is a visual culture, a television culture, a culture that appreciates beauty," says TIME People editor Michelle Orecklin. And as pundits looking back scramble to dismantle the "hunk" image ó John cared about the underprivileged, John cared about serious political issues, John was wise, and no lightweight ó note that those are not policy wonks tromping through lower Manhattan to leave notes and flowers on John and Carolynís North Moore Street doorstep. Overwhelmingly, they are the ones who bought the publications that plastered his face on the front page, again and again, and told the stories of John-John and Madonna, John-John and Daryl Hannah, John-John and his beautiful wife, Carolyn Bessette. "Because he was so handsome," says Orecklin, "he dated beautiful women. He was photogenic. The photographers wanted him; he didnít run away. Thatís how we got to feel we knew him so well."