John F. Kennedy Jr. grew up in a blazing spotlight and was widely regarded as American royalty. He was one of the most photographed men of his generation and one of the country’s most eligible bachelors.
But few people got a glimpse of him the moment he let go of that bachelor status.
On Sept. 21, 1996, he wed Carolyn Bessette in a secret ceremony witnessed by just 35 guests. Now, 25 years later, the only professional photographer invited to the nuptials is sharing his memories.
Denis Reggie, the brother of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s wife, attended the small ceremony that took place on Georgia’s Cumberland Island, held in a tiny church with holes in the floor and no electricity, and he captured unforgettable images from the special day.
“The elegance and less being more and not making it a grand occasion but a warm and loving, memorable weekend — I thought that they pulled it off magnificently,” Reggie told TODAY in a segment aired Thursday.
He recalled snapping the most famous photo of the happy couple just moments after they said, “I do.”
“They came out of the chapel and John reached, as a prince would, for the hand of his bride and brought it to his lips and kissed her hand,” Reggie explained. “I thought there was a magic there. You can see in her face, in Carolyn’s face, surprise and elation and love and romance and all those wonderful things.”
Some of the only other peeks at the wedding that the public has seen came from the groom’s longtime friend Billy Noonan, who in 2019 released footage he took with a handheld video camera for the TLC special “JFK Jr. & Carolyn’s Wedding: The Lost Tapes.”
In that special, the son of former President John F. Kennedy thanked the guests for helping him and his bride keep the wedding a secret.
“Carolyn and I owe all of you a great debt of gratitude,” the lawyer and journalist said on one of Noonan’s tapes. “I realize that we imposed certain conditions upon this event.”
While they were able to keep the wedding private, a shocked public delighted in Reggie’s photos afterwards and fell in love with JFK Jr. and Bessette’s story.
As Vanity Fair correspondent Rachel Burchfield told TODAY, “That night, for that one bright shining moment, it was Camelot, in their own way, their own version of Camelot. And it was beautiful.”
Kennedy was 35 and Bessette was 30 when they wed. In 1999, just two months before what would have been their third wedding anniversary, the couple died when their plane crashed off Martha’s Vineyard.
Ree Hines is a freelance writer and editor who covers pop culture, lifestyle stories and trending news. She’s also a soul-music loving, coffee-obsessed member of both Team Cat and Team Dog. Ree lives in Tampa, Florida, and is a regular contributor to TODAY.com.
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