William J. Kole
BOSTON - America's prince is getting a new documentary.
"I Am JFK Jr. — A Tribute to a Good Man," which hits select theatres on July 22, captures the fascination with John F. Kennedy Jr., from his early days toddling around the White House to his death in a plane crash in 1999.
Network Entertainment's Derik Murray made the film in the mould of his other "I Am" movies, including "I Am Bruce Lee," ''I Am Chris Farley" and "I Am Evel Knievel." The film also airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. EDT on Aug. 1, and a DVD release is set for Aug. 16.
The film captures JFK Jr. as John John, the tousle-haired toddler of the late President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, saluting his father's casket after his 1963 assassination.
Highlights include JFK Jr.'s time as an assistant district attorney in New York, his 1988 People magazine Sexiest Man Alive cover and his 1995 debut as publisher of the splashy but short-lived magazine George.
Interspersed are snippets of interviews with celebrities and politicians who knew him well. They include supermodel Cindy Crawford, who famously posed as a midriff-baring George Washington, complete with powdered wig, for the inaugural issue of George; actor Robert De Niro; boxer Mike Tyson; journalist Christiane Amanpour; Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt; former Brown University roommate Chris Oberbeck; and Grateful Dead songwriter John Perry Barlow.
"John Kennedy Jr. was destined for greatness, the heir apparent to his father's legacy, and he knew that," Murray said.
But the son, a student of history's great men, had an overriding interest in goodness over greatness.
"After reading about them and who they were at home, how they treated their families, he thought it was more important for him to commit to being a good man," Murray said. "In his mind, that was often missing in great men."
Not surprisingly, the film focuses on JFK Jr.'s death at age 38 on July 16, 1999, when the single-engine private plane he was piloting from New Jersey to Martha's Vineyard en route to a family wedding on Cape Cod crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Killed with Kennedy were his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren Bessette.
Friends, acquaintances and pundits reflect on a life cut short and speculate on what he might have become.
President, for instance?
A clip of an interview that JFK Jr. gave to Oprah Winfrey is telling. She insists he surely must have thought about running for office, and he responds, somewhat coyly, "There is this great weight of expectation and anticipation."
But maybe not.
"John was smart enough to know, 'I'm Junior. I'm not my father,'" another presidential son, Michael Reagan, says in the film.
"I believe that he had greatness in him," CNN journalist Chris Cuomo tells the producers. "And I don't give a damn if that meant anything about politics."