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Prince of the City

His romances, his wedding, his bar exam, his career, were national news. Living here in Manhattan, though, he was anything but a prisoner of his fame (sometimes, he even enjoyed it). Friends, neighbors, and colleagues remember the man they knew.

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*From the August 2, 1999 issue of New York Magazine.


CHRISTINA HAAG
Actress and friend

John and I met when we were 15. We knew each other as friends, and as housemates at Brown, and in many ways we grew up together. Ten years later, in 1985, we fell in love while we were both acting in a Brian Friel play called Winners at the Irish Arts Center. During the play, we began a romance that lasted until 1991.

John always had a grace and ease about him and, as I discovered, a tremendous ear for accents. When we did the play, I was in my last year at Juilliard and very pleased with myself in the area of dialects, and John usually deferred to me. However, at one point in rehearsal, we strongly disagreed over the Irish pronunciation of the word God; I was sure I was right and he was sure he was right. But it was confirmed by the director, who was Irish, that John was right. After that, I took my pointers from John. If he had pursued a career as an actor, he would have had a lot of opportunities.

JOHN PERRY BARLOW
Friend

I remember in 1977, when John showed up at my ranch in Wyoming for a summer job, he was so wide-eyed and energetic that he was like a giant Labrador-retriever puppy. Lots of energy, little focus. But he was amenable to being focused. The first thing I did was to tell him to go dig some post holes, and he just went at it like he was killing snakes. I was putting up a new corral fence, and he was digging through gravel and rock. He did it without complaining and with a ravenous intensity. It was the first time he'd ever done anything for money in his life -- not that he was getting paid a hell of a lot. But at least he had a job. This wasn't something that his mother was paying for; it was something that he was doing on his own, and he was just delighted. He wasn't a particularly great horseman, but he was perfectly patient with being given the drag, riding on the tail end of the herd and pushing along the laggardly cows and calves. Pretty boring work, really. There's little romance to it. But he did it uncomplainingly, as he did everything.

BARRY CLIFFORD
Friend and diving companion

The first time we went out on the Vast Explorer, in the early eighties, the captain of the ship was a guy nicknamed Stretch -- six ten, 325 pounds, a real rough-and-tumble fisherman. The boat was going out on a treasure hunt, and John really wanted to go. I said, "Look, I've been diving with this guy for years, and he's good. He's a good diver and a helluva athlete, and you can depend on him, believe me." But Stretch gave John the dirtiest jobs on the boat -- he wouldn't admit this today, but he tried to make Kennedy quit. His first job was cleaning out the lazarette, part of the rudder mechanism on the back, and it's just filthy. The bilge makes a cesspool smell. John spent a week in there without a word of complaint. And when John came out of the bilge, in Stretch's mind he had made the team.

Another time, there were three of us -- me, Kennedy, and this guy John Beyer -- on a dive into a big World War I freight vessel that had sunk off of Martha's Vineyard. There were World War I motorcycles onboard that they were bringing to Europe. And we were inside the ship once -- I mean, way down into the bowels of the ship. And then John Beyer's regulator broke and he couldn't breathe. Kennedy immediately gave Beyer his regulator and they buddy-breathed. But it wasn't just a simple buddy-breathing where you had to get to the surface. We had to go through these passageways that were falling down -- like going through a maze -- to get out of the ship. But John didn't even blink. There was no panic. It was just cool, calm, collected, business as usual.

SHAAZ ALI
Former colleague in the Office of Economic Development

When he started working here in 1985, he was like a really big kid, only 24 or 25 at the time. We had offices on different floors, and when he was walking through the stairs from one floor to another, he would yell out loud just to hear his echo. He used to chew the tops of pens, so all of us used to hide our pens from him. I issued him his very first paycheck, because I worked in payroll then. But he lost it. It was sent to the cleaners in his pants, so we had to issue him another one. He worked with us just about a year. After he left us, he went to law school.

MERRILL HOLTZMAN
Co-founder and former artistic director of Naked Angels

In 1987, I met him at a party in New York and we just started talking, and I remember a friend of mine said, "Hey, he really likes you," and I said, "Yeah, but he's John Kennedy. I'll never see him again." But then we started hanging out -- boxing matches, basketball games, the theater. We went to the Andrew Golota match in Atlantic City, and he did this funny thing: We were on the floor, but the tickets were midway back. So Donald Trump called us to sit ringside. We looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to do it. I found myself sitting between him and Evander Holyfield. And all of a sudden the crush began. Photographers, all kinds of people. It was a madhouse. There was a waitress who was carrying a whole tray of drinks -- she was dressed in a Caesar's outfit -- and they spilled all over her, and all over us. And he said, "You know, let's get out of here and go back to the other seats."


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