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Lee Radziwill, sister of Jackie Kennedy, dies

Updated February 17, 2019 - 2:35 pm

NEW YORK — Lee Radziwill, the stylish jet setter and socialite who found friends, lovers and other adventures worldwide while bonding and competing with her sister Jacqueline Kennedy, has died. She was 85.

Anna Christina Radziwill told The New York Times her mother died Friday of what she described as natural causes. The Associated Press left messages Saturday and Sunday for the family.

The husky-voiced Radziwill shared her older sister’s affinity for fashion and globe-trotting, as well as her dark, wide-set eyes and high cheekbones. They were confidantes as young women, and Radziwill was a frequent guest at the White House during President John F. Kennedy’s administration. She was with the president when he made a trip to London in 1961, and Kennedy was godfather to Radziwill’s daughter, Anna Christina.

The Kennedys and Radziwills spent Christmases together in Palm Beach, Florida, and the sisters traveled to India and Pakistan. Radziwill helped select the wardrobe for what became one of Jackie’s signature moments — her trip to Paris with her husband in 1961.

“She had to travel a lot and liked to have me with her,” Radziwill wrote in “Happy Times,” a memoir published in 2001, seven years after her sister’s death. “Apart from mutual affection, I think our strongest bond was a shared sense of humor.”

But tensions emerged after Kennedy’s assassination, in 1963.

Radziwill had worried that her brother-in-law’s ascent would overshadow her and told Gloria Steinem for a McCall’s magazine interview that her life during the JFK years was “so limited, so . jet-set, empty, cold, and not true.”

In 1968, Jackie wed the Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis, whom Lee herself had once thought of marrying, only to have her sister urge her not to. Friends would say Radziwill felt betrayed and never entirely forgave Jackie.

Radziwill’s life apart from her sister was eventful enough. She married a prince, Stanislas Radziwill of Poland, and had two children, Anthony and Anna Christina.

There were friendships with Steinem, Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, whom she joined for a 1972 Rolling Stones tour.

“I can see how people found him (Mick Jagger) sexy,” she told interviewer Sofia Coppola for a 2013 New York Times story. “But I found him a little repulsive.” (Keith Richards would call her “Princess Radish.”)

She began work on a film with collage artist and photographer Peter Beard about her childhood in East Hampton, New York. But after a few creative evolutions, and the introduction of filmmakers Albert and David Maysles, it became “Grey Gardens,” the classic documentary about her eccentric aunt and cousin.

Edith Bouvier Beale and her eponymous daughter were immortalized in the 1975 release, later a Broadway musical and Emmy-winning HBO movie.

Radziwill also made forays into interior decorating and fashion event planning. A brief, unhappy acting career in the 1960s proved she was best at playing Lee Radziwill, with critics panning her work in a stage production of “The Philadelphia Story” and a TV adaptation of the Otto Preminger film “Laura.”

Another scrapbook memoir, “One Special Summer,” was a 1974 release that followed her first trip to Europe when she was 18, chaperoned by Jackie, then 22. At the end of the trip, the two put together a collection of drawings, photos and handwritten anecdotes about their voyage. They created the book originally to thank their mother for the trip.

In the introduction to her memoir, Radziwill wrote that “so much has already been said about my family and the people I was close to, that it would be more enjoyable to only remember the best times with them.”

It seemed at times that tragedy followed tragedy. In the aftermath of the death of her beloved nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr., on July 16, 1999, her own son died of cancer less than a month later, on Aug. 10, at age 40. Anthony Radziwill had been the best man at Kennedy’s wedding.

Her 10-year marriage to Herbert Ross, her third husband, ended that year, as well. The choreographer and award-winning director of “Funny Girl” and “Steel Magnolias” died in 2001.

Born Caroline Lee Bouvier on March 3, 1933, in New York City, she was the second daughter of John V. Bouvier III and Janet Norton Lee. They divorced in 1940. She attended Miss Porter’s School and Sarah Lawrence College, and was introduced to society in 1950.

Her first marriage was to Michael Canfield in 1953. The marriage ended in divorce and was later annulled. Canfield died in 1969.

She married Radziwill, a descendent of Polish royalty who became an English subject, in 1959. They divorced in 1974. He died nearly two years later.

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Former Associated Press writer Suzanne Boyle in New York contributed to this report.

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