As Pippa Middleton will likely admit, being the kid sister of one of the world’s most famous women is not half bad: you get all the fabulosity without the responsibilities.
Such was the life of Caroline Lee Bouvier Canfield Radziwill Ross, better known as Lee Radziwill, who died in New York on Feb. 15.
As the only sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, she lived a life of beautiful clothes, homes and experiences, like the time she accompanied the then-first lady to India. The two Bouvier girls managed to look chic even while riding elephants.
But, Lee, like Jackie, had her fair share of hardship and tragedy. Her three marriages ended in divorce and her only son, Anthony, died at the age of 40 after a long fight with cancer.
That same summer, her nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr., died in a plane crash. The only upside was that her sister wasn’t around to endure what would have been an unbearable grief for her. But, as Lee explained, “I believe that without memories there is no life, and that our memories should be of happy times.”
And for Lee, there were many happy times, celebrated with her inimitable style, a word that has punctuated all of her obituaries over the past week, all breathlessly praising her penchant for elegance. She was “an ambassador of chic,” as one French commentator labeled her. Even in her 80s, she was the muse of designer Tory Burch, who named a handbag for her. Some observers have suggested that her style even exceeded Jackie’s.
This may have brought a smile to Lee’s lips, as the two sisters’ relationship was sometimes strained by rivalry.
Born in 1933, just a few years behind Jackie, Lee perceived Jackie to be the favorite of their beloved father, John Bouvier.
Later, Lee would be romanced by Aristotle Onassis, who would become her sister’s second husband. In the past year, two books have been published documenting the gossipy glamour of their parallel lives.
Lee spent a great deal of her youth in nearby Virginia at Merrywood, the estate of her stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss.
Unlike Jackie, Lee “hated school,” but possessed a keen eye for color and design. She worked for Diana Vreeland at Harper’s Bazaar and, later, as a brand ambassador for Armani.
Her visual genius was put to best use as an interior decorator. Her own homes were often photographed and praised for their blend of the traditional and the exotic. “I always begin a room with the rug; it is literally the foundation of the space. I then go on to the furniture,” she said about her way of decorating.
Among her husbands were Polish aristocrat Prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł and the director Herbert Ross.
Never forgetting her royal status, Lee bumped the actress Julia Roberts from her seat in the front row at the London premiere of “Steel Magnolias” so she could sit next to Prince Charles.
Although Jackie conspicuously left Lee out of her will after her death in 1994, the two were always there for each other. They never let life knock them from their royal perches. They were Bouviers, after all. The night of President Kennedy’s assassination, Jackie found a note on her pillow from Lee: “Good night my darling Jacks — the bravest and noblest of all. L.”
Lee Radziwill was 85. She is survived by her daughter Anna, her daughter-in-law Carole Radziwill, the reality TV star, and her niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.