Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Dies at 64

Article excerpt

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who charmed America as a graceful first lady and then eased its anguish as a stoic young widow, died Thursday night (May 19, 1994) of cancer. She was 64.

Mrs. Onassis died at 10:15 p.m. (9:15 p.m. St. Louis time) in her Manhattan apartment, said a statement from her longtime friend, Nancy Tuckerman. Her "death was due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, from which she had been suffering for the past four months," Tuckerman said.

Her children, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, 36, and John F. Kennedy Jr., 33, were with her, along with her longtime companion, Maurice Tempelsman, and other family members. Funeral arrangements will be private, Tuckerman said.

Earlier, a priest administered last rites and relatives gathered around Mrs. Onassis as she battled untreatable lymph cancer "with great fortitude."

The New York Times reported that Mrs. Onassis' cancer had spread to her brain and liver. Quoting an unidentified health-care worker in today's editions, the Times said Mrs. Onassis had been suffering from pneumonia and had refused antibiotics.

The newspaper said she slipped into a coma Thursday.

When asked about the newspaper's report, Tuckerman would only confirm that Mrs. Onassis had stopped receiving medication.

Mrs. Onassis returned to her Fifth Avenue apartment Wednesday after doctors at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center said that "there was nothing more to do for her," Tuckerman said.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is normally considered treatable, but in some cases it moves quickly, with fatal results.

Tuckerman said: "The disease progressed to a point where there was no more they could do. They reached a point whereby she could either remain in the hospital or go home. She chose to go home."

As recently as Sunday, Mrs. Onassis had been seen walking in Central Park on the arm of Tempelsman. But the health worker familiar with her care said she was unable to walk very far and needed to be supported by Tempelsman.

She returned to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center on Monday and was found to have pneumonia, the health worker said.

Mrs. Onassis had signed a living will in February that clearly expressed her wish not to receive aggressive medical treatment if she developed a grave illness and such measures would be futile.

Tuckerman said Mrs. Onassis was "very comfortable" before her death.

"She has her children around her, and that's the way it should be."

As Kennedy relatives filed in and out of her co-op building, Monsignor George Bardes of the nearby St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church heard her confession, gave her Communion, and administered the sacrament of the sick, said Margaret Peet, a church spokeswoman. The sacrament was formerly known as last rites but is now given to any seriously ill member of the Roman Catholic Church.

Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, D-Mass., son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said after visiting his aunt, "She is very, very sick and it's very sad." But he added, "There's a lot of love in her room and in her apartment."

Singer Carly Simon, a neighbor from Martha's Vineyard, where Mrs. Onassis has a home, left the building in tears. "I love her very much," she said.

Mrs. Onassis' son, John Jr., dashed across Central Park and into the building Thursday morning to avoid the crowd of photographers, reporters and television cameras camped outside the building.

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her husband, Edwin, were there, along with Robert Kennedy, another son of Robert F. Kennedy.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., told reporters at midevening that his sister-in-law was "enormously grateful to all the people who have been kind enough to send her notes wishing her well." Less than two hours before her death, Sen. Kennedy said that Mrs. Onassis was "resting comfortably" and that he looked forward to seeing her today. …