Lee Radziwill, 85; socialite, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy
Lee Radziwill, who parlayed her cachet as the younger sister of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis into a varied career as a fashion tastemaker, interior decorator, actress, princess and grande dame of cafe society on two continents, died Feb. 15 in New York. She was 85.
The death was confirmed by Cornelia Guest, a close friend. No other details were available.
Brought up amid great wealth in the Bouvier and Auchincloss families, Radziwill was raised with her sister in mansions along the East Coast.
She famously floundered as an actress and obtained the empty title of princess only after exchanging vows with an exiled Polish nobleman, her second of three husbands. But her adventurous spirit, sophisticated looks, husky voice and glamorous association with the Kennedy White House put her on magazine covers and on televisions while opening doors to royal palaces, gala soirees, torrid romances and touchstone events of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Her most enduring influence was as a queen of style. Even before her sister married John F. Kennedy and became first lady in 1961, the fashion press began taking note of Radziwill’s chic looks that often featured clean lines, oversize sunglasses and free-flowing hair. Vogue magazine credited her with helping U.S. fashion transition from the stodgy elegance of the 1950s to a more relaxed and confident style.
She worked as an assistant to longtime Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland, ran the American fashion pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair and inspired designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs.
After seeing a photograph of Radziwill walking her dog in the 1960s, designer Michael Kors dubbed a throwback collection, that included balmacaan coats and stovepipe velvet slacks, “the Lee Radziwill look.”
The writer Truman Capote said she outshined her more-famous sister. “She’s all the things people give Jackie credit for,” he told People magazine in 1976. “All the looks, style, taste – Jackie never had them at all, and yet it was Lee who lived in the shadow.”
Gossip columnists and books, including Diana DuBois’ 1995 unauthorized biography “In Her Sister’s Shadow: An Intimate Biography of Lee Radziwill,” insisted she was forever jealous of her internationally revered sibling. DuBois even said that Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who married Jacqueline after her first husband was assassinated, was originally Radziwill’s conquest until the day in 1963 when she invited her sister along to sail on his yacht.
Onassis “was dynamic, irrational, cruel I suppose, but fascinating,” she told the New York Times in 2013. “He also had the most beautiful skin, and smelled wonderful. Naturally, I mean. Fascinating . .. as my sister discovered!” Radziwill always denied a rivalry.
During the Kennedy administration, the two sisters were confidants and traveling companions. They dined at Buckingham Palace and toured India, riding elephants and hobnobbing with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Radziwill spent much of the Cuban missile crisis holed up in the White House with Jacqueline and watching the president exchange tense phone calls with aides.
“I can’t deny those few years were glamorous, being on the presidential yacht for the America’s Cup races, the parties with the White House en fête. It was so ravishing,” she told the Times.