She was the impossibly chic Calvin Klein fashion publicist, so beautiful that her close friend Daniel Pfeffer says, "No photograph ever did her justice."
In Carolyn Bessette, those closest to John F. Kennedy Jr. say, he finally met his match.
Still, she turned him down the first time he asked her out after meeting her at the Calvin Klein showroom in 1994. The first few times, in fact.
"She didn't think he was serious," says their close friend Gustavo Paredes, son of Jackie's personal assistant, Provi Paredes. "He couldn’t believe she turned him down. It had never happened before."
Flummoxed, he was. Discouraged, he was not.
Kennedy, who had just launched George, his political and pop culture magazine, "kept figuring out a way to keep coming back to the showroom for more business meetings and more fittings," says Paredes.
Their fairy-tale romance and surprise wedding on September 21, 1996, on Georgia's Cumberland Island, was chronicled all over the world. Yet the fairy tale came to a tragic end on July 16, 1999, when the plane piloted by Kennedy, 38, carrying his wife, 33, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, 34, crashed off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, killing all aboard.
Fifteen years later, their closest confidantes remember John, not as Camelot's heir, but as a friend and colleague who liked to drink Rolling Rock and had begun to talk about starting a family.
Carolyn they remember as a girl who loved to tease John about his penchant for blondes and his lack of fashion sense.
"She thought he was a fashion mistake," says Gustavo Paredes.
"They were fiery," says Ariel Paredes, Gustavo's daughter and a close friend of Carolyn's. "They would love hard and they would fight hard but they were very much a couple."
Some of their closest confidantes share these and other stories in this week's PEOPLE because they want John and Carolyn to be remembered as the warm and wonderful friends they loved.
"John was more famous than any celebrity but in a weird way, he was the simplest person," says Matt Berman, former creative director of George and author of a new book: JFK Jr., George, & Me, excerpted in this week's PEOPLE.
"The world saw them as this prince and princess, but they were the most real and engaging people I've ever known."
For more details and never-before-seen photos of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday